Real-life Peggy Olsons: Pregnant without knowing

Women who don't know a baby is on the way before their water breaks? It happens more often than you would think

Published April 6, 2010 5:07PM (EDT)

Kimberley Robinson's story is the stuff that tabloid stories and teenage girls' nightmares (and "Mad Men" plot twists?) are made of. One day, the 22-year-old began having severe stomach pains seemingly out of the blue. She went to an emergency room, suspecting appendicitis, and, to her total shock, gave birth to a baby boy while she was waiting to be examined. "I felt this lump in my pyjama bottoms," Robinson told the London Times. "Then it made a noise."

It seems like not knowing you're pregnant that far into the game is pretty far-fetched -- wouldn't the sudden need for elastic pants be a tipoff? What about the mornings spent hacking up your breakfast? The feeling of a small thing kicking you, at least? But, according to the Times, it's not that uncommon. European studies show that one out of every 600 babies is born to a woman who is unaware she's pregnant until close to the delivery day. For some women who don't suspect they're expecting until they go into labor, the physical symptoms just don't register. You can chalk up the missed periods to stress and the weight gain to Doritos, even attribute a baby moving to irritable bowel syndrome. And it doesn't just happen to naive high school seniors; older women with one or two children sometimes don't realize that there's a bun in the oven until fairly far along.

Which is all information that was already readily available to anyone who forages through the wilds of late night television. TLC's melodramatic "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant," gearing up for its fourth season in June, is chock-full of such harrowing tales, reenacted in the tradition of cheesy crime shows. Women who believe they're infertile for life go to the toilet with horrible stomach cramps and, boom, out pops a baby. It's one of those shows that's so bad it's good, as fun to laugh at as to watch. But now it's a show that's a little less funny and a little more terrifying.

By Margaret Eby

Margaret Eby has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in New York City.

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