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This Mom Fled Irma to Give Birth and Got the Surprise of Her Life

by Chaunie Brusie

Photograph by Nicole Streeter Photography

Abby Collett, 27, a current stay-at-home mom and former orthodontic assistant from Naples, Florida, was in her third trimester of pregnancy with her second baby when Hurricane Irma hit their hometown. Abby and her husband, Ryan, 26, a sales executive at Marriott Vacation Club, had recently moved to Florida from the Midwest and didn't quite know what to expect from the hurricane.

Initially, they thought they could maybe ride out the storm, but it soon became apparent that an evacuation was imminent. The only problem? Abby was almost 36 weeks pregnant and no airline would let her fly. So Abby, Ryan and their 2-year-old son Jude—along with their two 50-pound dogs, a cat and all the supplies they would need for their newborn—hit the road to Illinois.

"All of the nesting and organizing I had spent time on making the perfect space for our baby was dismantled in 20 minutes," Abby remembers.

The couple hoped that their baby would wait until they were back at their home in Naples to be born, but they also pre-registered Abby for delivery at Meriter Hospital, two hours north of where they were staying in Illinois, where they had delivered their first son two years earlier, just in case.

Abby's labor and delivery with her first son ended up complicated. This time around, she was hoping for a different, more "healing" experience. And part of that healing was hiring a birth photographer to capture the memories of birth. "I wanted to have my birth photographed because we hadn't done it with Jude's birth and the experience, while long at the time, is so short and I wasn't truly present for it," Abby explains. "I wanted photos to remember the love and work and journey. I wanted to have something to bring me back to the moments I would forget thanks to the oxytocin cloud I would be floating on after Baby was born."

Unfortunately, however, Abby's dreams of having the birth of her dreams, complete with a birth photographer, disappeared as Irma closed in. The very pregnant mother resigned herself to accepting her fate and staying positive. Little did she know, however, her husband had other plans.

Knowing how important it was to his wife to have something go right for her delivery this second time, Ryan arranged to have their birth photographer, Nicole Streeter of Nicole Streeter Photography, from Oregon, WI attend the delivery.

The logistics to have Nicole actually make it to the birth seemed impossible. Not only would Ryan have to contact Nicole in time for her to make the drive over, she'd have to make it there on time, hope that the labor wasn't a false alarm or that it wouldn't go too quickly for her to get there fast enough.

But, somehow, despite the fact that Abby would deliver her son only three hours after getting to the hospital in Illinois (good thing they had registered!), Nicole made it in time to document the birth.

Nicole surprised Abby while she was breathing through a contraction in the triage room at the hospital. "Her beaming face and my husband's smirk are burned into my memory, as I finally realized that they had been in cahoots, and she was there to document the entire thing and he had arranged it all!" says Abby.

To Abby, having the photos of her unexpected Hurricane baby is a reminder that even when life doesn't go according to plan, there is always reason to hope.

"Having those photos means everything," she says. "The distraction from the destruction of the storm thanks to such a pure, innocent being is a reminder that there are more important things happening when you are focused on negativity. All of the worries I had surrounding the storm completely disappeared as I worked to bring my baby earth-side, and looking at the photos brings me back. ... Those photos are more than photos."

Fortunately, the Collett's house was unharmed, everyone stayed healthy and the family was able to head back home to Florida when baby Seamus was 8 days old. They are all adjusting well. Abby is thankful that no matter how much their plans changed, thanks to a loving husband and family, she has no regrets about how her second delivery went.

"We do still see evidence of Irma's wrath, but a lot of hard work has gone into restoring our community and our friends have all returned to their homes," she adds. "All in all, aside from the fear and panic of realizing your birth plan is about to go out the window, I would definitely do the entire thing over again."

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