Grace Polley walked into her cleaning job at a Tauranga retirement village last year, chatty and full of energy like always. She looked her usual self and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But three days later she rang her boss to say she couldn't come into work. She'd had a surprise baby.
"No-one had any idea I was pregnant, not even me!" shares Grace, 27, who welcomed her daughter Sasha, now seven months, within hours of learning she had a bub on board. "I'd had no symptoms. My stomach was flat, I was still getting my periods and I'd been on the Pill."
Even more shocking for Grace and her bewildered family was that it wasn't the first time she was told she was pregnant after going into labour. In August 2017, she was rushed to hospital with excessive bleeding and hours later, gave birth. Tragically, because of a placental abruption, her baby daughter Maya was delivered stillborn.
"I was shopping with my mum when all of a sudden I started bleeding," recalls Grace, who'd broken up with her then-partner two weeks earlier. "I have endometriosis and get bad periods so figured it was that."
By the time Grace reached hospital, she'd lost three litres of blood. In a startling moment, she learnt she was in labour and almost 10 centimetres dilated.
"There was absolutely nothing to tell me I was pregnant," insists Grace, who was carrying in her back. An ultrasound showed the placenta – which was in front of the baby as opposed to behind – had come away. Devastatingly, there was no heartbeat.
"They estimated she would've been about 32 weeks, but there was nothing wrong with her," Grace shares through tears. "I got to hold her for quite a while before I needed a blood transfusion."
The grieving new mother spent five days in hospital with high blood pressure. She had to sort a funeral and was told to name her daughter. Grace chose Maya Margaret Rose Polley and says, "She had a full head of light brown hair and was very tall."
When Grace moved from Invercargill to Tauranga shortly after to try and move on, she started working as a bartender.
It wasn't long before she met glazier Aaron, 45, in June 2018. "He approached me at work and asked for a piece of paper. Then with a big cheesy grin he handed me his name and number."
Less than six months later the couple unknowingly conceived. "Again I had no symptoms and had no idea. I'd thought surely what'd happened was a once-in- a-lifetime thing," tells Grace, whose second-born arrived on July 26, 2019, weighing 2.3kg. "Around 1am my stomach was kind of off, and I figured it was something I ate."
An hour later she woke Aaron in immense pain and they headed to Tauranga Hospital.
"A nurse did an ultrasound and said it looked like cysts and fluid," says Grace. "But then a paediatric nurse looked and, staring at Aaron and me, said, 'There's a baby in there. You're in labour.'" This time Grace's precious baby had a heartbeat.
Aaron recalls, "I'd always wanted a daughter but we weren't prepared at all. It happened so quick."
The shocked pair were told Sasha was breach and Grace needed an emergency Caesarean. Since the doting mum has rods and screws throughout her back from surgery in childhood for scoliosis – a condition that causes a curve in the spine – she went under general anaesthetic.
When she awoke, Grace was told her new daughter was not breathing, but doctors miraculously brought her back to life after 10 minutes, and she remained in hospital for a month.
Grace recollects, "I got wheeled into a bedroom and all I saw was Aaron holding this little bundle over his shoulder. He was like, 'Are you OK? Oh my God, we've had a baby!'"
While their flatmate asked the couple to move out, not wanting to live with a crying baby, other family and friends rallied around the new parents. People gifted boxes of clothes, toys and nappies, and local church charities helped with baby furniture.
"A lot of the residents at the retirement home did knitting, which was so gorgeous," smiles Grace. "A friend let us move in and we're still there. Aaron has been incredible and Sasha is happy and healthy. She laughs at everything."
After the stress of two harrowing births, Grace was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and perinatal depression, but is on the up.
She agrees with new dad Aaron when he confesses, "Getting pregnant is always sort of in the back of my mind now, but next time it's going to be planned. Until then, we'll be doing lots of pregnancy tests!"
Grace has been told her body doesn't show or respond to pregnancy like other females. There's also the possibility scoliosis is the reason for the unusual placement of her ovaries.
"Not knowing you're pregnant until labour can happen to anyone and it obviously does," Grace concludes. "It's a traumatic thing to go through, but it's cool knowing I'm a mum now. Sasha is amazing and just perfect."
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