The Blizzard Baby

December 2017

If we have a national sport in this country, it isn’t hockey or lacrosse; it’s talking about the weather. And in the nation’s capital, early March 2008 was the playoffs. It was a winter that threatened to break all records — the snow came early, and contrary to the predictions of wise rodents in places like Wiarton, it was hanging around late.

day to day, by Jillian Gardiner. Encaustic.

Early morning on Wednesday, March 5th, I arrived home from a 15-day trip that had taken me toIslamorada Key FL, Houston TX, and St John’s NL. When I left on February 20th, I fully expected to be greeted by the dull brown palette of the Ottawa spring at the end of the trip, but Mother Nature had other plans. A storm was in the process of dumping 28 additional cms of snow on the 300+ already covering the ground. The weather folks were warning us to brace ourselves for even more intense second and third waves coming on Friday evening and throughout the day on Saturday.

Ten to fifteen centimetres fell on Friday night, as predicted, and we awoke to a cloudy, grey Saturday morning. The radio was still warning that the worst was yet to come, and they were right; it started around midday on Saturday, and let loose with an onslaught of wind and snow I hadn’t seen since Labrador. When it was all over on Sunday morning, the total for the weekend was 56 cm. An almost unbelievable 84 cm had fallen since Wednesday.

I made blueberry pancakes (our weekend tradition), gulped down a couple mugs of coffee, and suited up to tackle the four feet of powder that had blown level across our driveway. Despite her pregnancy, my partner Steph, and our son Sam, joined me after a while, and it became a team effort. After an hour or so, they headed back inside, and I continued chipping away at the mountain.

Urban legend has it that the Inuit have a few dozen words for snow — I added a few more to the list on March 9th. The snow was so deep that it would bury my poor little Honda, and soon the governor froze, causing it to sputter and surge. Back to the garage, where I thawed the frigid machine with a heat gun, refuelled myself with coffee, and soon we were back at it again.

By noon, I had finished three driveways, and wandered across the street to chat with our newest neighbours, Clay and Laurette, who had recently moved from Vancouver Island and were still in shock. Soon, a bundled figure approached. As it got closer, I recognised my friend Corey, who wasted no time in telling me that Steph wanted me to come home, and asked me if he could borrow my blower. I thought for a second that he might be trying to deke me with the story about Steph just to get the snowblower, but I thought it best not to take chances. Corey left with the blower, and I headed home.

Unbeknownst to me, while I had been out clearing snow, Steph had quietly been in labour for a couple of hours. Sam had been the labour coach, and was ecstatic when Steph told him that she thought his baby sister was coming today. He laid beside her, breathed and moaned with her, and read stories during the breaks. He brought her water, regularly ran to the window to check where I was, and even offered up Kentucky (his stuffed horse) to his mother for comfort. At one point, Steph realised that she needed to page the midwives, but the card with the phone numbers was stuck on the fridge. “Sam, I need you to do something for me. I know you’re not supposed to climb on chairs, but I need you to push a chair up to the fridge, climb up on it, and bring me the pink card that’s there.” Sam took off on a mission. Steph heard the chair sliding across the floor, and the pitter-patter of Sam running back to the room — horrified. “I can’t reach it, Maman! It’s too high!”

After enduring some more of his mom’s moaning, he took off for the kitchen again, and returned, triumphant, with the card. We have never figured out how he got it, but it was as high up on the fridge as it could have been. Meanwhile, I arrived home, opened the front door and called out to see if everything was OK.

“I think today’s going to be the day”, came the voice from the top of the stairs.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it’s started, and we should be getting ready to head to the hospital soon.”

Followed by, “No panic, it’s just starting.”

            I came upstairs and found Steph lying down on Sam’s futon (Sam has been sleeping on a futon on the floor since deciding, at the age of 9 months, that cribs were for wimps). She was having mild contractions (they looked mild to me, anyway), and said they were about five minutes apart, and a minute long. Not having a clue what that meant, I nodded, and asked, “So what are we doing?” “We should maybe get going.”

I reported that the road was currently impassable, but that I would retrieve my snow blower from Corey and start clearing a path on the main road. I ran over to Clay and Laurette’s, told them what was going on, and asked if one of them could go ‘conga style’ with me down the road with their blower. Of course! I then headed over to Corey’s and reacquired the little Honda. As I passed by their house, Laurette joined up on me and we headed off down the road, carving a narrow swath out of the middle. It took forever, and by the time I got halfway down, my arms and legs were starting to cramp from the five hours of wrestling with various snow clearing implements. Three more new words for snow popped into my head.

