Mont St. Michel at Sunset

From Mont St. Michel, France to the Birth of Kyle James Edwards
June 25th, 2003

or How Not to Attend the Birth of Your Son

Background: My wife Nina is pregnant with our son Kyle James, but his due date is July 26th. It's June 24th, and I'm attending a conference (MEMOCODE) in Mont St. Michel, France, and figure I have nearly a month before having to worry about babies. How wrong I was...

Still suffering from jetlag, I take a nap in my hotel room at 3:00 PM. At 3:30, Nina calls and tells me she's having contractions (surprising, since Kyle's expected due date is a month from now, July 26th) and had some sort of bloody show. We're not quite sure what I should do at this point, but she's called the doula and a few others for help. I tell her to call the hotel and leave a message telling me to come home if things progress.

At about 4:30, I'm told there's an urgent message for me at the desk. I check and although the woman at the desk is a little confused (apparently, our doula Jada can speak French and explained things), I get the message loud and clear: come home.

So now what? I'm in Mont Saint-Michel, a beautiful place at least an hour away from anywhere. I quickly pack the contents of my hotel room, check out, and Loic Besnard, a colleague of Jean-Pierre Talpin's at IRISA, is driving back to Rennes at 5:00. It's started to rain as we get in the car and spend roughly an hour driving back. The rain gets so heavy at times that we have to slow down since it is imparing visibility.

We race to the Rennes train station (a fairly major one) so I can catch what we think is a 6:30 train directly to Charles De Gaulle. I think we misread the schedule (it's probably only during high season: a few weeks from now) and quickly discover that there is no such direct train. Instead, I buy a ticket to Paris Montparnasse, a large train station on the south side of Paris, and anticipate taking an Air France bus that goes directly from the train station to the airport.

The train to Paris, a nice TGV, is delayed, probably by the same severe weather Loic and I drove through (the train enters heavy rain and nearly night-like conditions on the way). It should have arrived in Paris at 9:10; it's more like 10:30.

There is indeed an Air France bus to CDG, but when I approach the bus, the driver says there are no more trips today. Now what?

Fortunately, Paris is blessed with an effective public transportation, but unfortunately, it doesn't offer a direct connection from Montparnasse to CDG. It's about 11:00 when I take the subway to Gare Du Nord. This, it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. My first acquaintance is a sixteen-year-old punk who follows me closely (it's otherwise deserted) and tries to unzip the pockets on my rather large backpack. I catch him before he manages to take anything.

After carefully sealing my backpack, I get on the train and about three stops later, my few fellow travelers (it's not completely deserted) are joined by a gaggle of about twenty teenage spaniards all singing and clapping. I have to hold my ears it's so loud. Fortunately, they depart a few stops later.

I'm still not done after the subway ordeal; I'm only at Gare De Nord, where I plan to catch a commuter train to the airport. It takes a while to find the right platform, but there's some confusion. Along with many other travelers, I'm trying to get the airport, but am confused about which trains are actually going there, when they're going, and so forth. It's terribly hot and humid. Train after train appears and disappears, but none go to the airport. When a train for the airport finally appears, it's midnight and everybody gets on. It's packed and stifling: there's no air conditioning and standing-room-only. The train finally heads off to the airport at about 12:20, fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Thankfully, the train empties out fairly quickly (not everybody is going to the airport; most are going home from work to northern suburbs) and I get a seat after not too long. Finally, we arrive at the end of the line, CDG terminal 2.

It's 1:00 AM or so, and the airport, while still lit and open, is deserted. No gate agents are around, even the Sheraton hotel right in the terminal (where I had hoped to sleep) is closed and locked (I guess they don't want guests sneaking out in the middle of the night). Since I don't really know when next I'll be able to leave, it doesn't make much sense to try to find another hotel (it turns out there are some that I could have reached via a shuttle bus, but it's about 3:00 AM by the time I figure this out).

