Cradling her newborn son James in her arms, proud mum Rebecca Oldham is still recovering from a birth so dramatic and rare, it has astounded the country’s top medical professionals.
Despite having three scans, two blood tests and even six pregnancy tests during the year, no-one detected Rebecca was with child – including her and partner James Tipene (32).
In a Weekly exclusive, the Auckland couple describe how they are now coming to terms with being parents to their unexpected baby, who was born on November 9.
The shocking revelation that Rebecca was pregnant only occurred during surgery to remove the 24-year-old’s ovaries, after she was admitted to Middlemore Hospital for severe stomach cramps.
But once the doctors opened her up, they discovered a 32-week-old baby.
They immediately stopped the procedure, woke Rebecca, and informed her about the change of plan.
Instead of removing her ovaries, they were going to perform an emergency C-section.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Rebecca says. “I just didn’t know that there was a baby inside of me.
“I had three scans by three different specialists. I even saw the screen. There was nothing. We did two blood tests, still there was nothing.”
Her ordeal has puzzled one of the country’s leading obstetricians, and Middlemore Hospital has since launched a full-scale investigation to determine how a 9lb (4kg) baby can go completely undetected.
“This is remarkable,” says Professor Philip Baker, an obstetrician scientist at Auckland University who has no involvement with the case.
“There’s a combination of unusual circumstances, which all can happen, but to occur at the same time is very rare.” And this is not the first surprise pregnancy for the couple.
When they had their first child, 14-month-old Hayley, the parents didn’t find out until Rebecca was five months along.
During both pregnancies, Rebecca still had her period and was on the Pill – in fact, just four weeks before James’ birth, she had a pregnancy test which came back negative.
That’s why when the mum was experiencing sudden stomach pain, she never imagined the cause would be a baby. “I didn’t gain any weight and didn’t feel any movement inside of me,” she says.
“I was living my normal life, being social and working full time – the day before I gave birth, I was showing a workmate how to do stomach crunches,” Rebecca adds.
When she was admitted to hospital, even the staff were confused as to what was causing Rebecca’s discomfort, despite conducting ultrasounds and blood tests.
“I was told there was blood in my stomach and that I was haemorrhaging,” she explains.
“They suspected I had an ectopic pregnancy. I needed surgery where they would cut everything out, including my ovaries. The news was very upsetting, because I thought I’d never have children again.”
Strangely, just before the operation, a bump appeared in Rebecca’s stomach.
She says doctors believed it to be caused by a burst tube, filling her stomach with blood.
“The bump was hard and sore. It was scary. They were also prepping to drain all of the blood.”
But during surgery, everyone in the room was shocked to discover tiny James inside his mother.
Although no-one knows for sure how her baby went undetected, Rebecca has been given a number of theories why James couldn’t be seen in the scans and why she didn’t have a bump.
“They have a feeling that my baby may have been hiding, right down on my lower back,” she says.
Rebecca is pleased the surgeons didn’t take him out immediately. When she came to, they explained the next steps.
“I would rather be told what was happening, as opposed to waking up and all of a sudden having a baby given to me. That would have shocked me.”
Told she needed to give birth immediately, Rebecca was scared her unborn child wouldn’t live.
“I was frightened. Before the surgery, no-one saw my baby or heard a heartbeat, so I thought the worst.”
But Rebecca’s worst fears were quashed when tiny James entered the world, weighing 4045g.
He was gasping for air when he was born, because of the morphine and anaesthetic his mother had been previously administered for her surgery.
Dad James, who was by Rebecca’s side during the whole process, is relieved that both his son and partner are well – and is counting his blessings.
“Our son is a gift. This year, Rebecca and I have lost many loved ones. It’s been tough, so we are grateful that James is here,” he explains.
Rebecca and James are adjusting to being new parents, trying to comprehend the last two weeks.
They’ve had to buy supplies, after they recently sold all of Hayley’s baby gear, just before James’ birth.
For Rebecca, especially, sacrifices have to be made.
“I haven’t adjusted to the fact that I won’t be going back to work for a little while. It’s just something that I have to get used to.”
Although the couple could have more children, Rebecca says two is enough.
“We have a boy and a girl, we’re sorted for now.”
Based at their rural home just outside Auckland, Rebecca is looking forward to the future. She gazes at her gorgeous son and knows she has an amazing story for him once he’s older.
“When I was told I was pregnant, the first feeling I had was shock, then fear. Now James is in our lives, I’m feeling pure happiness.”
An expert says:
Obstetrician scientist, Professor Philip Baker*
of Auckland University,
has general comments on what Rebecca experienced.
HAVING YOUR PERIOD WHILE YOU’RE PREGNANT.
There are lots of cases where there is bleeding in pregnancy. That can come with a little separation of the placenta from the womb, or it can happen sometimes when the bleeding comes from the neck of the womb itself.
WHY A PREGNANCY TEST CAN COME BACK NEGATIVE WHEN YOU’RE PREGNANT.
These tests are often more accurate earlier in the pregnancy than later, so that may account for these kind of occurrences.
A BABY IS NOT SHOWING UP ON AN ULTRASOUND.
It’s a hard question to answer. There are some specific cases, but without knowing the details of the case, it would be hard to comment on.
*Doctor not related to Rebecca's case