Five days before Ally Opfer gave birth, she was doing back handsprings for her job as a cheerleading coach. And two days before giving birth she spent hours coaching, with no idea that the menstrual cramps she thought she had that morning was actually labor pains. But by the next night, the pain was so unbearable that Opfer went to the hospital and learned the shocking news that she was pregnant — and 30 minutes away from giving birth.
In the months leading up to her delivery, Opfer, from Cleveland, didn’t seriously think that she could be pregnant. Her periods have always been irregular, so she occasionally takes pregnancy tests when it’s been a few months since she had a cycle. She took a few during her pregnancy that all came back negative.
“I had absolutely no symptoms either and felt totally normal, so that’s why I believed I wasn’t pregnant,” Opfer, 24, tells PEOPLE. “Everything was normal for me. I never had morning sickness, no unusual tiredness, nothing. I never grew a baby bump or showed or anything. I gained a little bit of weight, mostly in my face, but I didn’t gain a bigger belly. I actually felt normal and great until I went into labor!”
Then, on the morning of Dec. 21, 2016, the “menstrual cramps” started. By that night the pain was becoming unbearable, and Opfer spent the night curled up in the fetal position. But it took another full day — at which point the pains became contractions — before she and her mom went to a nearby hospital.
There, the doctor initially thought she had kidney stones.
“He examined my abdomen and found what he called ‘a small mass,’ ” Opfer recalls. “He then sent me back to get an ultrasound of my ‘kidney stones’ to see if I’d require surgery. That’s when the ultrasound technician found my baby. When the doctor came in and told me I was pregnant, I was obviously shocked. I was terrified and overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared to become a mom, let alone give birth.”
Opfer was immediately rushed into an emergency C-section, partly because the baby was in breech position and partly because she had severe preeclampsia that made her blood pressure skyrocket up.
“The doctors and nurses told me after that I was minutes away from death and that I was on the verge of having a stroke,” she says.
But thankfully, her baby boy, who she named Oliver, was “fully healthy,” other than a bit of jaundice that doctors quickly fixed. And he was 42 weeks along, so Opfer had carried him past full term.
“I knew I always wanted to become a mom, but not that soon,” she says. “So once the shock wore off, I was excited and my family was very excited too. So even though I wasn’t wanting to become a mom for a while still, I was very happy. I’ve always loved babies and kids!”
Opfer had to stay in the hospital to deal with her blood pressure, but once she was able to leave, she settled into her new mom life, with the help of friends and family.
“Everyone was so supportive and helpful when I needed help!” she says. “I had family members who offered to help and my mom taught me everything there is to know about babies. I obviously had nothing for Oliver as far as clothes and baby gear, so while I was in the hospital and for the first few months, my family and friends went out and bought me everything I needed, or gave me things they no longer needed.”
Opfer says that the experience taught her that “every woman’s body is different.”
“We all experience pregnancy differently,” she says. “Some carry differently and show more than others and some have different symptoms than others. I always thought “there’s no way you wouldn’t know you’re pregnant!” when I’ve read these kind of stories or seen them on TV. It’s hard to understand until it actually happens to you, but something everyone should understand is that every pregnancy is different.”
And Oliver is now “a happy, healthy two year old who is constantly learning new things!”
“He’s starting to talk a lot more and just learned his ABC’s, can count to 12 and knows his colors,” Opfer says. “He’s super smart and I couldn’t imagine my life without him! I really didn’t know how much I needed him until I had him. I could not be happier that I have him in my life!”
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