There’s a long list of inconvenient places to go into labor.
A Hardeeville gas station is on that list.
But that was reality for Savannah resident Candice Simplis-Paige on Tuesday — a week before her Sept. 19 due date — as she struggled to return home in the miles of traffic after evacuating for Tropical Storm Irma.
The pain started while Simplis-Paige was on the road home from Charlotte where she, her mother and her two children had evacuated. Her husband, Marcus Paige, stayed behind in Savannah to work as a corporal for Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police.
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Simplis-Paige’s first two births were a breeze, planned to a T. Labor was induced. Doctors decided on in advance. The hospital selected beforehand.
This time, though, was different.
Simplis-Paige’s mother, 72-year-old Juva Fernandez, gripped the steering wheel of her daughter’s red Chevy Traverse as she made the drive home with her 11-year-old granddaughter in the passenger seat. Fernandez’s 2-year old grandson sat in the back along with her pregnant 37-year-old daughter, whose contractions were increasing, hour by hour.
“(My mom) really was the unsung hero of the trip,” Simplis-Paige said.
With thousands of other evacuees returning home to Florida, Georgia and Beaufort County that day, South Carolina’s interstates were more like parking lots than highways. The normally four-hour, 250-mile trip home spanned eight hours.
There was no stopping. No driving through McDonald’s. No bathroom breaks from the time the group left the Hilton Charlotte University Place Hotel at 9 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. when, finally, Fernandez stopped for fuel.
Neither she nor Simplis-Paige remember precisely which gas station they pulled into. But both were adamant they could make the last 17 miles to Savannah.
Simplis-Paige had even called her husband earlier on the drive.
“Meet me at the ER,” she told him.
Paige drove to their pre-arranged hospital, Candler, only to find it had closed during the storm. The couple talked a second time — she in the backseat of the car, he from his desk office — and they agreed to meet at St. Joseph’s Hospital instead.
“One of the most terrifying things was I didn’t want to give birth by myself,” Simplis-Paige said. “That’s what was driving me to get back to Savannah. We’re planning on this being our last child.”
Back at the gas station, Fernandez mentioned her in-labor daughter to the middle-aged gas station employee. He called Hardeeville police and Simplis-Paige’s hopes soared at the thought of bypassing the traffic gridlock and having a police escort to the hospital instead.
“But once police said the Talmadge Bridge was closed, I lost hope on Savannah,” she said.
Hardeeville police called for an ambulance, along with paramedics who timed Simplis-Paige’s contractions to be just two minutes apart.
Simplis-Paige called her husband from the gas station parking lot with the new plan: delivery at Coastal Carolina Hospital.
There was no time for paperwork nor an epidural. Within 15 minutes, a 7-pound, 14-ounce, 20-inch-long baby girl was born.
Dad arrived half an hour late.
Cassie Clayshulte, of Cassie Clayshulte Photography and a newborn photographer for Coastal Carolina Hospital, snapped the family photos the next day.
The name, Presley Jade Simplis-Paige, was decided on months ago.
Did they consider switching her name to Irma?
“That would be the last thing I’d want to name her,” Simplis-Paige said. “Presley definitely was the silver lining in this whole experience.”