Abby Wellington, 34, a pediatrician and second-year neonatal fellow, and her husband Stephen Olefson, 35, who works in commercial real estate, were not planning to have their second child in their Fort Lee, N.J., apartment without an OBGYN. But when Abby's labor came on as fast and furious as the hurricane winds that were blowing outside her door on Monday night, that's exactly what happened. Here, in their own words, is the story of how Abby and Stephen's new baby Henley entered the world at 8-pounds even, just after 10:30 p.m. on Monday, during Hurricane Sandy.
Stephen: We were in bed probably around 9. We had no electricity, no power, no running water, so we went to bed early. At 10 she says, "I'm having stomach pains." Five minutes later, the same thing happens again.
There was still some hot water in the pipes, so I said, "You know what? Why don’t I just run you a bath? You can sit in there and be comfortable, if this is going to be five or 10 hours."
Abby: I didn’t realize I was in labor until halfway through. All of a sudden, it just got very intense. I felt like I was going to faint. Either something was wrong and we needed to leave right away, or I was about to deliver, which I just couldn’t wrap my brain around.
Stephen: Her due date was Tuesday, the 30th. We thought that if she did end up going into labor during the storm, we should be prepared. We live in a high-rise, and asked the front desk if there was an OBGYN in the building. He gave us a name and a number. We also talked to our neighbor, who is a physician's assistant, to see if she would help out.
Another tenant we ran into was like, "Oh my god, you’re still pregnant? I have a box of gloves, let me give you a box of gloves just in case."
Then my wife said, "You know those potato chip bag clips? Let's just find them and keep them out." So now we have gloves and a potato chip clip to clamp the umbilical cord. And we were thinking -- this is totally far-fetched, but at least we have it.
Abby: There wasn’t a lot of room in the bathroom. There’s a bathtub on the left, and then the sink, the toilet and a small square space. But we didn’t have anywhere else to go. There was no power in the living room, and our son was in the bedroom. [Abby and Stephen's 2-year-old son, Oliver, slept through the storm and his sister's birth.]
Stephen put a ton of towels and pillows on the bathroom floor. It was a little square area where everything ended up happening. There were some votive candles sitting on the floor in front of the toilet. It wasn’t romantic [laughs].
Stephen: There were no signs [that she was in labor], no nothing. And then it was 10:30 and we’re saying: "Okay. This is really happening." I called the OBGYN upstairs, but I had very bad cell service, because the towers were out.
With our son, my wife labored for eight or nine hours at home before we went into the hospital. I got out my chart. I was looking at the old sheets for Oliver, saying "Oh, she had contractions every 14 minutes." Here, it was like 90 seconds.
It was totally different. One hand's calling 911, one hand's knocking on the door of the neighbor, the other hand is trying to keep charts, I’m trying to pack a bag, I’m trying to get potato chip clips from IKEA ...
Abby: Luckily, my neighbor had her wits about her and guided us through it. I mean, she didn’t really know what to do, but she was a calming presence.
I was telling her what I was feeling, and she was telling me what she was seeing. My body knew what to do next, and we just kept responding to it.
Stephen: In medical terms it's called a precipitous delivery. You'll hear about it every once in a while, but it's very rare, particularly in our circumstances [laughs] -- no light, no heat, literally by candlelight. We used the same candles we used for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday party.
I had total faith in my wife. She swears that she kept saying, "Something is not right" a hundred times, but I only heard it once. She had, maybe, 15 contractions, 10 minutes of pre-labor, and 30 minutes of labor. When you're with someone like my wife, it's sort of, in them you trust.
Abby: I did not feel calm.
But once the baby was out, I became my neonatologist self and told them what to do: “Clamp the cord! Get towels! Get a hat!” I felt totally fine the second the baby came out. Before that, I was in another world.
Stephen: Fifteen minutes later, in comes the OBGYN from upstairs, in come all of these police and ambulance people, and we're sitting in the bathroom with two potato chip clamps on each end of the umbilical cord. The baby’s great. Happy, crying, warm.
The medics and the police say, "This is so cool! We never get calls like this, especially on a day like today when we’ve only had bad news." Everyone [who] was there was joyous and celebrating. It was a very cool moment.
The conditions on the drive to the hospital were very gusty and windy and Armageddon-like. We had a 6 p.m. curfew that night.
Abby: It took me a good 24 hours to process it. I felt bad, because at first I could barely focus on the fact that I had the baby, that Henley was here, I was so focused on the experience. But now I feel like everything has sunk in.
Stephen: Crazy. The whole thing was crazy.
This story has been edited and condensed.