Hurricane season. They warned us this year would an active season. Talk about an understatement. Harvey in Texas. Irma in Florida. Jose on the heels of Irma. Unprecedented, they say. Since I moved to Houston in 1981, I’ve lived through Alicia, Allison, Rita, and Ike. But before those hurricanes, there was another one I’ll never forget. My very first encounter.
I was living in the Florida Keys in 1965 when Category 4 Hurricane Betsy cycloned down upon us on September 5.
“Betsy was a huge storm — more than 600 miles from edge to edge with an eye estimated to be 40 miles wide at one point. The size of the storm meant that while the eye passed over the Keys, serious damage stretched north to Fort Lauderdale. The storm brought a six-foot storm surge that flooded Miami and Fort Lauderdale and is said to have nearly covered the island of Key Biscayne.” (Sun Sentinel, September 9, 1965)
On August 25, 1965, my daughter, Shawn, was born. Earlier that day my second husband, and Shawn’s father, Johnny, was at work on a lobster fishing boat in Key West. I was alone in our Airstream parked in Big Pine Key. The baby wasn’t due for another month. I started having back pain that got increasing worse. Was I in labor? Something was pushing against my back. I tried telling myself, “No, just relax. The pain will go away. This doesn’t feel like labor pains.” But the pain didn’t go away. I needed help. I ran outside to the few other trailers in the area and pounded on doors. I screamed. Nobody answered. I limped back home.
By some fortunate calculation where I must have foreseen this happening, or maybe the doctor had given me a copy, I had a book on “How to Deliver a Baby by Yourself.” As I positioned myself sideways on the couch, I now read this from cover to cover and again until I practically memorized it. At one point when the pressure became urgent, I went to the toilet and discovered I could touch the baby’s head.
I screamed. My husband burst into the door. He’d had a premonition that he needed to leave the fishing boat and rush home. He put me into the car and rushed me to his boss’s house. His boss ran inside and telephoned for the paramedics. When he came back to the car, I was on my knees in the front seat and Johnny was delivering my 5 pound baby girl. As he held our baby, he picked up his fishing knife, and asked, “Should I cut the cord?”
Having read the book on how to deliver a baby by yourself, I screamed, “No!” Fortunately, the paramedics arrived minutes later. They put me in the ambulance with my baby Shawn on top of my stomach, cord still attached, and drove to the hospital in Marathon Key. There the doctors delivered the afterbirth. The actual birth on my knees in the car was almost pain free, unlike the afterbirth.
Three weeks later we drove to a motel in Homestead with many of our neighbors to hunker down in the wake of Hurricane Betsy. Johnny brought his guitar and we all tried to keep calm in that one cramped motel room. I had bottles of milk since I was physically unable to breastfeed as much as the baby needed. With the loss of electricity, we heated her bottle in the radiator of the car amidst the onslaught of winds and rain.
When Betsy finally moved on, we ventured back home. We viewed the fallen trees and destruction on the way and wondered if our Airstream and attached cabana would still be there. The cabana was long gone, but our Airstream home was sturdy as ever.