GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — During the largest hurricane to hit Florida, five weeks early and under a flashlight, baby Aiden Christopher Tracey entered the world in a stranger’s arms.
His mother Laken Riess, 26, met Liz Middleton, the 64-year-old high school teacher who delivered Aiden, the night before she went into labor. Riess’ fiancé, Chris Tracey, 35, and Middleton’s son had grown up together as close friends, so Middleton opened her home to Riess and Tracey during Hurricane Irma. The couple and Riess’ 4-year-old daughter, Kirra, stayed in the recreation room of Middleton’s home in Keystone Heights next to Lake Lily.
Less than 12 hours later on Sept. 11, Middleton guided Riess’ birth with only her own knowledge and what she had seen in a Public Broadcasting Service special on midwives.
An hour earlier, Riess had felt intense rhythmic lower-back pain. It couldn’t be the baby, she thought. Her 4-year-old, Kirra, had come after her due date and almost 27 hours of labor.
Riess had only learned that her second child would be a boy the week before and had only got through the “A″ boy names, Riess said. They didn’t even have a baby shower.
Suddenly, the baby started coming. Riess laid down on the recreation room’s hardwood floor next to some workout equipment as Tracey ran to Middleton’s room for help.
“Bam, bam, bam,” Middleton recalls Tracey knocking on her door. “‘Ms. Liz, the baby’s coming!’”
With everyone in pajamas, no one with medical experience in the room and the baby breeched, Tracey called 911 with only 4 percent of battery left. The emergency medical technicians didn’t have time to get there for the delivery. The baby wasn’t waiting.
Tracey picked up a flashlight. The storm had already cut off electricity and water. Rain banged against the side of the home between Riess’ screams. Kirra stood next to her mom’s shoulder, old enough to know her mother was in pain, young enough to not understand exactly where babies came from.
“I felt completely calm. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a God moment. I just knew we could do it, and I knew we didn’t have a choice,” Middleton said.
Less than 15 minutes into labor and butt-first, Aiden was born at 7:14 a.m. — 4 pounds and 14 ounces. Middleton gave him a firm smack to hear him cry. When he did, she knew he would be OK. The ambulance arrived 5 minutes later.
“Not something I want to relive,” Riess said, noting the pain was more unbearable than her first delivery, which took a whole day.
The EMTs packed Riess and the newborn into the ambulance, and Tracey jumped into the front seat. The closest hospital — UF Health Shands Hospital — was 45 minutes away during normal conditions.
“I thought we were going to lose him,” Tracey said.
En route, they came upon a fallen tree that had blocked the road, so the EMT driving the ambulance took an axe to chop a path in the road, Tracey said. They continued driving until the water in the road was about 3 feet high and started seeping into the vehicle, which caused them to turn around. Two hours into driving they arrived at another hospital, Shands Starke Regional Medical Center, where Aiden was immediately put on oxygen.
After the weather calmed down a day later, the hospital transferred Aiden to Shands in Gainesville, where he stayed until the afternoon of Sept. 22 in the intensive care unit, Riess said. Doctors told the parents that the change in pressure caused by the hurricane caused Reiss to go into early labor.
On Sept. 23, with the baby wrapped between two zebra-printed blankets in a small, brown baby carrier, the parents visited the place where Aiden was born. They took turns holding the small baby in a navy onesie. He drank from a bottle, cried and smiled. Finally, they could relax.
“We got lucky,” Reiss said.