Instead, I wander around the vast terminal, eventually finding a manned information desk. I ask about an Internet terminal and am told I should take shuttle bus to Terminal 1. I do this (of course, I'm the only one aboard at 2:00 AM or whatever it is) and make it to the dumpy-looking terminal where, indeed, there is a 24-hour cafe with people smoking, drinking, and eating, along with many who've found various places to sleep through the night.

I locate a phone and call home with a credit card. Emi answers Nina's cell phone and I'm told that Kyle has been born and everybody's doing OK. Nina's there and recovering from a Cesarean section. Right next to the phone is an Internet terminal (I had hoped to check email, but talking to Nina is enough) and I check on flight schedules for tomorrow. The first American Airlines flight is leaving at 12:00.

I hang around Terminal 1 a little while longer and decide to take the shuttle back to Terminal 2. It's about 3:00 AM now, and aside from groups of travelers sleeping, fitfully, on benches, the place is really deserted aside from a few cleaning people.

The one important discovery I make is that the American Airlines ticketing counter opens at 7:30 AM. I spend the intervening hours alternately trying to sleep (mostly unsuccessfully), getting a little breakfast, and just generally wasting time.

When the ticketing counter opens, I'm second in line. The woman there, while helpful, spends a long time reading over the rules for my type of ticket before declaring that they need a copy of the birth certificate or something official before they can place me on standby for one of the two flights back to the New York area today (they're all overbooked, of course).

A birth certificate isn't realistic at this point since Kyle was only born a few hours ago and it's 2:00 AM in New York when I'm finally told this. I find a phone and call Nina's cell phone, blessedly not switched off, even at 2:00 AM. Emi answers and I explain the situation to her. Between her, Nina, and the nurse, they manage to eventually fax a sheet saying that Nina was admitted and delivered a boy. It takes nearly three hours for this to happen, for me to return to the line, to make sure the fax has arrived, and so forth. I'm home free, though, or so I think.

It's about 9:00 AM by the time I get in line for the 12:00 PM flight to JFK. I'm just trying to get on standby, and this plus the fact that I changed my ticket at the last moment, slept in the airport, was driven to Rennes by a stranger, have a brand-new passport (my well-worn old one was set to expire this summer) and my generally haggard appearance at this point raises all sorts of security alarms, so the people screening me at the American counter eventually have to consult their supervisor who returns to explain my luggage will be searched and I'll be patted down before I board the plane. I really don't care.

I go quickly through the outer layer of security and start waiting for the flight. I'm not the only one flying standby, but eventually my name is called and they lead me down the jetway to be searched. The security person literally goes through every part of my backpack, having me turn on every electronic item. And I'm patted down by a fellow whose latex gloves really scared me earlier (I remain fully clothed throughout, thankfully).

At the end of this, yet another ordeal, I'm miraculously handed a boarding pass (I didn't think I would get a seat), walk onto the plane, and sleep for nearly the whole seven hours back to JFK. I'm off the plane at about 2:15 PM.

The passport line at JFK is long but not intermintable, and soon I'm looking for a telephone, an ATM, and a cab in which to go to the hospital. I'm irritated and not thinking clearly, so the $2 ATM fees for the machines frustrate me; I eventually take a shuttle to another terminal to find a $1.75 one. Next, I attempt to get some change to call Nina in the time-honored way of buying something useless and asking for change. They refuse to give me enough (I'm really irritated by this point), so I give up and hail a taxi back to Manhattan.

I borrow the cab driver's cell phone to call Nina, who doesn't answer anyway (probably sleeping), and dig in for what turns out to be a hot, hour-and-forty-five-minute ride to the hospital. It's really, really hot, and the traffic is just crawling. I should have just taken the subway. It would have been the same amount of time, air-conditioned, and much cheaper.

Stephen Holding Kyle for the First Time It's about 5:00 PM when I finally find Nina's room. She's doing fine, recovering from her surgery, and Kyle is in the nursery. Shortly thereafter, Emi Eguchi shows up, followed by Nina's sister Christine. Somewhere in there, Kyle joins us, all five pounds of him, and lights up the room.