Flooded In, and In Labor

Cindy Banker's mother went into labor with her during a bad snowstorm in Alaska 29 years ago. Who knew what kind of natural disaster would happen to Cindy herself?

Cindy Banker’s mother went into labor with her during a bad snowstorm in Alaska 29 years ago. Even though the weather was officially no-fly, an Army helicopter braved it and got her mother to a hospital just in time. Her grandmother joked that if Cindy caused that much trouble, just look out if her granddaughter ever got pregnant with a girl. Who knew what kind of natural disaster would happen?

Cindy grew up as Cindy Halloran in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where her family relocated after her father, an Army colonel, joined the reserves there. Pretty, petite, and ever cheerful, she was introduced to her future husband, James Banker, by a mutual friend in college at Auburn University in Alabama. James, a fellow churchgoer, was tall, dark, and deep voiced. They chatted in the student center for five minutes, then Cindy went back to her room and called her mom. “I just met the guy I’m going to marry,” she said.

Two and a half years later, she did. The newlyweds settled in James’s hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. James got a good job with an accounting firm. Cindy worked as a speech therapist on the traumatic brain injury team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Before long, their firstborn, Jacob, arrived, without complications, a healthy eight pounds ten ounces. When Cindy became pregnant in 2009 with the couple’s second child, they learned in the second trimester that it was a girl and decided to call her Clare. As the due date drew near, they joked about a suitable natural disaster to set the stage. They were too far inland for hurricanes. And Tennessee never had blizzards like the one Cindy had been born in.

The baby was due on Friday, April 30. The weekend before, there were tornado advisories. Here we go, Cindy thought. Yet nothing happened. Days passed. But Saturday, May 1, it started to rain.

And rain. And rain …

When Dr. Michael DeRoche got home from his hospital rounds that afternoon, he could not sit still. All day he’d been hearing about flooding around Nashville. And in all his years on the East and West coasts, he had never seen rain like this. He put a 14-inch plastic painter’s bucket in the yard to try to get a reading on it.

His house was on a cul-de-sac off Temple Road, which ran along sleepy little Trace Creek, normally a trickle. When DeRoche ventured out in his car to have a look around, the stream was a raging torrent. Back at home, listening to the news, the doctor heard stories of trucks submerged on the highway and people chased from their homes by water overflowing the banks of Nashville’s many creeks and streams. The southeast side of town was the worst. DeRoche and his family lived in Bellevue, on a hill in the southwest. Still, the rain was relentless. Then, around five o’clock, the water seemed to stop rising. Just in time — the backyard bucket was spilling over. So much for the flood, DeRoche and his neighbors thought. They went to bed that evening thinking they had dodged a bullet.

At 6:15 the next morning, a loud clap of thunder startled DeRoche’s wife, Paula, from her sleep. She got up, looked out to the back porch, then rushed to wake DeRoche. “You’d better come see this,” she said.

At the bottom of the hill, Temple Road was submerged, and across the street, a neighbor’s garage was surrounded by seven feet of water. Two people next door to it were climbing down from a second-story window and into a canoe with their dog. And still it rained. The DeRoches would not be going anywhere this Sunday morning.

“We’d better start timing these contractions,” Cindy told James at eight o’clock that morning.

She went to a website that had an app to monitor contractions, and she started clicking the prompts to monitor herself. James got their hospital bag out of the closet and called his sister Becky Lewis, who lived nearby, to come pick up Jacob. The television was on in the background, airing bulletins about flooding. Suddenly the power went out, and the phone went dead. Rain rumbled on the roof.

Once his sister arrived, James and Cindy saw Jacob off with a kiss and prepared to leave. Just as James opened the garage door, their next-door neighbor Yusuf Hasan appeared.

“What are you doing?” Hasan asked.

“Heading to the hospital,” James said. “It’s time.”

Hasan looked at them as if they were crazy. “How are you going to get there?” he asked. The creek down the street was swollen 30 feet wide. Their neighborhood was an island.

“We still have to go to the hospital,” James insisted. “We’re in labor.”

“At least let me drive you,” Hasan said. His SUV was built higher than their car. “Worse comes to worst, James, you can deliver the baby while I try to get you to the hospital.” The couple climbed into Hasan’s SUV and set off, but they didn’t get far before encountering a police officer.

“We have a lady in labor here,” Hasan told him. “We need to get to Baptist Hospital.”

“You can’t get out,” the officer said, confirming that the area was flooded on all sides. But he spoke with his lieutenant, who lived nearby and whose wife was a home-care nurse. “He told me to escort you to his house,” Hasan said to James and Cindy. They agreed; it was the best they could do. Even a helicopter couldn’t go anywhere in this weather.

The officer turned on his car’s flashing lights and siren and accompanied the Bankers back into their neighborhood. In the backseat, Cindy called her mother in Lake Charles. “We’re in labor,” she said.

“Wonderful!” Nila Halloran said. “You’re on your way to the hospital?”

“No,” Cindy said, “we can’t get there.” And with that, she broke down crying. James, seated in front, leaned over to comfort her and hold her hand. Hasan could see the concern in James’s eyes: It was rare for Cindy to lose her cool like that.

The police car led them to the home of Lt. John Batty, whose wife, Cassie, was waiting at the front door. She took Cindy in a big hug. “There, there, honey, everything’s going to be all right. Don’t worry. People have been having babies at home for a thousand years. If pioneers could do it, we can.”

Hasan, meanwhile, was on his BlackBerry, arranging a blanket alert to the neighborhood association’s e-mail list: “We have a woman in labor. No way to hospital. Anyone with knowledge to help, call this number.”

