The woman accused of attempting to murder her baby girl on Valentine's Day shortly after the child was born in the bathroom of an assisted living facility may not have known she was pregnant in the months and days leading up to the incident.
Maggie Peyton of Vernonia said she met with Jennifer St. John, 21, and her former boyfriend, Jason Miner, 20, the presumed father of the baby, and another woman on Feb. 17 or 18, at which time St. John said she didn't know she was pregnant until she started giving birth.
'They all had the same story - that Jennifer didn't know she was pregnant,' said Peyton, who as executive director of the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council was Miner's employer. Miner worked for the council on streamside reforestation projects, according to Peyton. Miner has quit his job and is pursuing custody of the baby. The conversation between Peyton, St. John and Miner took place when the trio stopped by to pick up his final paycheck from the watershed council, after the baby was born and before St. John was arrested, according to Peyton.
St. John was arrested Feb. 21 and charged with attempted aggravated murder and two charges of assault in connection with the incident. She is accused of abandoning her newborn child in a toilet at Meadow Park Center where she worked as a certified nurses' assistant.
St. Johns' attorney, Jean Marie Martwick, would not comment on whether her client knew she was pregnant or whether such a claim might be used in her defense.
Peyton said St. John 'looked pale and traumatized' when she saw her two weeks ago.
'At that point I didn't delve into the nitty-gritty of the situation,' said Peyton, 'I just gave her a hug.'
Peyton said prior to her recent meeting with St. John and Miner, the last time she saw St. John was several weeks ago. She said she remembers wondering if St. John was expecting a baby.
'I was going to ask her if she was pregnant, but nobody was talking about it so I didn't want to offend her if she was just gaining weight,' said Peyton, who in the more recent meeting noticed that St. John was 'visibly thinner.'
Peyton, puzzled by the alleged undetected pregnancy claim, said she subsequently looked into the plausibility of women becoming pregnant without knowing it and found such cases, often involving women who were taking 'new age birth control' medications, although she conceded she had no knowledge of the relevancy of birth control medication in the St. Johns case.
'I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt,' said Peyton, who considers St. John a 'good mother' to her other child, a 3-year-old boy. The attempted murder alleged by the police 'seems out of character,' Peyton added. 'I don't think she planned to give birth on her own in a bathroom that day. I think she was traumatized and made a bad decision; after all, she just gave birth.'
Dr. David Wagar, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) in Portland, said it is possible but not likely that a woman would go to term with a baby and not know she was pregnant.
'A young girl that didn't have periods and didn't want to be pregnant probably would have had to ignore some signs to convince herself of that,' said Wagar. Chief among those signs is movement of the baby, which pregnant women almost always feel. Women who are overweight tend to be less sensitive to movement, but even most of them can feel their fetus kick or move at some point during their pregnancy, he said.
The OHSU doctor, who has delivered more than 1,000 babies, said he has encountered only one case where a woman didn't know she was pregnant until a short time before giving birth. That case involved a 45-year-old patient who had been overweight and recently lost 80 pounds. The woman came in complaining of abdominal pains that turned out to be contractions. Wagar theorizes that her rapid weight loss triggered ovulation after a long time without regular menstrual cycles.
'She was embarrassed and shocked,' Wagar said of his only case of undetected pregnancy. 'I think she realized in the back of her mind it was possible and maybe pushed it out. Denial is a pretty powerful force. We've all convinced ourselves of things that we didn't want to believe.'
It is true, according to Wagar, that women who take the birth control medication Depo-Provera frequently quit having menstrual cycles. Other hormone-based medications can have the same effect, he said, which could mask a pregnancy.
Severe bleeding is common in childbirth, and lacking professional medical care it could have posed a life-threatening situation, panic and confusion.
'Clearly, if you have a hemorrhage and you are not in a hospital you are at risk for a bad outcome,' he said. 'In a panic, it's hard to predict what any of us would do.'