A newborn baby(Photo: © iStockphoto)

Just as a much-needed vacation was getting under way last summer, Jennifer West woke to a painful period: cramps, back pain, achy all over. Miserable, she was ready to stay right where she was until her discomfort passed. But lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wasn't helping. In fact, her back felt a little worse like that. Her side, maybe? No luck. She sighed. So much for vacation.

West, 31, and her husband, Dan, of Villa Park, Illinois, were staying in a cabin in Wisconsin with two friends, Anna Puccinelli and Jan De Keyser. Dan's parents were just down the hill in another cabin. They'd planned a low-key long weekend for the Fourth of July, but on the morning of July 3, the thought of just watching fireworks made West cringe. She couldn't get comfortable, no matter what. She walked in circles around the cabins, and up and down the steps that connected them.

By afternoon, she was so exhausted that she begged off mini-golf. "Come on, you'll be fine," Puccinelli, her best friend since childhood, urged. But West knew she wasn't up to it.

"I'm going to try to nap," she said. "I'm sure I'll feel better by the time you all get back." She managed to nap, fitfully, for an hour or so, but woke up panicked. Could the pain actually be worse? Five years before, a fibroid tumor had caused a similar sensation in her abdomen. Then there was the ruptured ovarian cyst she'd experienced in 2002, which had also hurt like terrible cramps -- and had started with a backache. She couldn't bear the thought of dealing with either again.

So while she was relieved when Dan and her friends returned, what they saw took them aback. Pale and unhappy, West was whimpering involuntarily every few minutes. "This isn't like you," Dan said. "I think we should go to the hospital." "No, no," she protested. "I'll be fine." Whimper. If she didn't go, she thought to herself, then nothing could really be wrong.

But Dan could tell that something was wrong. His wife was not one to moan and groan. She'd stoically made it through ulcers, the fibroid tumor, the cyst. For her to be near tears was bad -- and the fact that they were so secluded was making him nervous. "Jen," he said, "we're going." And they went.

An unbelievable surprise

They arrived in the emergency room of Hayward Area Memorial Hospital around 7 p.m. "I'm having the worst period of my life," West told the nurse on duty. After she gave her medical history, another nurse ran an ultrasound wand over her stomach, listening for the noise fibroid tumors make as blood flows through them. West heard a familiar "thump, thump," and her heart sank.

"Well, it could be another tumor, or it could be a baby," the nurse said.

"It's not a baby," West said. Wondering if she'd need surgery again (and when? How soon? Would she have to miss work?), she realized that this, at least, might explain the weight she'd gained recently: She knew that large fibroids can sometimes cause abdominal swelling.

The nurse left to get a doctor. When Brent Kelley arrived, he gave West an internal exam. Then he said the last thing she expected to hear.

"You're eight centimeters dilated."

"What?" West said. "What?!"

A nurse rushed out into the hall to tell Dan: "Great news. Your wife's in labor!"

"My wife? Oh, sorry, you must have the wrong guy," he said.