The Bankers had no way to know it, but the doctor they needed was only a couple of miles away — unfortunately, on the other side of the creek. Looking downhill from his back porch, DeRoche watched a wooden fence disappear underwater and a mobile home, tipped on its side, float by. The deluge was breathtaking. DeRoche’s cell phone startled him when it rang. It was his softball buddy Chris Mills, who lived just across the creek.

“What are you doing?” Mills asked.

“Ha!” DeRoche laughed. “What do you think we’re doing? We’re socked in. What’s it like over there?”

“We’ve got a woman in labor here,” Mills said. “They can’t get out to the hospital. Here’s a number to call.” DeRoche dialed and introduced himself to Hasan. “I’m an ob-gyn over on Temple. We’re flooded in, but I’ll try to make my way over.” He had no supplies, though. What if the baby got stuck? If it was a full-term breech? If he had to do a C-section with no lidocaine to numb the area, sutures to close it up, or clamps for hemorrhages? Do I let the baby die? he asked himself.

Paula leaped into action. She organized their three kids to scour the neighborhood. They knocked on the doors of two dentists, a lung specialist, and a physical therapist. “Our dad is delivering a baby! Do you have any medical supplies?” Paula paid a visit to her next-door neighbor Amy Hubbuch, a neonatal nurse and childbirth educator. Hubbuch rummaged through her stuff and found gloves and gowns. “Do you think Michael would like me to come along and help?” she asked. “I’m sure he would,” Paula replied.

“So, are you up for a little adventure?” DeRoche asked Hubbuch when she arrived at his house. Doctor and nurse laughed, but it was nervous laughter. They both knew enough about childbirth to understand all the things that could go wrong.

On the kitchen table, they laid out the supplies: two scalpels, gloves, masks, gowns, scissors, and a few old clamps that DeRoche had repurposed for hobbies around the house. There was a purple hair ribbon to soak in alcohol for tying off the cord. They had oral painkillers and antibiotics. No epidural, no anesthetic for surgery. But their ragtag kit would have to do. They stuffed the gear into a backpack and headed out.

“Are you sure you want us to have a baby in your bedroom, ma’am?” James asked Cassie Batty, who was gathering towels and sheets while Hasan tore up plastic trash bags to line the mattress. “Yes, of course. Absolutely!” Batty said. She could see the strain on the Bankers’ faces; they were sweating bullets.

With the power out from the storm, the room was gloomy, the air stifling. James timed Cindy’s contractions. They were growing closer together.

Meanwhile, downstairs a small crowd had assembled in response to Hasan’s BlackBerried SOS: two pediatricians, a nurse, and a surgery resident, Dr. Joe Greco. Greco had delivered his own child recently, but in a hospital with an ob-gyn. And yes, he was a surgery resident, but in plastic surgery. Greco checked Cindy and found she was dilated to about four centimeters. When Hasan announced that an ob-gyn was trying to get there, Greco heaved a sigh of relief. But could DeRoche get there in time? Cindy’s contractions were less than two minutes apart.

DeRoche and Hubbuch walked along Temple Road until they found what looked like a good place to cross — no visible electric lines or snakes. They waded in and sloshed through thigh-deep murky water. The footing was slick. DeRoche held the backpack over his head; it had to stay dry at all costs. When they finally climbed onto solid ground on the other side of the floodwaters, they still had two miles to go to get to Batty’s house.

Muddy and soaking wet, they tried hitching a ride. Two older women in a brand-new Lexus pulled over and rolled down their windows. “Delivering a baby!” DeRoche said.

“Get in! Let’s go!” said the driver. By the time DeRoche and Hubbuch arrived at Batty’s house, the medical crew had been boosted by yet another pediatrician and two delivery nurses; all were relieved when the Lexus dropped off a third nurse and a high-risk ob-gyn with an air of self-confidence.

Hubbuch went right to Cindy. “You’ve got the best people here — more than you’d have in a hospital. You can do this.” Cindy said she was feeling nauseated, to Hubbuch a sign the baby was on her way.

DeRoche set things up. Cindy would lie across the bed. Hasan laid out a cloth to protect the carpet. Hubbuch shouldered Cindy’s right leg while opening sterile gauzes; a pediatrician held her left leg and a flashlight. James sat behind her, bracing her back. Jayne Tuerff, James’s cousin, who had recently arrived on the scene, knelt at his back to bolster him. A third nurse climbed onto the bed, ready to take the baby from DeRoche. Still another volunteer held up a small fan that was hooked into a computer backup battery.

With rain pounding at the windows, candles flickering, flashlights beaming, people surrounding the bed, more of them pacing with anticipation downstairs, and a group of neighbors gathered outside, Clare Madelyn Banker, eight pounds 13 ounces, came into the world, crying loud and clear — that wonderful sound that’s proof to doctors and nurses and parents that a newborn is breathing.

“You did it!” Batty told Cindy. “She’s beautiful!”

When the news reached the people downstairs and outside, there were cheers all around.

In the coming days, DeRoche, along with hundreds of other Nashvillians, joined crews helping families recover from the devastating thousand-year flood, mucking out rooms and tearing down ruined drywall. He would hear people talk about the baby delivered during the chaos that claimed ten lives and shattered countless others. In the midst of such tragedy, it was one bright and positive thing.

The Bankers joked about changing Clare’s name to Noah. And when they sent out birth announcements, each member of their impromptu team also received a heartfelt thank-you note and a little gift: an umbrella.

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