Cryptic pregnancy: Kiwi mum had no idea she was having a baby until she saw its head

Kiwi mum Karla Akuhata had no idea she was pregnant. That was until she unexpectedly started giving birth and reached down to find her son already pushing into the world. She shares her story with Ben Leahy.

Karla Akuhata had barely slept a wink.

Plagued by agonising cramps, the 41-year-old had been trying to breathe deeply.

It had been ages since her last period. Now it was back with a vengeance, she thought.

Taking a shower in her mum’s Whakatāne home early last Tuesday, she hoped to try and relax and then maybe get a little more sleep afterwards.

But as she wrapped the towel about herself and headed back to the bedroom, the pain only intensified.

Shaking, she sank to her knees, her elbows on the bed.

Something wasn’t right.

Reaching down she felt a head. She was having a baby.

“Oh my god,” she thought, her mind racing.

About 15 minutes later, Akuhata gave birth to son Tamarangi, right there on the bedroom floor.

He was a “total surprise”, a “miracle baby”, she tells the Herald on Sunday.

She knows many will find it hard to believe her. How could she not have known she was pregnant?

Looking back, there were some small signs, Akuhata said.

She had been down on energy and suffering from bloating. Yet she put that down to work stresses and a medical condition she was dealing with.

She had also added a few kilos recently – perhaps five – and her pants tightened in the week or two leading up to the birth, but she didn’t have a “pregnant belly”.

No one around her – including family and close friends – had said they thought she was pregnant, Akuhata said.

And while so called cryptic or stealth pregnancies like hers are rare, they are more common than many think.

British woman Klara Dollan’s story is among those – making headlines two years ago in the UK.

Despite being in pain, the then 22-year-old had been due to start her first day in a new job and so took the bus and train to work – unaware she was pregnant – before quickly returning home and giving birth on her bathroom floor.

Bangladeshi Arifa Sultana, 20, drew international headlines around the same time.

She gave birth to a baby in late February 2019, before being rushed to hospital again 26 days later after feeling pain and not knowing why.

She was found to be pregnant with two more babies – twins developing in a second uterus.

Back in New Zealand, Akuhata had thought it wasn’t possible – or at least highly unlikely – for her to get pregnant again, and so hadn’t considered it at all.

Not only was she 41, but she had always had trouble conceiving, she said.

She gave birth to her other son 15 years ago, but even then it had been difficult to get pregnant.

During a later long-term relationship she tried to have another child – this time without luck.

She also regularly went long stretches – including up to nine months – without her period, she said.

That led her early on to be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that can make it hard to get pregnant, she said.

Trouble having children also ran in her family.

While one of Akuhata’s sisters has two children, her other sister and brother are both childless despite trying for families.

Infertility seemed to be a problem in the wider Whakatāne community also, Akuhata said.

Her father had been a sawmill worker and the family grew up playing in the grounds near it.

She fears chemicals previously used in the sawmill had caused infertility in local families.

Ironically, in the days before her surprise birth, Akuhata had – through her links with the Sawmill Workers Against Poison group – made a submission to an inquiry seeking to investigate the matter.

Added to all of that, Akuhata had stayed active right up until this month.

She only finished her latest netball season in mid-August.

She would even have played in Rotorua’s Kurangaituku netball tournament just one week before her surprise birth had the tournament not been postponed due to lockdown, she said.

It was not until last weekend that she was finally knocked off her feet.

Normally living in Rotorua, she had decided to take her son to spend lockdown at her mum and dad’s Whakatāne home.

It was there she spent last Saturday, Sunday and Monday in bed complaining of bloating.

She drank peppermint tea and tried to cram the vitamins in, hoping to feel better so she could finish a work project for her communications consultancy Tu Mai Te Toki Content Management.

That healthy appetite confused her mum.

“She was saying to me, ‘You are saying you’re bloated and have tummy issues, but you are still eating’,” Akuhata said

That was when the first pregnancy joke was made. But Akuhata didn’t take it seriously.

Not until a few days later at 5.30am on Tuesday, that is.

Kneeling next to her bed in the morning darkness, she braced against the pain, completely “freaking out” as her baby son pushed into the world.

Her 15-year-old son, dad and a 94-year-old man were all in the house, but she didn’t call for help.

She was naked and didn’t want to disturb the old koro, who uses a wheelchair.

“It just made sense to stay there,” she said.

“There was a baby’s head coming out of me, there was nothing else to do but go with it.”

When Tamarangi was born about 5.50am, Akuhata called her mum on the phone, who was due to finish a night shift at Whakatāne Hospital.

“Mum, you know how you were kidding that I might be pregnant, well I’ve just had a baby,” Akuhata said.

“What the hell Karla,” was all her stunned mum could say.

Then recovering herself, she phoned an ambulance and rushed home to her daughter.

When she arrived, Akuhata had delivered the placenta and delicately climbed onto the bed and under the duvet.

She wrapped her son in her bath towel and held him to her chest, the pair still connected by the umbilical cord.

“He just lay there and nuzzled and made all the little baby noises,” she said.

“I kind of knew from the noises he was making that he was all good.”

Ever practical, Akuhata’s mum checked on her daughter and grandson and then began cleaning up.

The room looked like a “murder scene” and her mum didn’t want the paramedics to see it in such a state, Akuhata said with a laugh.

Akuhata’s other son and father also walked in, rubbing their bleary eyes in wonder.

When the “amazing” paramedics showed straight after, they cut the umbilical cord and made sure mum and baby were okay.

When Akuhata went for a quick shower, she handed her son to his grandma while one of the paramedics even took over the duty of cleaning the room and stripping the sheets.

By 2pm that day, Akuhata and baby Tamarangi had been given a clean bill of health and were discharged from the hospital back home.

In that time, her sister-in-law had rallied the family.

“Obviously, we didn’t know we were having a baby, so there was no baby clothes in the house – there was nothing,” she said.

“By the time we got home from the maternity ward, this little boy had everything he needed.”

Cot, clothes, nappies – everything had been found.

Akuhata told the baby’s father and later posted a message telling her story to her private Facebook page.

She’s been overwhelmed with love from friends and family, many calling her son a “miracle baby”.

“I know that by sharing my story in the media I’m going to get a whole lot of judgment from people who may not understand the story or accept it,” she said.

“But it’s worth it to share a bit more love.

“In this time of Covid and lockdowns and suspicion and fear, it is really lovely to remember there are so many people out there that give their love so easily.”

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