Giving Birth Is Hard Enough. Try It In The Middle Of A Wildfire.

Nicole and Ben Veum and baby Adrian, who was born after Nicole had to be evacuated from a hospital because of a fire that swept through Santa Rosa, Calif. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Days before there was any sign of fire, Nicole and Ben Veum of Santa Rosa, Calif., had been waiting and waiting for their baby to arrive. Nicole’s due date came and went. Her doctor called her into the hospital — Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital — to induce labor. That was Friday.

“So we were very excited at that point,” she said. “And then, day after day after day with not a whole lot of progress.”

They tried three different ways of inducing labor. Then, on Sunday, with the third attempt, it started working.

“And then finally I am in a great rhythm,” she said. “We’re all excited. They’re talking about breaking my water.”

Her contractions were strong, coming every four to five minutes.

“Things are rolling,” Ben said. “We’re getting good checks from the nurses. We started to get in the mood to play some music — a little bit of opera.”

They had just turned on Pavarotti when the hospital power went out. The generators came on. And the smoke outside the building — coming from deadly wildfires that had spread across at least 57,000 acres in the California region — started to creep inside.

“There was a ton of smoke in the hospital,” Nicole said. “You could see it and smell it.”

The nurses said the buildings around the hospital were on fire and they had to evacuate everyone. Eighty patients from Sutter and another 130 patients from Kaiser Permanente were transferred to other hospitals in the area on Monday, including Santa Rosa Memorial and Kaiser San Rafael. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Nicole Veum had just received an epidural when the evacuation orders came through.

“I couldn’t walk or move, which was just not cool,” she said. “I didn’t like that part. I felt really vulnerable.”

The staff gave Nicole medication to stop her contractions.

“We were like ‘Noooo.’ It was the worst news,” she said. “To have tried for three days and then OK, here’s the shot that’s going to end all of that.”

Then, Nicole had to wait again. For an ambulance.

It was hours before dawn, and Nicole lay on a gurney by the docking bay, feeling paralyzed, in a line of would-be evacuees. There were so many patients who needed to be transported, and by the time her turn came, she had to share the ride with another woman in labor and a third with a newborn in her arms. That left no room for her husband.

“The charge nurse explained that ‘This is a disaster. We’re following disaster protocol and no spouses or birth teams or anything are going along on the ambulance,’” Ben said. “And there was a part of me briefly that was like — but I’m a dad. I’m going to be a dad. This is us.”

Ben waited for a city bus and was soon reunited with Nicole at Santa Rosa Memorial. But by that point, her labor was again at a stand still.

They gave it another 12 hours, then agreed to a cesarean section. Monday evening, Nicole gave birth to a healthy baby boy, named Adrian Veum. Their friends had some suggestions for a middle name.

“They wanted us to call him Adrian Fuego Veum, or Blaze Veum,” she said.

But Nicole is a big Los Angeles baseball fan, and she and Ben decided to stick with their original name plan: Adrian Dodger Veum.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KQED, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Public Health

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