A Surprise Pregnancy: One Couple’s True Story

Swollen ankles, an upset stomach and frequent trips to the bathroom didn’t seem like much to Emilie McGinley — until her doctor told her she was eight months pregnant.

A surprise pregnancy - One woman’s true story

Emilie and Jim McGinley with 14-month old Serena at their home in Toronto


In June 2012, Emilie McGinley found out she was pregnant—really, really pregnant. Just a week later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. How could she not have known she was expecting? Emilie, 43, and her husband, Jim, 44, explain the arrival of their “stealth baby.”

Emilie: Before we were even married in 1999, a doctor told me I’d have difficulty getting pregnant, if I was able to at all. I had polycystic ovary syndrome. I hadn’t had regular menstrual cycles since my 20s. We tried to get pregnant for about 15 years. We did three rounds of in vitro fertilization in five years; we stopped  because I was allergic to some of the mandatory medication. We then did two years of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. Coming off of that, we decided it wasn’t going to happen.

Then, early in 2012, I started not feeling well. My husband noticed that I was having digestive issues. I have food allergies. I started feeling not so healthy and like I was gaining weight. I had an upset stomach. It was gradual from January to March. During a heat wave in May, I had swollen ankles like you wouldn’t believe—but all the women in my office were talking about swollen feet.

Jim: It was subtle. Em was working nine to five as director of project management at a marketing agency. She complained of back pain; we talked about how she needed a new desk chair. I noticed Em going to the washroom two and three times a night. The weekends would come around and she would take six-hour naps.

Emilie: Jim suggested that we go see a doctor. I hadn’t been to mine in years—I made a conscious decision not to, because I had spent so much time at the fertility clinic. We ended up at a walk-in clinic in May 2012. Over the next few weeks, I saw many different doctors there.

Jim: They were worried about her kidneys and diabetes and starting running tests. They concluded everything was fine. But everything wasn’t fine. Em was still sleeping and going to the washroom a lot.

Emilie: They started thinking it was gluten intolerance. We did two weeks of a gluten-free diet. We must have eaten 20 pounds of kale.

Jim: They prescribed a medication for Em’s digestive issues. One Tuesday in June, she was in bed not feeling well. I went and picked it up and noticed a warning that women shouldn’t take it while pregnant. So on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m., Em took a pregnancy test.

Read More: How to Manage Discomfort During Pregnancy

Emilie: The test said “pregnant.” I swear I stopped breathing for a second. This was dangerous territory for us. We had to be careful not to let emotions run away with us, given our past experience. I started looking at the pamphlet for reasons for a false positive—premenopausal or ovarian cysts. That sounded like me. I was already over 40 and I had PCOS. We went to the walk-in clinic for a blood test.

On Thursday, they called and asked me to go back right away. They confirmed the pregnancy. After a quick exam, the doctor thought I was three or four months along. We decided to keep our news a secret until we knew more. That weekend, as I was getting ready to go out for brunch, I couldn’t fit into my clothes. I scrounged through my closet for a big, baggy peasant skirt and a flowy top. I tend to wear flowy tops anyway. Before, there was nothing there. Then all of a sudden I looked like a beached whale. I got in for an ultrasound on Monday morning. It took the technician a long time; she said the baby was big. Afterwards, she said we were 37-and-a-half weeks pregnant. I said, “I’m sorry…what? ”

Jim: It was such a huge bomb. The doctors said she’d likely deliver in three to five weeks. My phone call to my mom was, “We have some big news. Em’s 38 weeks pregnant!” My mom said, “You mean 38 days?” I said, “Nope!”

Emilie: Everyone’s elation was clouded by worry. We hadn’t had any tests done or monitored anything. On Tuesday, I dragged myself into work. Everyone looked at me and said, “When did that happen? How could you not know?” I said, “I don’t know, you tell me. How could you not know? You’ve looked at me every single day for the past nine months, why don’t you tell me?”

On the Wednesday, I went to see an OB/GYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and they did all kinds of tests. They diagnosed me as having pre-eclampsia—my blood pressure was going up. The doctor also did an internal exam. She said I was two-and-a-half centimetres dilated. Rather than having three to five weeks to go, she said we had three to five days. She scheduled an induction for Friday. We called our parents and my boss. My parents asked me what I needed, hopped in the car and went to Walmart. My cousin did the same and then came over to wash everything that night. My boss sent an email out asking people to lend things to me.  Friday morning, a courier came from work with a crib, a bassinet, a stroller, a car seat and a diaper bag—tons of stuff. We had everything ready in one day. I was induced. After 12 hours, the doctors noticed scarring on my cervix. I ended up having a C-section. Everyone on the floor wanted to see the “miracle baby.”

Jim: I was holding Em’s hand. Then all of a sudden, our baby girl gets pulled out. It was amazing. Our poor parents. They went from on Monday thinking we’d never have kids to meeting their granddaughter on Saturday at 8 a.m.

Emilie: She was seven pounds and four ounces, and 21 inches long. We stayed in the hospital a few extra days. We had missed all the training. We’d had no prenatal courses. While we were there, I was checking Twitter. Our friends were calling our girl “Stealth Baby.” We didn’t name our baby until the third day. My father-in-law commented that she was very serene. It was her personality—she hid for nine months, so that’s pretty serene. We named her Serena Grace. It just seemed to fit. But a lot of people just know her as Stealth Baby.

Jim: I couldn’t get over my sheer astonishment. I’d be sitting at a 4 a.m. feed and I’d say, “Hey, we have a baby. We have a baby.” We’re just so happy.


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