Giving birth

Giving birth on your babymoon is the worst-case scenario—and it happened to me

This definitely wasn’t part of the birth plan.

Before our first child was born, my husband and I figured a “babymoon” was included in the whole becoming-a-parent deal. (Maybe it’s a millennial parent thing?) We landed on Miami as the destination because we wanted our last child-less hurrah to be sunny and reasonably affordable. I’d be 30 weeks along—a couple weeks later in my third trimester than what we wanted—but between our work schedules, travel mile rules, and the holidays, that’s the only time we could go. My doctor wasn’t at all concerned that I’d be 30 weeks pregnant. I figured Meghan Markle travelled way later into her pregnancy (in heels most of the time, no less), so why should I be concerned?

As the holidays passed and our January getaway approached, I grew more and more miserable. I was so swollen and very low on energy, but my doctor advised that I was just more prone to swelling during pregnancy. Quite prone, as it turns out: I was down to one pair of shoes that fit my massive cankle feet. There were a few mornings I woke up with my eyes and face so swollen, I looked like Sylvester Stallone halfway through Rocky III.

I saw my doctor a few days before our departure, and even after I showed her my prize-fighter selfies, she had no concerns. I was worried that preeclampsia was causing the swelling, but my doctor kept saying I didn’t have it. All I apparently needed were some compression socks and sunscreen, she said. After all, my blood pressure was good (only mildly elevated, which was within the range of “normal”) and my urine had been tested multiple times for protein (which indicates preeclampsia when present) and it was negative every time. So I convinced myself I was just being paranoid.

We called the airlines as well as my insurance provider to triple-check I would be covered if anything happened while we were in the U.S., and they assured me I would be. With that, we were off.

After our first day of sightseeing in the Wynwood Art District, we drove to Key West for a couple days. Because I was still so swollen, I was happy to sit in the car and enjoy the scenic ocean drive.

What causes preterm labour?On day three, on our drive back to Miami Beach, I woke up in the hotel room and my vision was very blurry. Something was seriously wrong. It was as if there was “sleep” in my eyes that wouldn’t go away. I thought it was strange, but I felt OK otherwise, so we hit the road again. My vision improved after a couple of hours and I managed to muster up enough energy for a shopping trip later that day. By dinnertime I had little appetite, and went to bed with a terrible migraine. I also felt like I constantly needed to use the washroom and was up and down all night, unable to fall asleep. In the early morning, after tossing and turning for hours, I took a shower to try and relax, swallowed a Tylenol and got back into bed.

That’s my last clear memory before the ambulance took us to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, which would become our home for the next 10 days.

I do recall some of the ambulance ride. I was told that my husband awoke to me seizing next to him in the hotel bed and called 911. My tongue was numb from biting down on it during the seizure. The emergency responders informed my husband there wasn’t enough time to fly home to Toronto for the necessary emergency delivery.

“You’ll be a dad in the next 45 minutes,” they said to him.

I remember hearing the terms “preeclampsia” and “eclampsia” being tossed around as everyone worked around me. I recall being bear-hugged by the resident while I received the epidural, and then some sedation, needed for my C-section. Finally, I recall hearing my newborn son cry out after a troubling silence, and then I watched him being wheeled out of the delivery room to the NICU. He weighed three pounds and 10 ounces.

I didn’t see him again for almost another two days, something that hurts me a lot more to think about now than it did at the time. I was put on magnesium via IV to prevent additional seizures, and as a result, I was bedridden and very much out of it. Looking back now, I feel terrible for the burden this put on my husband, but I’m also strangely thankful for that dopey state of ignorance: if I’d been fully with it, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with the severity of what had just happened to me, and the future risks that my baby and I faced.

I was kept under close watch for a week—I’d had another scary blood pressure spike on the third night. It was a blur of drugs, tests, scans, trip-rearrangements, and my husband’s daily trips to the Canadian Consulate to figure out how to get his wife and his brand-new baby home quickly, yet safely.

Every additional night spent at the hospital, every time I was given a pill, and every time a doctor ordered yet another test, I hazily thought, “I hope this is covered by my insurance.” But when you’re sick, bedridden and vulnerable—and you’ve just almost died—you don’t question much.

We had also been forced to name our son super quickly because we needed that birth certificate and travel documents for him, stat. Luckily, we had a shortlist, and I was just cognizant enough to chime in with an opinion: we would call him Oscar.

