I always thought that women who didn't realise they were pregnant must be fat, and not notice if they gained a few kilos over several months.
I was wrong.
Denial must certainly take a role in my story, but it is only one of many factors that shaped a very short pregnancy.
My thyroid glands have been playing up since my mid teens. Nothing serious, and never for long enough to justify more than a short course of medication, but like so many other parts of my body, they are not quite right. But they were working just fine when, aged seventeen, I became pregnant for the first time. I knew immediately: none of this waiting for periods or morning sickness. I was at work one day and had a moment of - let's call it dizziness. It wasn't, but how else can I describe the sensation of having my consciousness knocked sideways while my body stayed upright? I ran to the chemist, grabbed a test, and went straight to the loo. Longest five minutes of my life. It was less than a week after the only possible date of conception. I spent the next seven weeks throwing up constantly, losing weight and unable to eat. There was no way I could have missed it.
Fast forward ten years and I was in a very different state. For one thing, my thyroid was playing up and I had gained 5kg over a few months, bringing me up to a lifetime record of 65kg. I figured most of it was muscle, seeing as I was dancing three nights a week and going to the gym in between. But people around me had started to comment, and it was increasingly clear that the thyroid induced part of my weight gain looked a lot like a pregnant belly. I was sick of repeating myself: yes, I am allowed to have this glass of wine. No, I am not expecting anything except another round of ultrasounds on my neck. Yes, I had noticed that I was putting on weight, thankyou for mentioning it.
I had had a few weeks, late the previous year, when I thought I might have been pregnant. My partner was dubious - I was on the Pill, and was still having my usual 'periods' between packets. He thought it was much more likely that my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was taking a new, and possibly thyroid-influenced, path. What else would he think when I had done at least three pregnancy tests a week for a month, and every one of them came back negative? He eventually staged a minor intervention, banning me from buying any more pregnancy tests.
So I merrily drank and partied my way through the months, firmly denying to myself that the increasing indigestion betokened anything more serious than a multinodular goitre. Eventually, though, I was back to the GP, asking for more tests. Thyroid related weight gain was nothing new, but my digestion - it was awful. I was starting to freak out. Was my thyroid going crazy? Did I have some kind of serious digestive issue, or a tumour or something? Or did I just need to increase the dosage of my meds to control the OCD? Better have another ultrasound.
This time, because of the new and bizarre digestive symptoms, they were the focus of the ultrasound. I quite like ultrasounds. I never get tired of seeing the insides of a living human. I made with the small talk while the technician got set up. There's not much point looking at the screen until they've got everything working.
"You didn't tell me you were pregnant."
WTF? I craned around to see the monitor, horrified, to try and identify the jellybean blob the technician had obviously just spotted.
There was a rib cage.
The ultrasound technician had her little gadget wedged into my lower abdomen, but there was a rib cage.
"Um. I didn't know?" I burst into tears.
The poor technician, she was brilliant. She showed me every bit of this stowaway, snapping pictures and measurements the whole time. She estimated that I was 28 weeks pregnant.
"How pregnant is that?" I asked.
"You'll be having a baby in about 12 weeks," she responded, "and it looks like it will be a healthy, normal baby."
Over the next few days I dumped both the GP and the thyroid specialist I had been seeing, at least fortnightly, for the entire duration of what turned out to have been a pregnancy. I found a new GP and an obstetrician, both of whom explained a little about what was going on. It turns out that the hormone a pee-on-a-stick pregnancy test uses is only present during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, and I may have had low levels - or maybe one of the medications interfered with the tests. My baby was tucked up nicely towards my back, which explained why I didn't have a huge belly, and why its kicks felt like indigestion.
The craziness that was my 12 week pregnancy is another story, but I had a son who weighed just short of 4kg, perfectly healthy, and apparently very resilient.
In the end, the factors that led to my undiscovered pregnancy were more or less as follows:
- Being on the Pill, and having periods (withdrawal bleeds)
- Pre-existing thyroid issues masking pregancy symptoms
- OCD (not to mention high dose SSRIs, which I know can influence periods - perhaps they messed up the pregnancy tests?)
- Previous experience of pregnancy was radically different to this one
- A GP who never bothered to check by, say, feeling my abdomen and saying, "gosh, this feels very much like a pregnant lady. Should we perhaps add pregnancy test to this BLOOD TEST I AM ORDERING ANYWAY"!!!!! (!!!!!) (Yes, really - at least 4 blood tests during the pregnancy and not once did he check for pregnancy!)
- Foetus positioned towards my back
- My son may be a ninja
Things that were not factors include:
- Physical unfitness
- Ignorance (there was a lot I didn't know, but I was reasonably well informed for someone who wasn't pregnant.)
- An underweight or unhealthy baby
- An abnormal pregnancy
The number one factor, however, takes the form of a salutary lesson in why your grandmother is always right. A whole eight months before my son was born, both of my grandmothers told me that I was pregnant. In my modern, tech-savvy sageness I dismissed them because the pregnancy tests came back negative. They each gave me one of those looks, and said no more about it.