TAMPA — Robin Lumley, childless, overweight and unmarried at 46, arrived at an emergency room 2 1/2 years ago complaining of terrible abdominal pain.
Nurses documented her symptoms and a doctor ordered tests. When Lumley said she needed to use the restroom, they let her go.
A short while later, the medical staff at University Community Hospital in Carrollwood found that she had delivered a 6-pound baby girl into the toilet.
Lumley didn't even know she was pregnant, an attorney says.
But Harold "Tripp" Sebring III claims the medical staff should have. Because it missed obvious signs of labor, he says, Lumley's baby almost drowned.
Sebring sued the hospital last month, contending that baby Brianna Rose Lumley went into respiratory arrest and suffered brain damage due to treatment providers' negligence. He wants the hospital to pay for Brianna's lifelong medical care.
Sebring is suing on the child's behalf, not the mother's. If he succeeds, Robin Lumley won't get a dime.
"I'm pretty upset with the mother," he said. But more so, he's "pretty upset with the nurses and the hospital. It is a very basic component of care."
The hospital would not comment on the pending litigation.
Any woman who has endured pregnancy and childbirth might find it hard to believe a fellow female could be unaware of her condition. But psychologists say some women hide their pregnancy to the point that they convince themselves they are not carrying a child.
The denial can have tragic outcomes.
In 1989, 18-year-old Claire Moritt's baby boy drowned after she delivered him into a toilet in her dormitory room near the University of South Florida. Prosecutors tried her for murder, but jurors found her not guilty by reason of insanity after defense attorneys convinced them that she had lost touch with reality and did not know she was pregnant.
Dr. Alexander E. Obolsky, who specializes in psychiatric trauma in Chicago, said Lumley doesn't fit the typical profile of young women who worry about their family's reactions to an unplanned pregnancy.
Still, other factors could have played into Lumley's disconnect with reality, he said. She might not have gained a lot of weight due to her already heavy frame. Though Sebring said she had not had a period in eight months and 24 days, she might have attributed the absence to something else. Lumley had traces of cocaine in her bloodstream when she gave birth, the lawyer said; substance abuse could have clouded her awareness.
"This appears to be, at least on the surface, that there was something going on with this lady psychologically that she was not in tune with her body," Obolsky said. "We all know people who have poor self-observation. People who have bad breath. People who have body odor."
Terry Mills, 50, has two children. She had heard of this kind of thing happening, but she found Lumley's situation hard to believe. So far as Mills knows, the baby's father didn't know Lumley was pregnant, either.
Mills is the father's aunt and Brianna's great-aunt. She has been the child's caregiver for 13 months, since Lumley tested positive for cocaine again. Lumley now lives in Nevada and could not be reached.
Mills said Brianna is just starting to speak. She has had physical therapy to strengthen her limbs, and Mills worries about what other physical challenges might arise.
"She's a lovely child," Mills said. It's a miracle that she's here."
Sebring says the hospital failed the child by overlooking her mother's symptoms. At 8:58 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2006, Lumley showed up at the hospital and reported sharp pain in her abdomen and vaginal bleeding. She thought she might have cancer.
A doctor ordered a pregnancy test — which wasn't performed, the lawsuit states — but couldn't conduct a full exam because Lumley was in too much pain, Sebring said.
The attorney said the staff should have been on "high alert" that Lumley was in labor and should never have let her go to the bathroom unassisted. That's how he defends this lawsuit.
Another man's take?
"Chutzpah," Obolsky said. "This is America. You've got to love this country. This woman doesn't know she is pregnant, but somebody else should."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.