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How an American couple happened to become parents on Canadian soil

When newlywed Bethany Gervais of Caribou, Maine, found out she was pregnant in the autumn of 2017, the last thing she expected was to give birth to a Canadian.

By the seventh month of her pregnancy, everything looked normal - apart from the fact that the baby was a bit larger than average.

So, on April 15, 2018, Bethany and her husband, Ray Gervais, crossed the border into Canada for a fun night out in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 

"We came over with two friends of ours," says Bethany, a 33-year-old middle school teacher. "We were just going to be gone for the night."

The group went to an escape room, a game that challenges players with puzzles, locks, tools and special effects. But as they broke out of the room and celebrated victory, Bethany didn't know the baby in her tummy was planning an escape of his own.

"We went back to the hotel for the evening, and I didn't feel great," she says. "It was just kind of a dull pain at first, and it just got worse and worse and more frequent."

Then, Bethany's water broke. Shocked and scared, the couple hurried to their car, relying on GPS to guide them on the five-kilometre drive to Horizon's Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital (DECRH).

They zoomed up to the emergency room entrance and managed to reach Labour & Delivery just in time.

"I went down to park the car because I left it running in front of the ER," Ray says. "By the time I got back - it was like maybe five minutes later - the baby was being born."

During labour, the baby was having trouble breathing. At 12:04 A.M. on April 16, Parker Auguste Gervais was born and rushed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He was jaundiced, had a brain bleed and needed oxygen.


Bethany was exhausted and dazed. Ray, meanwhile, was worried about his wife and newborn son. He kept texting Bethany's mother, a NICU nurse who was on a nightshift at a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. The new grandmother left work and drove all night to Canada, arriving in Fredericton 12 hours later.

"She was just happy to see the two of us," Bethany says. "She spent a couple of hours at the hospital and then went to her hotel and passed out."

Once the shock of it all had begun to subside, Bethany and Ray had to figure out what to do next. Parker was stable, but his American parents, blindsided by his birth in the Great White North, had nowhere to stay. They also had to deal with paperwork for their American health insurance.

Horizon staff did everything they could to help the family. The perinatal social worker at the DECRH worked hard to help the couple find temporary accommodation in an apartment. The NICU nurses, meanwhile, cheerfully pushed the boundaries of their job descriptions, dispensing tips on local shopping, restaurants and housing.

"They were so personable and helpful, and they were trying to help us through not just our medical stuff, but all of the billing and immigration issues," Bethany says. "The support they provided emotionally was probably the best thing they could have done to help us in a difficult situation, far from our support systems."

Bethany was discharged from the hospital after a week, but little Parker had to stay in the NICU.  His parents became fixtures in the unit, watching, feeding and cuddling their wee son at least eight hours a day.

"They are an amazing family and we connected pretty quickly with them," says Janet Paquin, Nurse Manager in the NICU. "I think it was the uniqueness, for sure, of the circumstances."

While having a Canadian-born child with American parents in the NICU was highly unusual, the unit often treats babies from the Upper River Valley, Edmundston and other parts of New Brunswick. In many of those cases, the parents are dealing with the challenges and worries of being alone in an unfamiliar city. Families, Paquin says, are the centre of care in the NICU.

"Obviously, if you work with babies, you're pretty nurturing in your approach to life, so we often just feel that connection and I think parents do too," Paquin explains. "And we are so appreciative that we are part of their experience that may end very positively or may not. But either way, it's a privilege to be a part of an experience that most families always remember."


May 23 was Parker's big day. After more than a month in the NICU, he was discharged from the hospital and went out into the springtime air. His father, beaming in a ball cap, carried him in a navy blue car seat. 

Still, the family had to stay in Fredericton for a few more days because of follow-up medical appointments for the baby, who by then weighed a sturdy seven pounds. For the first time ever, mom and dad were all on their own for the feeding, burping and diaper changing.

"I think I was in a little bit of shock again," Bethany says with a laugh. "It was a little nerve-wracking because we always had the backup care and the nurses."

Through it all, one question kept popping up: Was little Parker a Canadian or an American?  Ray, who works for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, threw himself into research about citizenship. He confirmed that his son was both Canadian and American.

Even with the discovery of dual citizenship, the prospect of crossing the international border with their infant was daunting for the family.

"Oh, that was interesting," Ray says. "We were kind of stressing about that because we had no idea what to expect."

Again, Horizon staff helped. They prepared letters for border officials to explain that Parker had been born in Canada. In the end, the baby with the cross-border birth story had no trouble making a triumphant entrance into his home state.

"The folks at the border crossing got a kick out of it," Bethany says, smiling. 

Parker, who weighed almost 12 pounds by September, is thriving and meeting all of his milestones. He has had his first ride on a boat, and he gets along with Sammy, the family cat. He sometimes sports onesies decorated with pictures of maple leaves and the Canadian flag.  

"He loves to eat, play games with his dad, listen to his mommy sing, and snuggle, of course," wrote Bethany in a letter to the NICU staff. "He is doing extraordinarily well."

Months after the out-of-the-blue birth in the Canadian night, Bethany says she will always be grateful for the care she and her baby received from the nurses and other Horizon staff at the DECRH.

"We were in a strange situation, and no one really had experience with our situation, and they did everything they could to help us," Bethany says. "They made a long month and a half much more manageable, and I can't ever thank them enough."

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