‘Let’s speak about delivery choices.’ ‘Excuse me,’ I said. The call came in at 10:53 on my husband’s phone.’ While on vacation, an active-duty Army wife gives birth unexpectedly.

“We were on vacation in Florida two days before Ben was born. My husband and I are both active-duty Army soldiers, and we had spent the entire pregnancy alternating field training missions. He was gone for about eight weeks from late January to late March, leaving me pregnant, working almost 60 hours per week, and caring for our one-year-old. We travelled from Tennessee to Vero Beach, Florida, for one last vacation as a family of three at the end of April, when I was 35 weeks pregnant. Our little man was ready to make the main entrance, and we had no idea.

Courtesy of Erin Williams

I had two Soldiers engaged in a significant motorcycle accident while in Florida. They were taken to several hospitals in Nashville, about an hour away from the base. We arrived home late Monday night, and I spent Tuesday on base gathering documentation to deliver to their families. I skipped physical training on Wednesday morning to visit my Soldiers in Nashville. The first appointment went off perfectly. The second, though, is a different storey. My Soldier was in the ICU at Vanderbilt University Hospital with many severe orthopaedic injuries. I tried to maintain my calm and be professional. Still, the combination of being 35 weeks pregnant, seeing his wounds, and the odours and heat of the ICU (which is kept heated because most patients are exposed due to their injuries) forced me to pass out and fall forward on my stomach.

I awoke slightly perplexed and highly humiliated. I didn’t want to appear weak as an Army officer visiting a Soldier. I apologised sincerely and assured everyone that I was alright. My Soldier’s mother warned me not to be silly; she was a nurse practitioner, and she was surprised I went so late in my pregnancy. The ICU personnel recognised that I had fallen forward on my stomach and summoned the quick response team to transport me to the emergency room. I was taken out of the ICU on a trolley, in full uniform, via the ER. They sent me up to L&D because I was over 20 weeks pregnant. I was turned over to Mickey, a nurse who informed me that I would be watched for ‘4 to 24 hours.’ My stomach dropped. At work, I had a lot of stuff to finish. The next day, I was having a work social. My daughter and husband were stationed on base an hour away. I hadn’t even dialled my husband’s number because he was at a conference with a general officer, which I knew was crucial.

Courtesy of Erin Williams

I had hoped that I would only require four hours of monitoring. My vitals were in excellent condition. The baby was moving about, and his heart rate remained consistent in the 120s to 130s. My babies’ heart rates were lower in both of them. I believe it had something to do with my fitness, though I’m unsure. I continued to lift weights and exercise throughout both pregnancies, even doing a 5k while pushing a jogging stroller in the third trimester. (Of course, with my midwife’s blessing.) The contraction monitor was detecting regular contractions. What I thought was the baby moving turned out to be Braxton-Hicks. It was evident that I wasn’t a ‘4-hour’ person because they came every 2-4 minutes. I was in such a bad mood. My infant seemed to be acceptable for the most part. My cervical check revealed that I was ‘high and tight’ and was nowhere near labour. But, despite their ineffectiveness, the contractions were going to keep me in the hospital.

Courtesy of Erin Williams

I did my best to fight it without being completely dumb. I was desperate to leave after four hours, drive an hour north to our base hospital, and conclude my monitoring there. I FELT OK, the baby wasn’t in distress, and it would be so much simpler logistically for my husband and daughter if I were in our local Army hospital rather than Vanderbilt, which was an hour away. I kept dismissing the entire situation, believing that I should be permitted to leave. I could theoretically go, according to the attending OB, but it would be against medical advice.

After the OB, our nurse, Mickey, told me she thought I should stay. She also informed me that many insurance companies would deny coverage for appointments where a patient refuses to follow medical advice. I discovered I was one of them after making a few phone calls. As a result, I stayed. My husband brought down an overnight bag, and I eventually changed out of my uniform and moved from triage to a regular room. My contractions continued to slow while I ate my Jell-O dinner. They had entirely stopped by 9 p.m. Soon after, I fell asleep, believing that at the very least, I’d have an excellent night’s sleep, knowing that my kid wouldn’t wake me up.

However, shortly after 10:30, that restful night’s sleep came to an end. The baby’s heart rate was slowing down. A pair of nurses raced in to see whether the monitors could be adjusted for a better read. At first, I wasn’t too concerned. My previous baby had been challenging to keep track of since she moved around so much, and I expected this one would be the same. To assist raise his heart rate, the staff relocated me, the monitors and placed me on oxygen. An OB entered the room a few minutes later. ‘We should probably explore delivery possibilities,’ she remarked, looking at the latest readings.

What’s my reaction? ‘Excuse me,’ I say. This caught me entirely off the surprise. I asked what the possibilities were when she repeated herself. I wasn’t in labour, and the baby’s heart rate dropped, so it was a rhetorical question. So the decision had already been made: a c-section. She made the call between 10:45 and 10:50 a.m. They grabbed the hotel phone and dialled the OR team’s number. I was still perplexed but remarkably composed. I couldn’t do anything to change things. The only way to save Ben was to do this.

I hadn’t signed any of the consent documents, so I was briefed and consented the entire way to the OR. While they pulled me down the hall, the OB called my husband, who was sound sleeping at home. As they took me from the bed to the OR table, I met the anesthesiologist and paediatrician. I inquired about my anaesthetic options, as there was no time for anything other than a complete knockout. As the nurses prepared my tummy, I could hear the OB urging the anaesthesia team to hurry. Close the curtains. Remove your underwear. Remove your clothing. The water is ice cold. Iodine. Everything seemed palpable to me. ‘All right, we’re going to put you to sleep now,’ the anesthesiologist stated. I blacked out for the second time that day. My husband’s phone indicated that he received the call at 10:53. At 11:06 a.m., Ben was born.

Courtesy of Erin Williams

My husband drove through the night with our sleeping toddler in the car, having no idea if we were alive or dead. He eventually reached out to my sister, a medical student fresh off an ER shift at Vandy. The delivery went well. This is a baby boy. 18.5 inches, 5 lb, 9 oz. Healthy. Mom was on the mend. I was being brought back to my hospital room when he came. Baby Ben arrived shortly after 1 a.m. He was a tiny man, but he was in good health. He was admitted to the NICU for breathing and feeding assistance, but he was OK. My placenta had abrupted when I fell, we later learnt. On minimal oxygen, Baby Ben had made it through the day. His pulse rate didn’t slow down until his lifeline was cut off. He would not have survived if he hadn’t been delivered that night.

Courtesy of Erin Williams

When I look back, I see that I was on the verge of leaving. I was on the verge of walking away. I was on the point of allowing the inconvenience to take my son’s life. To this day, I thank Mickey, my angel nurse, for urging me to stay and provide me with insurance under their policy. I’m overcome with appreciation every time I gaze at my thriving 8-month-old. He’s here, he’s living, and because of all we’ve been through, I don’t take anything for granted.”

Courtesy of Erin Williams
Courtesy of Erin Williams

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