'How Could You Not Know You Were Pregnant?' Brittany Ohman got pregnant in high school, and didn't realize it till she went into labor in her freshman dorm. She talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about her surprise pregnancy and her son, James.

'How Could You Not Know You Were Pregnant?'

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Twenty years ago, when teen pregnancy was double what it is today, a close friend of mine got pregnant when we were in high school. It's a story I haven't been able to shake. And every time I see a news headline about teen pregnancy, I'm reminded of my friend, Brittany Ohman, and how she and I never talked about her experience. So this time I decided to call her up.


BRITTANY OHMAN: Hello, long time, no see.

MARTIN: Today, Brittany Ohman is a 41-year-old mother of two and a licensed social worker and Idaho Falls, Idaho. During our senior year, she and her boyfriend were serious, and they were in the sexual relationship.

OHMAN: I don't believe that I talked to anyone about it. I don't even know if I talked to friends about it. It was kind of a personal choice. And I don't know, you know, who else was doing it at the time. It was just - it was secret, very secret.

MARTIN: When she got pregnant, she didn't tell her friends or her parents. She didn't tell anyone because she didn't realize it herself. And she knows that sounds crazy.

OHMAN: Denial played a very huge role. So now I think, oh, my gosh, Brittany. You know, how could you not know you were pregnant? But I remember the first time I actually believed or felt or thought that I was actually pregnant was when I was in labor.

MARTIN: She delivered that baby by herself in her dormitory bathroom at Boise State University. When the contractions started, she had no idea what was happening. Brittany Ohman is our Sunday Conversation.

OHMAN: I thought I just had very bad menstrual cramps - bad menstrual cramps, food poisoning, something. I mean, I was sick. So I had taken a small bottle of - I believe it was Advil that they give you in the campus packs, you know, when you check into your dorms? And I couldn't get comfortable. I mean, I couldn't lay down. I couldn't hold still. I couldn't sit up. So I found myself pacing around the hallways. And the bathroom was situated in the middle of all the dorm rooms. So every time I hit this corner room, I'd have a contraction. What I now know, now, as being a contraction. And I thought, then, this is really funny. It's kind of timed. You know, what if I'm in labor? What if I'm having a baby? So hours passed...

MARTIN: This is when, Brittany, I have to ask, what did your body look like at this point? I mean, did you look pregnant?

OHMAN: I was - no, I didn't. I looked pretty darn cute (laughter). I had worn wranglers and cowboy boots. I mean, I think I was probably in better shape than I had been in a long time.

MARTIN: And so there you are. You're having these stomach cramps. And that was the first time that you thought maybe, maybe I am pregnant?

OHMAN: Yes. And by this time other girls were waking up for their classes. And I remember being embarrassed thinking, oh, you know, I don't want people to see me lying in the bathroom. I'll go lay in my bed. And at that time, I felt the contractions were heavy and hard at that point. So I felt down there, and his head was right there. So very calmly, I walked across the hall to the bathroom and not a soul in sight which was very, very strange. And I was in the third stall. And the timeframe is very sketchy. I don't remember exactly, but I delivered him in that stall over the toilet. And I remember pain, lots of pain. Where else do you want to know?

MARTIN: So many things (laughter).

OHMAN: I know. It's weird to go back and think about it because I do remember it all very well.


OHMAN: And I don't know how I did it.


OHMAN: I really don't know how I did it.

MARTIN: How did you get from holding your baby on the floor of the bathroom in your dormitory, how did you get out of that moment?

OHMAN: OK. So I'm holding him in my arms, and I remember - this is pretty graphic - but I remember ripping the umbilical cord from me, so it was still connected to him. And, you know, very calmly, I had this baby in my arms. And I walked across back to my dorm room, again, not a soul in sight. And I remember wrapping James in my shower towel from that morning. So yeah, it was a little damp. And I remember just holding him, looking at him. You know, we were looking out the window, and his eyes were just bright, bright blue. And then it kind of dawned on me, like, OK, we've got to do something here. And for some miraculous and amazing reason, I had remembered my mom's telephone number from her office. And she answered, and I said, mom, you know, I just had a baby. And she said, oh, my God, Brittany. You know, she said, I'll be right there. Well, moments later, there was a knock on the door. She didn't just bust in . And she was there with my stepfather who was not my stepfather at the time. But he came in and grabbed James from me. And my mom came and, you know, she was comforting me and trying to help me get my clothes on and lead me out to the car. And I remember thinking, oh, my gosh, you know, I'm going to have blood all over. You know, it wasn't like I just had this baby. It was what are these people going to see, and what are they going to think? So we went to St. Luke's Hospital. And the nurses came and whisked him away. And I was kept in lock down after that. You know, it was kind of like we have to check her mental status, and is she OK?

MARTIN: Do you think you were OK?



OHMAN: I have no doubt in my mind. I mean, there was never, never, never any doubt in my mind, Rachel, that I would give the baby away. And I - I mean, I sat and talked to doctors and counselors and nurses and still, interesting enough, I really didn't have the discussion with my parents. It was kind of just in my mind, you know, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I had to do. And I flew home with my parents. And life began as a single mother.

MARTIN: Do you remember the conversations with your parents from those early days? I mean, were they asking themselves, how could we, as your parents, not have known?

OHMAN: I thought about it a lot. And my mom has told me since that it was a very hard time for her. And she struggled so much. But we've never talked about it. My dad came into the hospital, and I was standing at the nursery. And I was watching James. And he looked at me, and he said, you know, you're not my little girl anymore. And those words have resonated in my mind, I mean, 22 years. You know, it was just, like, what a disappointment. What have I done? I've let them down. So I mean, that's something I've had to deal with. And I believe I have. But I also believe that things happen for a reason.

MARTIN: How did you make it work? Did you have day care or family who were helping you?

OHMAN: Thinking back, you know, my family helped a lot as well as welfare. But I remember taking him to classes with me, you know? And he'd come to work with me.

MARTIN: Really?

OHMAN: Yeah. He was always right there.

MARTIN: Tell me about your son now. James is in college, right?

OHMAN: Yes. James is 22 years old. He's amazing. He makes me proud every day.

MARTIN: What have you told him about your experience?

OHMAN: We've talked about it quite a few times. We've been back there. I mean, he was probably 10 years old, and I took him to Chaffee Hall where he was born. And I showed him the stall. You know, and I think it was important for him to see that, you know? That it was just he and I. It was me bringing him into this world.

MARTIN: Have you talked with him about sex?

OHMAN: Very openly, yes. We talk about everything, nothing is off-limits. And I've always been that way with both of my boys. I just feel like you can't give your kids enough information. And I felt like, you know, that was why it was so hard for me to share. It was just such an off-limits, a taboo subject. You know, it was just something that wouldn't happen to me or anyone I knew, for that matter. I think as a teenager, I was invincible.

MARTIN: When you think now, back to that day, how do you perceive that moment?

OHMAN: The moment that he was born?


OHMAN: Life-changing, but I don't know life any different. I don't know what I'd do without him. I don't know where I'd be right now. And, you know, I always identify myself firstly as a mother because that's what I've always been. So I can't imagine life any differently.

MARTIN: That was my childhood friend, Brittany Ohman, talking about her experience as a teen mom 22 years ago.

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