Safe and sound ... Julia Alemany, Doron Markus and son Micah.
It was a familiar scenario: a mother of one, pregnant and only a few days from her due date, visited her local maternity ward as her contractions grew stronger and closer together. A doctor told the woman the contractions were too far apart, and tried to send her home.
But how this story differs from many others is that the woman was in New York City and Hurricane Sandy was already underway – and there was no way she was leaving.
There were a couple of times I was so afraid. I never thought his birth would be anything like this
“Are you kidding?” Julia Alemany remembers saying. “Do you see what’s going on outside?”
Unsuccessful journey ... This ambulance was flooded at Hoboken, New Jersey. Photo: Michael Bocchieri
The doctor had a change of heart and admitted the 34-year-old to Langone Medical Center. Supported by her husband, Doron Markus, continued to labour. And three hours later, at 9pm, the power went off.
Markus was in the cafeteria getting a snack when the building was plunged into darkness.
"The hurricane was battering the hospital. Everything was shaking and I heard this crazy rushing of water ... it was coming into the hospital," he later told TODAY.
Story to tell ... Baby Micah
Meanwhile, back in the maternity ward, there was talk of a fire having started.
“There was smoke at the end of the corridor, everyone was running,” Alemany told The Daily News. “I said ‘I can’t run!’”
It was a false alarm – there was no fire – but the chaos continued when staff realised the back-up power generators were submerged in the basement. The building had to be evacuated; all 215 patients, including 10 pregnant women (and the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit), had to leave the hospital as quickly as possible.
But Alemany, already a mum to Noah, three, was experiencing contractions only 30 seconds apart, and wanted an epidural before she was moved. So in the dark hospital room, as the wind howled outside, an anesthesiologist did his work with only a flashlight and a few mobile phones lighting the way.
Markus played a role in the procedure too. "I was holding a cell phone above her while they were putting in the IV and while they were putting in the epidural,” he said.
Alemany was then placed on a stretcher and carried down the eight flights of stairs by security guards, their headlamps lighting up the darkened stairwells.
“They must have asked me if I was okay 20 million times,” she said.
Placed in an ambulance, Alemany and her husband wondered if they would even make it to the nearest hospital, Mt Sinai, before their baby arrived. Wind and rain pelted the emergency vehicle as it made its slow journey, the driver avoiding police road blocks and fallen debris. At one stage a heavy branch fell onto the ambulance, but they were able to progress. The couple got to the hospital at midnight.
And 40 minutes after arriving, baby Micah Alemany-Markus entered the world.
“I was just so happy when I saw him, and he was safe,” said Alemany.
“There were a couple of times I was so afraid. I never thought his birth would be anything like this ... It was the most intense experience of my life."
Now recovering from the dramatic start to their child’s life, Alemany and Markus are full of admiration for the staff who assisted them along the way.
“In spite of chaos they were really able to make us feel calm. The doctors were incredible,” Markus said.
And how does the new mum feel about it all now? "As soon as he was born,” Alemany told TODAY, smiling, “you just forget."
Related coverage: See amazing footage of the babies being evacuated from Langone Medical Center's NICU, including a a nurse manually pumping air into a baby's longs after carrying the baby down nine flights of stairs by flashlight.