SARANAC LAKE - Jason and Mary Smith were determined to get the hospital before their baby was born. The only thing standing in their way was Tropical Storm Irene.
The Smiths, who live on Cedar Street in Saranac Lake, welcomed their first child into the world Monday morning, hours after a harrowing, nearly two-hour drive through one of the worst storms to hit the North Country in decades.
Tessa Katherine Smith was born at 11:32 a.m. Monday at Champlain Valley Physician's Hospital in Plattsburgh. A healthy baby girl, she weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
Mary and Jason Smith sit on the couch with their newborn daughter Tessa, at their home in Saranac Lake Thursday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The Smiths got home from the hospital on Wednesday and sat down with the Enterprise Thursday to share the story of their daughter's birth - a story they'll be telling for many years to come.
The Smiths and a group of their friends had gathered Sunday night for a dinner party at a camp on Lower Saranac Lake. With the power out due to the storm, it was a candlelit dinner with food cooked on a gas stove.
"On the way over, I said to my husband, 'Mary and Jason are coming. She's not due for another week but, poor girl, she'll probably go into labor or something,'" recalled Kathy Ford, a friend of the Smiths. "Sure enough, I was only there for about five minutes in the kitchen and Mary grabs me and pulls me into the bathroom because her water had broken."
Jason Smith said he was teaching a young boy how to play the piano, and had just made himself a drink.
"I was about to take a sip of it when Kathy Ford came in and said, 'You have to come in the kitchen,'" he said. "I came in, and they told me Mary's water broke."
With the help of their friends, the Smiths started working out the logistics of how they were going to get to the hospital.
The Smiths could have had their baby locally at Adirondack Medical Center, but they decided months ago to go to CVPH, partly because it was closer to some of the midwives they had worked with during Mary's pregnancy.
"Getting to Plattsburgh was really important to me because I was hoping to see some of those familiar, wonderful faces who had helped us through all along," Mary said.
The Smiths decided to stick to that plan. Even though it had been raining hard all day, Tropical Storm Irene hadn't caused any serious problems in the Saranac Lake area, and the Smiths had been told by state police that the road to Plattsburgh, at that point, was clear.
"I probably would have stayed home even longer because I wasn't having bad contractions, but we were worried about the weather," Mary Smith said. "It was still light out so we figured, 'Let's just get going.'"
The Smiths got into their Subaru Outback, picked up their doula, which is like a midwife, and headed out of town on state Route 3. It was almost 7:30 p.m.
The farther away from Saranac Lake they got, the weather grew more intense and the road conditions became more hazardous.
"We left Saranac Lake, and it was calm," Mary Smith said. "But as we were approaching Plattsburgh and looking around, it was like, 'We're really in a hurricane. This isn't a joke.' There's fires, there's trees down, there's barricades. There's fire trucks and police cars."
"It looked like the classic scene where the news reporter is out in the weather trying to give a summation of what's happening, and he's being blown all over," Jason Smith said. "Trees were bending over. Wind was changing directions. There were power lines down. There were a lot of trees down."
Asked if he was worried that they wouldn't make it, or that the baby could come while they were still in their car, Jason Smith said he didn't think about it.
"I had no doubt we weren't going to get there," he said. "In my mind, I just decided we had to get to the hospital."
As the storm was unleashing its fury all around them, "We were talking about quiet birth versus noisy birth, and that kind of thing, just kind of filling up the space," Mary said. "I think everyone was unnerved because of the weather but no one was really saying it, so I was just like, 'Let's just get to Plattsburgh. Get me to the hospital.'"
Mary said her biggest worry during the car ride was that she wasn't going to be able to get a room. She had read about how significant decreases in barometric pressure, like during a hurricane or tropical storm, can sometimes lead to an early onset of labor in expectant mothers.
"I figured, since it was a new moon and with the low barometric pressure, that everyone's water would be breaking, and the floor would be filled up with women having babies," Mary said. "That was another reason we made a mad dash to the hospital."
A new life
But when they finally got to CVPH around 9:15 p.m., there was no one else on the birthing floor.
"We had it all to ourselves," Jason said. "It was strange to go from such chaos out on the road to such quiet."
Tessa was born the following morning, about a week before her due date. Mary said she didn't take any medications and had a fully natural childbirth, just as she and Jason wanted.
Kathy Ford said she's just glad they made it safely to the hospital.
"I'm really happy they were able to get through alright and get up to Plattsburgh with all the devastation that we've had," Ford said. "It's kind of a happy side to the story, with everything else that's going on."
"The symbolism is just awesome," Jason Smith said, "trees crashing down outside while a new life enters the world."
The Smiths said they briefly considered giving their daughter the middle name Irene, but ultimately decided not to.