We got some funny looks from the neighbours, but there was no time to stop and explain. At the end of the road, we turned around and headed back, concerned that it was taking much longer than I had expected.  When I reached the house, I abandoned my colleagues and rushed in the front door.

Hearing Steph moaning, I dashed up the stairs two or three at a time. Sam was in the room with her, gently patting her head and comforting his mother. He looked absolutely fixated on what he was doing. When the contraction was over, Steph said, “I’ve called Jill (my sister), and she’s on her way. I’ve paged the midwives, but they’re not answering, so try these two numbers again. There’s a list on the counter of things you need to put in the bag. We need to get going.” I finally talked to Ana Maria, a midwife, who informed me that they were on their way to the Montfort Hospital. Perfect.

I started packing the bag and fielding questions from Sam. He was running back and forth between helping me, and checking on his mother.

“Jill’s coming to stay with me?”

“You’re going to take Maman to the hospital?”

“When you come back, you’ll have a baby?”

“Maman is hurting, but she’ll get better soon?”

Jill’s car scratching its way into the driveway was a welcome sight. She burst in the door, and immediately went in to see Steph. I continued getting our hospital kit ready and was all set to load the car after a few minutes. Sam was starting to get nervous, as his mother was in deep labour and not doing a very good job of hiding it. The poor little guy forgot that he needed to pee, and despite being fully potty trained, went on the floor in his room.

I felt so badly for him; he looked so helpless and afraid. I found some clothes and went to change him in our room. Jill came out shaking her head, unconvinced that going to the hospital was a good idea, but went back into the room with Steph’s boots to start getting her ready. After changing Sam’s pants, and making another trip to the car, I was about to toss Steph’s big red coat up to Jill when she said, “She doesn’t need a coat; you guys aren’t going anywhere. Get up here NOW.”

As I walked in Sam’s room, it was obvious that things were happening very quickly. I asked, feebly, “Would it be better if I just called an ambulance and we just did this here?”

There’s a look you get when you ask a question that’s so dumb that it doesn’t deserve the oxygen required to answer it. I took the hint and called 911. The dispatcher was excellent. He got all the info they required, assured me that the ambulance had already been dispatched, and wished us the best of luck.

Next call was to the midwives, who were already waiting at the Montfort. I spent a few minutes giving them directions to our house, and getting directions from them on what to do if it all went down before they arrived. I secretly hoped that understood my directions better than I did theirs.

I went back into the room, to find Jill with that ‘WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!’ look. Steph was between contractions, and added cheerily, “Call someone to come stay with Sam. Now!” I called Corey’s wife, Lori, and in my best Steph imitation, said, “Can you come over and take care of Sam, NOW!?”

I went back to Sam’s room to find half a head visible, Sam standing in the doorway taking it all in, and Jill doing the Marcus Welby. I kneeled beside Jill and watched the head emerge. My mind was spinning. Jill turned the baby like she knew what she was doing, and almost immediately, Miss Chloé Elizabeth Vardy was born. Sam and I watched as Jill wrapped her up, and I launched off to the washroom to get more towels. The time was 14:24, EDT.

Sam looking out at the ambulance in the driveway on the day Chloé was born.

Lori was just coming in the door. I told her the baby had already been born, and she responded with an open-mouthed stare. Then she settled in at the drawing easel and drew a helicopter for Sam. Back in the room, Jill looked up and said. “What in hell are we supposed to do now?” I called the midwives again, told them the baby had been born, and parroted, “What in hell are we supposed to do now?” I put the BlackBerry on speaker, and they talked us (Jill) through birthing the placenta, massaging the uterus, and monitoring the bleeding etc. I stood by, supporting. Is this where I boil the water??

Fifteen minutes later, the ambulance arrived. By that time, we (Jill) had the situation under control. I was in the driveway, getting the bags back out of the car, as they beeped their way back in the driveway. “You’ve missed the party, guys; she didn’t wait for you.” Paramedics Mélanie and Sylvain immediately began attending to Steph and the baby as Sam watched in amazement. An ambulance, at our house! And they left the lights flashing!

Not long after, midwives Sarah and Ana Maria arrived. A quick check of mother and baby revealed that everyone had come through the ordeal in great shape. No need to go to the hospital. Melanie and Sylvain left after a while, and turned on their lights and siren for Sam. I made a lasagne, and Jill and I opened a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage. Steph and Chloé joined us at the table for dinner. Steph looked like nothing had happened. Jill and I looked like we’d been in battle. I had the five hours of snow clearing to blame; I’m not sure what her excuse was …

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