After doctors told her that becoming pregnant would be very difficult and after years of not having children proved this true, Denise Coveney, 40, resigned herself to remaining childless. So, she was shocked last December when a home pregnancy test turned up positive.
"I was so flabbergasted I took the test twice," says the registered nurse, who lives in Yorba Linda. "The pregnancy was totally unexpected. The shock combined with morning sickness turned me into a basket case for a while."
Although having a baby took some getting used to, since her daughter came this September, Coveney has been ecstatic.
"As unexpected as it was, I'm so glad I had her," she says. "I know it sounds sappy, but no one told me you fall in love with your child. I couldn't have imagined anything better."
Unexpected births aren't uncommon. According to a report in the October, 1994, issue of Good Housekeeping, half of all pregnancies are unexpected.
Women who get pregnant unexpectedly generally fall into two categories, says Danna Winthrop, a Newport Beach-based marriage, family and child counselor.
"There are women who have been told by the medical profession that they can't have children but become pregnant anyway. And there are women with children who have decided to stop but become pregnant unexpectedly," she says.
Women who thought they could never have children face a unique struggle, Winthrop says.
"I've counseled many women who have tried to get pregnant for years, finally given up and gone on with their lives, and then become pregnant. This sudden change is difficult because they've endured a lot of torment over feeling like something was wrong with them. Finally coming to terms with not having a child and then becoming pregnant is very confusing," says Winthrop.
Other women, who already have children and have decided to stop, also find unexpected pregnancy difficult.
"When a woman's mind is made up about not having more children, it takes time to recover from the shock," says Winthrop.
Mothers often feel overburdened and scared: They worry about finances and fear not having time for the new child, says Winthrop. "All of these negative feelings also make them feel overwhelmingly guilty."
Husbands and the other kids may also not be happy about a new addition. Children may even be embarrassed if there will be a large age difference.
While not wanting an additional child is normal, Winthrop says, it's critical that the entire family air and then resolve any negative feelings before or soon after the baby comes, because even an infant can sense when he or she isn't wanted.
Denise's husband, William Coveney, 38, says that for many years he didn't want children. As the youngest of four brothers in a lower middle-class family, he always got hand-me-downs. Once he grew up, he wanted his share of adult toys, and kids didn't fit into the picture.
"I watched all my friends become nailed down by kids," says Coveney, who is an engineering manager in Irvine. "They were always broke and unable to go anywhere or buy anything. Having a child didn't look all that appealing."
When the Coveneys' baby first arrived, William says, he viewed her as he would a kitten. But then things changed.
"Now we're buddies," he says. "I realize that I was missing out until now. I enjoy caring for my daughter much more than I ever thought possible."
Jan, 44, had tried unsuccessfully for five years to get pregnant but had no success. She thought she was sterile and began concentrating on other things--amateur sports and her career.
After divorcing her first husband, Jan, who asked that her last name not be used, unexpectedly became pregnant by someone she was dating, and her world was turned upside down.
"I kept thinking the baby was too much of a miracle, and I worried about being a good mother," says Jan, who works in the mental health field in Irvine.
"At one point, I was so distraught I actually called and scheduled an abortion, but I canceled," she says.
Jan says she snapped out of her confused, fearful state about two hours after the birth of her son.
"All of the sudden, life had so much meaning," she says. "I had never loved to that extent before."
After that, Jan, who married her son's father, had two more unexpected pregnancies. The following two were just as surprising, because she had been using protection.
The third pregnancy was especially trying, because she was divorced from her second husband and became pregnant by someone she had been seeing for just four months.
"With the third baby, I was very embarrassed," she says. "I thought, this is something that happens to 16-year-olds, not 43-year-olds. I didn't tell anyone about the pregnancy for a long time."