Nunavut mom gives birth on airplane
Baby Jackson, healthy and well, born on tarmac in Churchill
Delsie Pavialok is laying on the floor of Calm Air Flight 535, with a jacket under her head as a pillow and passengers are craning their necks to catch a glimpse of her and the nurse who’s with her is saying, “don’t push, don’t push.”
And Pavialok is not pushing. She really isn’t.
But the contractions are now only two minutes apart and her baby, which isn’t due for another nine days, really wants to come out.
The crew aboard the June 7 flight from Winnipeg to Rankin Inlet is only minutes from landing at the Churchill airport. An ambulance is waiting there for her. They’re all telling her just to hold on a few more minutes.
But she doesn’t know if she can. She’s so tired.
There’s a reason why Pavialok, 25, is flying in an airplane so close to her due date and it has to do with a broken machine.
Pavialok’s midwife in her home town of Rankin Inlet had been concerned a few days prior because Pavialok’s pregnancy measurements had shown shrinkage and they thought her amniotic sac might be ruptured.
But they couldn’t confirm that diagnosis, because the ultrasound machine in Rankin Inlet wasn’t working. So they sent her to Winnipeg with a nurse.
The three-hour flight to Winnipeg was uneventful, Pavialok said, now safely back home in Rankin Inlet.
Doctors at the city hospital ran a battery of tests and determined she and her baby were perfectly fine. They sent her back home.
She went to the Inuit patient home in Winnipeg, slept a few hours, and then went to the airport at around 5 a.m. to board the 6:50 a.m. flight.
But it was windy in the upper atmosphere in northern Manitoba making Flight 535 a tumultuous ride.
As soon as the turbulence began, Pavialok started feeling unwell. She discreetly excused herself to go to the bathroom.
“I went back and sat down,” she said. “Then I stood up and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m having contractions! And they’re getting stronger. I’m still on the plane. I just need to wait another 20 minutes.”
Pavialok’s aunt, Barbara Ittinuar, who has had a lifelong fear of flying, happened to be on the same flight and had been snoozing in the seat in front of her niece.
“I heard a scream and I turned back to my sister Eva to see what was going on. I thought she said she was having a seizure,” Ittinuar said. “I gave her a scared look. But she said no, no, she’s in labour.”
The nurse put plastic on the aisle floor then helped her lay down.
This was Pavialok’s third birth. She knew what was going on. And the pain was bearable.
In fact, true to the airline’s name, everything and everyone seemed calm, she said.
There were 14 passengers on board, most of them from Coral Harbour. Even Pavialok remained calm, Ittinuar said, but maybe she was in shock.
The contractions started at 8:15 a.m. Her water broke four minutes later. They were 25 minutes from landing in Churchill. Ittinuar told her to concentrate on breathing. To stay calm.
The landing was tricky. It was so turbulent that both the nurse and Ittinuar had to hold Pavialok steady so she wouldn’t bump around too much.
When the plane finally landed, the flight attendants got the door open quickly to allow the emergency medical technicians on board.
As they were trying to figure out how to get her off the plane — the stretcher wouldn’t fit through the door — Pavialok turned to her aunt.
“We were talking in between her contractions and she said, ‘Barb, the head’s out!’ And I said, ‘Oh my god.’ I kind of panicked,” said Ittinuar.
“The baby started crying and I said, ‘Oh my god, baby’s crying and the body’s still in you and she giggled and as soon as she giggled, the body came out.”
Ittinuar couldn’t believe it.
“I said, ‘you didn’t even push!’ So we laughed about that. She made labour seem so freakin’ easy,” said Ittinuar.
They handed the baby to Pavialok so she could cradle him in her arms, still attached by an umbilical cord. She was immediately overcome with relief and exhaustion. She called him by his name: Jackson.
They placed her on a blanket and four men each took a corner of the blanket and carried her out to the ambulance.
She said it was cold with blowing snow and she got chilled in the transfer and then endured a bumpy 15-minute drive to the hospital.
Once there, it took her longer to deliver the placenta than it did to deliver her son, she said — about a half hour.
She spent Saturday night at the Churchill hospital, was discharged Sunday and then headed to the airport Monday, June 9, to take Jackson home.
Most of the airport staff had heard the story and so she was roundly greeted with “Oh, you’re the one who had the baby.”
A man who sells jewelry at the airport gave her a pair of silver polar bear earrings and the flight crew sent her flowers and toys for the baby.
Jackson, born 6 lbs, 4 oz, is in Cambridge Bay now, adopted out to Pavialok’s cousin Brian Mala and his wife Ellie. The couple also adopted Pavialok’s other son Ryerson a few years ago, so now Ryerson has a baby brother.
As for Pavialok, she’s already back to work as a housekeeper at the Katimavik Suites hotel. But she’s something of a local celebrity. Everyone in town wants to hear what happened.
She doesn’t mind the attention. The story ended well, after all, so it’s a good one to tell.
For Ittinuar the experience has been life-changing as well. In fact, now that she’s seen what can happen on an airplane, she says her fear of flying has disappeared.
“It made me realize a baby was born and here I’m terrified of flying and I watched the baby being born. It was so exciting. I’m not scared to fly anymore,” she said. “So,” she said laughing, “that baby taught me well.”