I cursed, barely squeezing into my lane before the impact of an oncoming truck. Less than 24 hours into our vacation, my wife Susan and I found ourselves in hot pursuit. Provencal hillsides blurred past the windows as I struggled to keep our tin-can Renault from going off the road.
She was in the ambulance up front. I hung on behind. Above the engine’s whine, the fateful words of the sage-femme still echoed in my mind: “You will have a French baby …”
On September 27, at six months pregnant, we’d arrived in southern France for a two-week beach vacation—a “babymoon”—with the blessings of our doctors back home in California. “Everything looks great,” they’d said. “Bon voyage!”
But somewhere over the Atlantic, Susan started complaining of stomach pains. “Maybe it’s just the airplane food” we reasoned. We had no inkling of the adventure that had already begun. As we flew on to Nice and settled into our little rental cottage, the cramps only grew worse. And then she said she felt “water.”
That did it. I managed to drive her to the hospital in Brignoles, where it took them about two seconds to confirm our gravest fear: She was going into pre-term labor and needed specialized maternity care, STAT!
Jet-lagged, disoriented and with only our wallets, we now hurtled toward Marseille at speeds only the French are comfortable with. I had to keep up or be hopelessly lost, separated from Susan when she needed me most. The only thing worse than my French was my ignorance of the local backroads and not until we reached the “Hopital de la Conception» an hour later could I release my white-knuckle grip on the wheel.
Then things got really interesting. If you think doctors speak a different language sometimes, well … in our case they really did. We were so far out of our element it must have been comical to anyone observing. But eventually, they managed to stop the contractions and get Susan stabilized.
We lived in that hospital for nearly a month, she on bed-rest and me sleeping on a cot beside her in a 3.5m2 room. (I had nowhere else to go, after all.) We washed our clothes in the sink and learned to supplement the meager hospital diet with food I’d bring home from the market.
The staff was kind and the care was excellent, but the language barrier was a constant struggle, not to mention the differences in methodology. At times, the pre-dawn testing and constant prodding in that tiny room became almost unbearable. If you ever want to test the quality of your relationship, this is one way to do it!
At night, we’d talk or do puzzles or rack up our phone bills calling home. We read lots of books. During the day, I’d explore the incredible scenery around Marseille and take Susan on virtual sightseeing trips with photos and video. She never ceased to amaze me with her courage.
Her condition remained so stable for so long that there was talk of sending us back to San Francisco under medical escort. We were ecstatic as, one by one, the pieces fell into place. “Pack your bags,” they finally told us. “You’ll be leaving in a few days.” I remember Susan crying tears of joy.
And then it all went wrong. The doctor representing our insurance company made a last-minute decision not to let us fly. In retrospect, I suppose we should thank him, but at the time it was utterly heartbreaking. Tears of joy became tears of bitter disappointment.
But we did win one small concession: They’d relocate us to Paris, and reassess our situation there. The short flight from Marseille would be a good test, and we’d be one small step closer to home. Frankly, just the idea of having new walls to stare at was pretty irresistible. We arrived in the City of Light on October 24.
Susan’s condition remained stable, but eventually, we had to resign ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going home. Fears of lost income and financial decimation were easily outweighed by the words of Dr. Cabrol, which I will never forget: “If you fly, the chances that something will happen on the plane may be only 10%. But if something does happen… the chances for your baby are zero.”
We would stay in France until February, at least.
So there we were, just waiting … and waiting … and waiting for our little girl. Will she come in two hours? Two days? Two weeks? The anticipation is incredible, and each false alarm is more agonizing than the last.
Luckily, we’re now far enough along that she should be perfectly healthy when she finally decided to arrive. (Whether the same can be said for her parents remained to be seen.)
There’s one thing I do know for sure: We’d never have survived all this without the wonderful friends we’ve met along the way, who’ve enriched our lives and helped us more than I can possibly tell here. Not to mention the countless folks back home who’ve been doing things for us like watering our plants, collecting our mail and sending us boxes full of warm winter clothes—the things we somehow never thought of when packing for our two-week vacation on the beach.
Sophie Marseille Hampton was born weighing a healthy 2.775 kilos (about 6 lbs.) in mid-November. Mom, Dad and Baby were able to leave the hospital for good and enjoyed a bit of Paris before it was time to go home.
Written by the proud and exhausted father: John Hampton, originally published in November 2009. (This is a true tale, but the names have been changed for privacy.)
Happy 7th Birthday Sophie Marseille, French baby – from FUSAC!