PROVIDENCE – The pain started in her lower back and slowly migrated toward her ribcage.
Kristen Dubois thought she was passing a kidney stone.
She was giving birth in the bathroom of her fiance’s Willow Street apartment in Woonsocket.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe it,” says Dubois. “I started yelling for my boyfriend. ‘He’s coming out! He’s coming out!’”
And so, a few minutes after 8 p.m. on Feb. 11, while Kristen was still standing up on two feet, her slippery newborn dropped into the cupped and waiting hands of Peter Jerominek. Tiny Jovani Jerominek was a little too slick to get a good grip on, though, and he sort of slid gently through his father’s hands and onto the bathroom floor.
Childbirth is supposed to be one of the most wondrous and touching events of the human experience, and it was all of that for Dubois and Jerominek – or at least it got that way. Those first few moments after Jovani popped his head into the world were filled with panic, chaos and fear before the wondrous part settled in.
For one thing, Dubois began bleeding so heavily after the baby came out she thought she might die. As she puts it, “It looked like someone was murdered in my bathroom.”
The other thing was that they couldn’t tell if Jovani was breathing. More than two months premature, he came into the world at 2 pounds 15 ounces, more gray than flesh-toned, shiny with the fluid residue of afterbirth, his little body mottled with spots of his mother’s blood.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life,” says Jerominek, 41. “I know it sounds kind of a strange to say, but somehow it was the most horrible and beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. It was my son being born.”
Less than a week old, Jovani is in the neonatal intensive care unit at Women & Infants Hospital. He’s inside a temperature-controlled isolette, a kind of plexiglass bubble, swaddled in a white blanket from the waist down. A tangle of wires and tubes is attached to different parts of his body, some of them feeding information to a nearby computer monitor, where his pulse, breathing rate and other data show up in yellow, green and red squiggled lines.
He weighs even less, by two ounces, than he did when was born, and his wrinkly body has an orangey hue because, like many preemies, he suffers from jaundice, having come into the world before his major organs were sufficiently developed.
But Jovani has some chores ahead of him on this particular day, a Thursday when he is barely six days old, according to a sign posted on the wall of his cubicle. “Rest and eat,” it says.
IF IT SOUNDS like Jovani had a rough landing, his unannounced arrival is only part of the bumpy journey he’s traveled just to get born – or stay in the womb, depending on your point of view.
He almost made an even more premature arrival two weeks earlier, when Dubois was involved in a serious car crash on Woonsocket’s Diamond Hill Road. Dubois was driving her 2001 Nissan Altima out of the parking lot of Price-Rite when she was broadsided by another vehicle. The whole left side of her body was badly bruised, and her arm was broken. The car was totaled.
“I could smell gas and I was afraid the car was going to catch fire,” she says. “Thank God Peter was with me. I couldn’t get the door open and he pulled me out of the passenger side, away from the traffic, and away from the smell of gas.”
The impact also sent her into labor. She was taken to the hospital, where doctors gave her drugs to stop the contractions. After a day, she was sent home in a wheelchair, unable to walk, with a cast on her arm – and still pregnant.
Despite the challenges Jovani faces, doctors have told his parents that his prognosis is good.
But it was impossible for his parents to tell when he unexpectedly arrived in the world, not long after his mother began watching, ironically, an episode of “Teen Mom” on MTV.
Yes, Dubois, 31, knew she was pregnant when she began experiencing the abdominal cramps in the moments before Jovani was born. But Dubois, who lives in Newport and spends a few days a week at Jerominek’s apartment, says she’s been pregnant before and what she was feeling didn’t seem like the onset of labor.
She’s suffered from kidney stones her whole life and generally ends up in the hospital for some kind of related treatment once a year. A week before Jovani was born, she says, doctors at Women & Infants had told her that if she felt any abdominal pain in the coming days, it was probably kidney stones.
“It felt like a really, really sharp cramp in my side that, over the course of hours, moved to my rib cage,” she says. “It felt nothing like contractions.”
She spent a while sitting on the toilet, nursing the pain and feeling an urge to urinate, still not realizing what was going on. She says it’s not unusual to feel pressure on the bladder during an episode of kidney stones, nor is it particularly rare for some urine to get squeezed out
So when some moisture trickled down her leg, she didn’t realize her water had broken.
After about an hour, she went back to bed. But she immediately got up, feeling the need to use the toilet again.
She wasn’t quite there when Jovani’s head began to crown. She yelled for Jerominek, who was in another room working at a computer, and within moments the baby was on the floor. But he wasn’t crying and his eyes were closed. The umbilical cord had snapped on its own, but the newborn’s parents couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
Jerominek frantically called 911 and received instructions on what to do as paramedics rushed to the scene.
“I put my mouth over his nose and mouth,” he says. “I know this is going to sound kind of gross, but I sucked the stuff out of him to clear his airways. I put my face close to his mouth to see if he was breathing, but I still couldn’t tell.”
As she cradled the baby in her arms, Dubois says his eyes still weren’t open, either. Jerominek was downstairs letting the paramedics through the door
“It seemed like they got there pretty fast to me,” he says. “But when you’re in Kristen’s condition, I know it probably seems like forever. I think they did a great job. We can’t say enough about them. When they came it was the first time anyone told us the baby was actually breathing.”
It was while the paramedics were coming in, though, that Dubois says she had a “mother’s moment” when she knew everything would be okay.
For the first time since the baby had come out, she says a feeling of peace came over her and she began talking to the baby in soothing, comforting tones. She was telling Jovani she loved him and she knew he had the strength to pull through, even if she didn’t. After all, she was still bleeding profusely and wasn’t at all convinced she would make it.
“He turned his head to me just a little bit and he opened his eyes,” says Dubois. “The only way I can describe the feeling is spiritual. Something came over me then. I didn’t want to die but if I did, I would have been at peace after what I’d just seen.”
Ten firefighters and paramedics responded to the emergency, and for them, it was all in a day’s work, said Woonsocket Fire Chief Gary Lataille.
“When they’re calling the fire department for a delivery, you know it’s going to be unusual,” says Lataille. “We’ve delivered on beds, in bathtubs...”
The paramedics transported Dubois and the baby to Landmark Medical Center. She was admitted while the baby was immediately transferred to the state-of-the-art NICU at Women & Infants.
It would be two days before mother and child were reunited again, and it will probably be several more weeks before she is allowed to take the baby home.
But Dubois says she and Jerominek still face many challenges in the days ahead. An HVAC tradesman, Jerominek was laid off some time ago and his unemployment just ran out. They were planning to save some money to prep the house for the baby, but his premature delivery caught them off guard.
Some of the money they were saving went to repair the Altima, which was involved in a fender-bender before the accident that destroyed the vehicle. Now they don’t even have transportation, except for the RIPTA bus that takes them to see Jovani at Women & Infants, picking them up in front of Jerominek’s apartment.
“We don’t even have a crib,” says Dubois.