“It was fate that I ended up here,” said North Carolina resident Jennifer Williams, smiling as she glanced at her newborn daughter, who wore a shirt that said, “New York Born, North Carolina Strong.”
At a news conference that doubled as a going-away party at Mercy Medical Center last Friday, Williams recalled being told to leave the state just days before she was due to give birth.
“You can’t be here — you need to get out of here,” she remembered her gynecologist telling her. On Sept. 12, Williams, along with her husband, Daniel, three children, a dog and a cat, drove 650 miles — a 14-hour trip — from her home in Hampstead, N.C., to Wantagh, where her parents live, to escape Hurricane Florence.
At more than 38 weeks pregnant, Williams did not plan on being so far from home, and grew concerned about her health care.
She contacted an old friend, Melissa Calvo, who is now a nurse at Mercy. Calvo suggested that Williams come to the medical center, and soon after, she checked in. “I’m so glad she reached out to me,” said Calvo.
Williams gave birth to Leilah Faith Williams on Sept. 20 with the help of Dr. Neal Bellin, an obstetrician and gynecologist who took her on as a patient after learning about the situation.
“Lovely family,” Bellin said. Barbara Weiss, another nurse who aided in the delivery, recalled Williams saying, “That was the best delivery I ever had.”
Although the trip was “anxiety-ridden,” Williams said the process was quick and easy once she arrived at the hospital. “The next thing I know, here we are with our little bundle.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t come,” she added, expressing gratitude for the doctors and nurses who helped her, referring to them as her “angels.”
“Right place, right people, right time,” the hospital’s chief medical officer, Fahim Ahmed, said at the news conference. He invited the family back to Mercy for the baby girl’s first birthday.
Williams’s husband returned home shortly after the birth to check on their house. He reported exterior damage, but said it was “livable.” Williams and her children were scheduled to go back to North Carolina the next day.
“I didn’t know if I was going home to anything,” she said. “I have [Leilah] to ease my mind.”
When asked why she did not name her new daughter Florence, she said laughing, “I will curse the name Florence till the day I die.” Some of her friends and family suggested the name, but she insisted, “I want to forget about Florence.”
Williams’s children, present at the news conference, appeared charmed by their new baby sister. Tessa, 3, smiled when asked how she felt about becoming a big sister.
“She’s really cute,” sister Aria, 11, said of Leilah, noting that she was worried before the birth.
“It was thrilling coming here, just crazy,” said Leilah’s brother, Luke, 10. “I feel relieved.”
Williams noted how fortunate her family was compared with some neighbors whose houses were in worse shape after the Hurricane. “I’m looking forward to getting home and getting back to normal.”