Just before Christmas in 2016, Ally Opfer found herself in excruciating pain from what she thought were menstrual cramps.
She had no idea she was actually in labour and just hours away from giving birth to a baby boy she wasn’t expecting. Ally didn’t look pregnant, and she even took a pregnancy test soon after the ‘cramps’ got bad, and that came back negative.
“I woke up the morning of December 21, feeling absolutely normal, not knowing what I was about to go through,” Ally, who was 22 at the time, says.
“Just a couple hours later, I started feeling some minor cramping and brushed it off as nothing. It gradually became a little more painful throughout the day so I figured it was that time of the month for me as I had started bleeding a bit too.”
A part time high school cheerleading trainer, Ally went to work as usual, but that night, the pain intensified. She tried taking ibuprofen and using heating pads, but nothing helped, and by the next morning, Ally was in agony.
“I had no appetite and just hid in my room in pain,” she says. “My mom came home from work and by then, I was crying in pain and knew something wasn’t quite right.
“We decided I’d take a pregnancy test just to be sure, and it came back negative.
“We went upstairs to get me comfortable in bed so I could rest. As soon as I laid down and my mom walked out, I started screaming at the top of my lungs and my dad came rushing upstairs to see what was wrong.
“The ‘cramp’ passed, and they left my room. A few minutes later, there I was screaming in pain.”
Another excruciating ‘cramp’ soon followed, and they knew something was seriously wrong.
It was the middle of the night, and Ally, who lives in Ohio, USA, was quickly driven to hospital.
“That ER was very quiet until I walked in and I’m sure I scared everyone else who was there waiting to be taken back,” she explains.
“I sat in the corner away from everyone else screaming as my mom walked through the doors after parking and they immediately took me back, ahead of everyone else as I obviously had something serious going on.
“At this point, I had symptoms of labour but we had told them I took a pregnancy test and it came back negative, and I obviously didn’t look pregnant so there was just no way I was pregnant.”
The nurses thought it may have been kidney stones and an examination of her abdomen found Ally had a hard lump on one side of her stomach. She was sent for an urgent ultrasound.
“As my hospital bed was wheeled in to the ultrasound room, another “cramp” hit and the poor ultrasound technician looked so concerned as I laid there screaming in pain.
“After the ‘cramp’ was over, she started the ultrasound. She of course is not allowed to say anything to me about what she’s seeing. The doctor is the only person who can tell me what they found.
“So as she’s doing the ultrasound, suddenly her jaw drops and she asked, ‘Are you pregnant?’ And I of course replied with ‘NO!’
“She continued the ultrasound and her facial expression looked very concerned and just astounded. You could tell something was up and that she had found something.
“In my head, I was thinking the worst as I laid there watching her do the ultrasound: cancer. The mass we felt on my abdomen was cancer. I was dying.”
It wasn’t cancer, but Ally wouldn’t find that out until the doctor came back briefed with the results of the ultrasound.
“As all these doctors and nurses filled my room, I was preparing myself for the worst news possible, that I was dying. There were so many doctors and nurses in my room all with a sense of urgency that I knew whatever was happening to me was very serious.
“Then, the doctor said these words to me: ‘Have you ever been pregnant before?’ I of course said ‘No’ very confused. He said, ‘Well, it looks like you’re about 38 weeks pregnant and 10 centimetres dilated. You are in full-blown labour and we need to get you upstairs to labour and delivery now!’
“I went into shock. I was not ready to have a baby. I couldn’t have a baby. My face went white and I started crying and screaming. I was terrified.”
Despite not having any prenatal care, Ally was told her baby looked completely fine – but she, on the other hand, was not.
Her blood pressure was worryingly high and doctors feared she was on the verge of having a stroke. Ally was given magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures, and told if she had waited any longer to come to hospital, she could have died.
Ally had preeclampsia and her baby was breech, so she was rushed in for an emergency C-section. Even while lying on the operating table, with her mum by her side, Ally could not believe she was about to give birth.
“My body was shaking a bit as I laid there from them pulling and cutting me open. They told me it was time to remove the baby and that I’d feel some pressure.
“As I waited for them to tell me the baby was out, it felt like forever.
“Then I heard, ‘Time of birth: 3:31am’ and my mom and I looked at each other and were just saying, ‘Cry. Please cry. Please start crying little baby,’ so we knew the baby was okay and healthy. He finally started crying and so did we. That’s when it finally hit me that I was actually in labour and I had just given birth.”
The baby was a little boy, and the first boy to be born in their family in 43 years.
In the hours and days that followed, Ally’s friends and family flocked to the hospital to meet baby Oliver.
Ally was still very unwell and needed to stay in hospital for another three nights, which included Christmas. She was discharged on Boxing Day, but understandably had nothing prepared for a baby when she got home.
Fortunately, Ally’s friends and family came to her rescue.
“I received so much love and support from not only my family and close friends, but even friends from high school who I hadn’t talked to in a while and my community,” she says.
“Everyone was so generous with sending gifts to help me out since I had literally nothing for him and needed to get so much baby gear and clothes right away. So with the help of family, friends, and my community, I was able to get Oliver everything he needed.
“Now, adjusting to being a new mom was a little different. I was so happy to have my son, but was overwhelmed at the same time with learning how to take care of a newborn and all the decisions that come with it.”
Ally had been thrown right in the deep end, and it took time for her to get used to her new reality.
“I had really bad postpartum depression and also went back to school that next semester, just 4-5 weeks after I had my son, so I was doing a lot while also trying to adjust to being a new mom.
“Even though I wasn’t expecting to have a baby anytime soon, I was so happy to have him. I’m truly lucky!”