I was fall­ing asleep at my desk

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

“When I look back to my ‘preg­nancy’, I guess you could say I be­haved like a typ­i­cal uni stu­dent through­out. I was go­ing out most week­ends and get­ting drunk with my friends, sleep­ing my way through class and hav­ing a few one-night stands. Al­though I was study­ing a bach­e­lor of jour­nal­ism, I didn’t have any clear idea of what I wanted or where I was headed. I fig­ured I had plenty of time to map this out later.

Peo­ple ask me how I couldn’t have known I was preg­nant, but the signs just weren’t there. Like a lot of young women, I was skip­ping the su­gar pills so I wouldn’t get a pe­riod, and al­though I was sleep­ing and pee­ing a lot and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing heart­burn, I only gained one or two ex­tra ki­los and my tummy was so flat that the week be­fore I found out I was preg­nant, I was at the beach in a bikini with some friends and I didn’t look any dif­fer­ent to how I nor­mally look.

I was ly­ing down one evening when I felt a move­ment, which I first passed off as in­di­ges­tion, but when I looked down at my belly, I saw an ex­ter­nal move­ment — an arm or a leg — push out into my belly like the scene from the movie Alien. That’s when I re­alised I was preg­nant, but it wasn’t un­til I made the nec­es­sary ap­point­ments and I heard the baby’s heart­beat that it re­ally hit home. Ad­ding to the sur­prise? The sono­g­ra­pher an­nounc­ing the baby was mea­sur­ing be­tween 28 to 30 weeks.

I was a mess ini­tially and I didn’t know what to do. When I con­tacted the two po­ten­tial fa­thers, the first didn’t want to know any­thing, while the sec­ond wanted to use my call as an op­por­tu­nity to hook up again! Al­though for the first few days, I’d been think­ing se­ri­ously about adopt­ing the baby out, I de­cided then a that I would keep the baby and we would find a way through.

Re­al­is­ing I had to act quickly, I moved in with my sis­ter, who has small chil­dren, and she and my mother helped with items such as nurs­ery fur­ni­ture, prams and baby clothes, while I con­tin­ued with uni and worked at a cafe un­til I was 37 weeks. Be­ing busy helped dis­tract me from wor­ry­ing so much about the fu­ture.

Caiden was born mid-se­mes­ter and I was able to con­tinue on at uni. I would take him along to tu­to­ri­als in a car­rier and work on my as­sign­ments dur­ing his 2am wake-up calls. He’s even how I got my job — while other uni stu­dents were writ­ing in to say, ‘I’ve achieved this and that,’ I was hon­est and said, ‘Yes, I’ve achieved this and that too but what’s more, I did it with a baby in tow.’ Noth­ing beats a mother’s time-man­age­ment skills!

Yes, there are times where I would say hav­ing an un­ex­pected fam­ily at such a young age is tough — ev­ery morn­ing I’m up at 4.30 to get him ready so I can drop him off at child­care at 6.30, then travel an­other hour to get to work each day — but Caiden and I make a great team and I can’t imag­ine life with­out him.” Shereen Ortell, 35, with her mum Edna Ortell. Pic­ture: Tim Car­rafa or most of us, the dis­cov­ery of a preg­nancy, of­ten be­tween the four-week and eight-week mark, usu­ally comes with a lengthy side help­ing of symp­toms such a morn­ing sick­ness, ex­treme ex­haus­tion, sore breasts and missed pe­ri­ods. But there are many women who don’t get any symp­toms, or who miss the signs com­pletely un­til they are well into their third trimester.

It’s more com­mon over­sight than we think, says Pro­fes­sor Stephen Rob­son, ob­ste­tri­cian and pres­i­dent of RANZCOG (ranzcog.edu.au), who adds that he has per­son­ally seen it quite a few times over the years.

While an ir­reg­u­lar men­strual cy­cle, body weight and a rel­a­tively in­ac­tive baby can all help dis­guise the im­pend­ing ar­rival, Pro­fes­sor Rob­son says it’s been his ex­pe­ri­ence that a com­bi­na­tion of slow body changes, de­nial and the po­lite na­ture of friends and fam­ily not want­ing to men­tion any weight gain, all con­trib­ute to the “sur­prise baby” phe­nom­e­non.

“Per­haps the most im­por­tant thing here is the is­sue of de­nial,” he says.

“Hu­mans have a strong ca­pac­ity for de­nial in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions and an un­planned preg­nancy is about as stress­ful as they come.”

Hav­ing a baby, even when planned, can be a huge ad­just­ment, and not hav­ing the time to make proper plans can place huge strains on the mother, he adds. “In such a late stage, women have not had the chance to ac­cess qual­ity an­te­na­tal care and the screen­ing tests that are so im­por­tant to good preg­nancy out­comes. “And more than that, they’ve not had the time to or­gan­ise their work plans, fi­nances, their lives, so this can have its own set of con­se­quences.” try­ing to get my part­ner’s busi­ness off the ground, and fig­ured the tired­ness was re­lated to that.

I dis­cov­ered I was preg­nant when I went in for a blood test to see why I was feel­ing so ex­hausted, and to say I was shocked is putting it mildly. I started pan­ick­ing about the sit­u­a­tion I was in — I strug­gling with re­pay­ing debts from the loan I’d taken out. At first I told my­self I had some time to try to get my life in or­der but when I had the scan and they told me I was 29 weeks, I was ter­ri­fied about how was go­ing to be able to look af­ter the baby.

I reached out to fam­ily and friends, and char­i­ties. Red Cross and St Vin­nies do­nated cloth­ing, food ham­pers, vouch­ers and a pram, but on the day Jor­dan was born, I had $10 in my bank ac­count, debt col­lec­tors call­ing me con­stantly and my re­pay­ments were larger than my Cen­tre­link pay­ments. But soon I got preg­nant again. Like many, I’d be­lieved that since I was breast­feed­ing, I wouldn’t be able to get preg­nant so I was shocked when I dis­cov­ered I was preg­nant and al­ready at 25 weeks. Again, I’d had no signs — in fact, this time, I was even thin­ner than be­fore since I’d dropped two dresses from stress.

I de­cided to make the best of the sit­u­a­tion and hit the ground run­ning. Life hasn’t been easy since Jor­dan was born — mum was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer dur­ing my sec­ond preg­nancy, and I’d fi­nally sev­ered all ties with the boys’ fa­ther, so it’s been me and them all the way. But as I tell my fam­ily and friends ev­ery day, my chil­dren saved me and made me a stronger per­son.”

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