April 12, 2024

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Babies on the Beach

By Barbara Robinson

The continuous drone of the engines did not serve to lull me to sleep or even reassure me that our jet was still in the air. All I knew was the flight went on and on forever and it seemed so much longer than when we had flown into Christchurch, New Zealand just a few weeks ago. I was now in my sixth month of pregnancy with our second (I thought) child and it was time to get back home. Our “little stowaway,” as my husband jokingly referred to my now very restless tummy, was getting excited to be headed home. We were on a MAC flight back to our home on Oahu Hawaii. Yes, it had been an amazing trip to New Zealand including a visit to my husband’s aunt and her family, who lived in Whangarei on the North Island. We had gotten a MAC (Military Air Command) Flight from Honolulu Hawaii to Christchurch New Zealand via Pago Pago American Samoa. Now headed home we retraced our route aboard what I can remember as a cargo plane called a “Starlifter.” My understanding of the flight route was that it was used to repeople and supply the “Winter Over Exercises” by the U.S. Government using Christchurch as a stopover. I have to admit I know very little about logistical supplies and even types of aircraft. I do know that my stowaway had quieted down and as we landed in Pago Pago Samoa something happened.

Suddenly as we touched down the plane gave a lurch and then came to somewhat of an abrupt stop. I was shaken, being a white-knuckle flyer, but realized we were on the ground and safe. I thought as I rubbed my side which seemed to have a little cramp, only one more leg of our journey and we will be landing at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu.

There was a young corpsman sitting near us and I heard him make a groaning sound and mumble sleepily, “not again!”

My husband leaned over my seat to quiz the corpsman when one of the flight crew walked down the aisle announcing, “All passengers are to exit the plane, enjoy your stay on Pago Pago.”

I looked at my husband, he looked at the corpsman and the corpsman shrugged his shoulders, “You know sir this happens on about every other flight out of here.”

“What happens?” I ask as I again feel a little cramping in my tummy.

“I don’t mean to rain on your parade, Mam.” The corpsman shook his head as he took his position in the lineup to exit the plane, but we probably will be spending the night in the airport terminal.

I stand up to move toward the exit and look down at my feet wondering why they are not moving as promptly as I expected. WOW, how can this be? My legs and feet are swollen and cumbersome.

As we move toward the exit ramp another crew member is standing by the door being questioned by a somewhat disgruntled passenger.

The crew man looks at all of the passengers standing in the aisle and sums the situation up very succinctly, “This plane is going nowhere tonight!”

As I step out on the metal mobile gangway now connected to the plane I feel the gentle, warm tropical breeze ruffle my hair and figure “Well things could be worse it could be snowing and freezing.” As I tackle the metal stairs leading to the tarmac, I once again feel the vague cramping in my stomach. Must be the lamb I ate in flight, I decide and write the swollen feet, cramping and sudden heaviness off as consequences of the long 7-hour jet ride from New Zealand.

We are shepherded into a lanai area where there are a few plastic like chairs and benches. My husband is usually on the ball, and recognizes a line forming near a ticket counter and quickly heads for the line. Very slowly I am dragging behind and look longingly at the white plastic bench sitting vacant on my right. I am also feeling that somewhat annoying cramp in my abdomen so I give into my exhausted body and lie / sit on the bench. Now that the airport transportation equipment and jet engines have fallen silent, I can hear the soothing lullaby of the breeze and the gentle ocean surf. The terminal seems to be mostly a Kiosk type building and across the runway I can just make out a beach.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to just lie down in the sand near the ocean and feel the warm Pacific waters caress my feet?” I think to myself as I ponder about mother sea turtles heading for the beach to deliver their precious eggs into the sand. I am just about asleep when a word pops into my head. The word is preeclampsia and now my swollen legs, feet and cramps are starting to paint a worrisome picture in my mind. I had just completed three years as a maternity RN working both the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Labor and Delivery. I wonder what my blood pressure is, and have I been timing my cramps? Let’s see I’m at least 30 weeks along, is this just Braxton Hicks contractions (false labor)?

“Should I say anything to my husband?” I ask myself as I see him walking quickly toward me.

“Are you okey?” are the first words out of his mouth as he approaches my bench. Before I get a chance to respond he continues. “We are so lucky. We are on a standby list to take the next PAN AM clipper headed to Hawaii, otherwise we stay overnight here in Pago Pago and guess what? There are no rooms available on the island.”

Suddenly the mother sea turtle dream seems very unromantic, even nightmarish as I picture my dermatologist husband trying to deliver our baby on the beach. So I start to spill the beans about the cramps, swollen legs and now a slightly nauseous feeling developing in the back of my throat.

“Is this your wife?” A rather slim uniformed lady walks up to us shaking her head at my husband. “You told me she was expecting but I didn’t know you meant this much expecting! She looked at me with a smile and I recognized the pin on her tunis colored stewardess hat along with the medal gold tone Pan Am pin.

I smiled up at the Samoan Pan Am stewardess as she surveyed my swollen legs stretched out on the bench. “How many months are you along?”

“Just about 7 months and would really love to get a ride to Honolulu.” I answered as I attempted to decide whether to say anything about the cramping or nausea.

“Oh, but yes, you and your husband, will certainly have a seat on my flight, as a beach is no place to deliver babies. There is the LBJ Medical Center here, but it is very small and probably not equipped to handle premature deliveries. Best you get back home.”

My husband heaved a sigh of relief and grabbed the stewardess’s hand, “we are so grateful, thank you, thank you.”

She smiled at us “It is my pleasure we are boarding right now so best start to the civilian gate and let me get you a wheelchair.”

Our life saver stewardess returned quickly with a wheelchair and excused herself, “I have to run to do preflight stuff, hey do me a big favor and wait till we get to Honolulu before you have the baby and God Bless You both.”

We were escorted to the Pan American Clipper and I managed to hoist my tired body up the gangway with my husband’s help. Normally I am a “white knuckle flyer” but not this time as soon as we were seated, I fell asleep and don’t remember anything about our flight back to Honolulu other than being assisted onto a gurney and loaded aboard an ambulance and driven back to our quarters in Pearl Harbor.

It was so wonderful to see our little boy and mother-in-law. My husband had to be back on duty the morning we arrived, so Mom and I with little Drue in tow headed to the doctor’s appointment my husband had arranged for me up at Tripler Army Medical Center.

I saw the obstetrician and suddenly found myself being admitted to the antepartum unit at Tripler where I remained for a month with preeclampsia and delivered twins on August 1, 1976. One baby girl and one baby boy certainly not born on the beach.

Now, when I am given the opportunity to visit American Samoa and Pago Pago I wonder as I walk along the beach and hear some of the Samoans talking and laughing in the background. What a beautiful place this is and how very blessed my husband and I were to find a guardian angel here on American Samoa.

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