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The Complications of Being Pregnant & Giving Birth on a Small Island

Photo of smiling pregnant woman relaxing in nature on a beautiful sunny day

Living on North Haven, an island off the coast of Maine, added a lot of wrinkles to my pregnancy. There were regular trips to the mainland (which meant bringing the car on the ferry, planning ahead and buying a ticket and reservation, or putting it in line and hoping it got on, and then dealing with pregnancy-induced seasickness en route).

There was the inconvenient fact of not being able to deal with cravings quickly (we have one store, and it is small and closes at 7 p.m. Sorry, pregnant and craving hard lemon candy at midnight me of the past!). And as my due date drew closer, there was the urgent need to be close to my hospital, which was, of course, separated from me by 12.5 miles of ocean.

I decided to leave the island and stay on the mainland at 39 weeks, when my maternity leave started, although this got pushed back a few days because of an on-island funeral. As I was preparing to finally go, I carefully packed my hospital bag. I had polled friends and read blog after blog to decide what should go in it.

Being on the mainland meant nobody could just run home and grab something for me once we were there. I put in slippers and big fuzzy socks, even though I hate wearing socks. I put in hand lotion and chapstick, a pretty, silky bathrobe, and nursing nightgown. I put in some baby books, tiny hats and onesies, a water bottle, and a few snacks.

I got on the boat Monday morning and headed to my best friend/doula’s parents’ house, where I would stay until after the baby was born. I brought clothes, my toothbrush, and other necessities, a hardcopy of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” as well as a few other lighter reads in my iPad. I brought one of my cats, who had a vet appointment, and who would be sent back on the boat with a friend later that day.

I did not bring my hospital bag.

I was walking on the boat, and since I had a cat carrier with a behemoth tabby in it, I was limited as to what else I could carry. My husband, who would join me Wednesday of that week, would bring the bag. Besides, I wasn’t due until Friday, and my mother was a few days late with me, so I assumed I would be waiting at least a week until there was any need for a hospital bag.

What’s the phrase? Der mensch trahkt unt Got lahkt? Man plans and God laughs? After two relaxing days on the mainland, eating delicious food, visiting with my best friend and her family, and sleeping spread out over an entire bed, alone, I went into labor at 4:00 Wednesday morning. I waited an hour to see if the contractions were regular—they were, 10 minutes apart like clockwork—and woke up my friend’s mother, who happened to be a retired obstetrician.

After feeling my belly tighten, she told me to start making phone calls. I woke my husband up at our house on the island, and told him he should really get on the first boat, at 7:30 a.m., rather than the middle ferry, which left at 12:30. We had a reservation for the car to get on the middle boat, but the clinic kindly granted him a medical reservation for the first departure. When he got to the boat, however, with the car filled with his bags, our dog, the dog’s bags, and yes, my hospital bag, the ferry refused to honor the medical reservation, since the patient (me) wasn’t actually with him.

As I rolled on a yoga ball a dozen or so miles away, breathing and stretching through contractions with the help of my doula, I started getting angry texts from my husband—obscenity-laced rants against the Department of Transportation. I used all of my calm breathing to type back “JUST GET ON THE BOAT. ONLY ONE OF US IS ALLOWED TO SWEAR RIGHT NOW.”

After making arrangements with friends to get the car driven on the middle boat, and finding a ride to where I was staying, my husband walked on the boat with the dog, the dog’s bag, his own bag—and without my hospital bag, which was left in the car.

We waited a bit longer and headed to the hospital when I decided the baby was possibly going to fall out onto my friend’s mother’s floor, which was very clean. As soon as I arrived in the tiny birthing room, I ditched my shoes (and went barefoot—my slippers and fuzzy socks were stranded) and half of my clothes.

Within an hour I was pushing, and as my husband concernedly watched me, he kept offering chapstick (which was also stranded). We requisitioned a water jug with a straw in place of my missing water bottle. At 12:30, our friends drove our car and my hospital bag onto the ferry, and at 12:38, Penrose was born.

Once we were reunited with our car, thanks to my doula’s parents who went and picked it up from the boat, I was happy for the baby books, tiny hats and onesies, and for my slippers (although I continued to eschew the fuzzy socks). I wore the pretty, silky gown, which stretched grotesquely over my still-swollen abdomen. The snacks went largely uneaten, the chapstick and hand lotion unnecessary in the relatively humid May air.

A hospital bag is nice to have, but in the heat of the moment, all I really needed was my support system, a ride to the hospital, and a healthy baby.


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