While I spent my days recovering in bed, pumping enough milk to keep my supply going, and being wheeled to and from the NICU to peer at Oscar through the glass of the incubator, my wonderful husband was securing the social security number, birth certificate and temporary travel documents required for my American-citizen offspring.

Ten days after my emergency delivery, we were both cleared to fly, and an air ambulance, including a team of two pilots and three medics, took Oscar and me home. (My husband had to take a regular commercial flight.) Oscar would go on to spend another five weeks in our local NICU in Toronto.

While it wasn’t the birth plan I’d wanted, and it didn’t at all resemble what I thought my first few days postpartum would look like, I was so happy and relieved we were on the mend and homeward bound. And there was a silver lining to Oscar’s NICU stay: it gave me more time to recover from the eclampsia and the C-section. While I had been officially discharged after Miami, I was on a number of medications for high blood pressure that had side effects like dizziness, blurred vision, and extreme tiredness. My doctor wanted me sleeping for at least five- or six-hour stretches, which would have been very difficult with a newborn at home.

As if being brand-new parents wasn’t overwhelming enough, we also needed to figure out what the heck to do about Oscar’s Canadian citizenship, and getting him a health card. The worst was definitely behind us at that point, for sure, but navigating the logistical nightmare and tangles of bureaucratic red tape was certainly no treat. 

What you need to know about citizenship if your baby is born abroad

The first order of business was obtaining a temporary health card from Service Ontario for Oscar. (It’s given on the basis that Canadian citizenship will be granted within one year.) We had to present the available documents, like Oscar’s U.S. social security number and birth certificate, along with our passports. (Luckily the local NICU hadn’t needed all of this before admitting him, due to the urgent nature of the situation.)

By April, we’d managed to apply for Oscar’s Canadian citizenship by completing and submitting a lengthy package. He received his citizenship seven months later. With his citizenship in hand, we were then able to apply for his permanent health card, social insurance number, and Child Care Benefits.

How does medical insurance work when your baby is born abroad?

The insurance piece was less straightforward. While my medical expenses were covered by my provider, it turns out that Oscar’s medical expenses were not. He was deemed a “pre-existing condition” because he wasn’t yet on my plan—he wasn’t born yet. While the hospital and my insurance company worked together to reduce his medical bills as a good gesture, the total was still in the six-figures—a huge, unplanned expense for our household.

Finally, my husband decided to further investigate the benefits offered by his travel credit card, which we’d used to book the vacation. We were extremely lucky; after some back-and-forth and a lot of patience, we found out that this card did indeed cover emergency travel expenses such as these. To say we were relieved is a vast understatement. Those medical bills would have drastically altered our lives, especially while living on one income during my mat leave.

Obviously the most important thing is that our American-born, now dual-citizen preemie is thriving at home, and I have fully recovered. We’re so grateful. But I hope that sharing our journey helps someone else considering a babymoon, or anyone who may, unfortunately, find themselves in a similar situation. Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. Discuss your travel plans with your doctor and seek a second opinion if something doesn’t feel right. Most airlines do not allow you to travel after 36 weeks, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re 35 weeks pregnant to travel. Seek expert advice, but ultimately you need to trust your gut, too.

2. If you have or suspect preeclampsia, you should be checking your blood pressure daily. Also look out for other symptoms like swelling, headaches, and protein in your urine. I had tested my blood pressure and urine before our trip and was cleared by my doctor, but my swelling and headaches indicated otherwise. It’s not always a textbook case, which is why your intuition is important, too.

3. Connect with your insurance provider and ensure both you and your unborn child would be covered in any type of emergency. Pack your travel insurance card, which includes important member information and toll free numbers.

4. Sleep in the same bed as your spouse. This sounds like a no-brainer for most couples, but late in pregnancy you may opt for separate beds if you’re dealing with snoring, restlessness, giant pregnancy pillows taking up space, or insomnia. I consider myself lucky that the night I had my seizure, my husband woke up because he was right next to me. But just the night before, however, we had slept in separate beds.

5. Apply for your child’s Canadian citizenship right away, as there can be a long wait. It took about seven months for us, and his temporary health card was close to expiring. Plus, you’re not entitled to any Child Care Benefits until you receive the citizenship.

6. If your child has spent time in the NICU, make sure to apply for the Family Caregiver Benefit offered by Service Canada. It’s compensation for anyone caring for a critically ill or injured family member.

7. Go on vacation after they’re born.

Read more:
Flying when pregnant: What you should know before taking off
Flying with your baby doesn’t have to be a nightmare
8 postpartum conditions and symptoms to watch for after you deliver your baby