“Are you sitting down?” Amy Byers called her stepmother, Linda Byers, and braced her for the news.
Around 5 p.m. on July 7, Amy was waiting in the emergency room of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento with her partner and his father, who was suffering from chest pains.
The room was bustling with patients, but Amy could distinctly hear a young woman moaning and groaning. She called her stepmother in shock when she realized the wailing came from her cousin, Linda’s niece Carly: She was having a baby.
Carly Byers, 26, didn’t know she was pregnant until she reached the emergency room. She hadn’t received any medical checks or training. Her fiancé didn’t even know she was at the hospital until later in the evening, she said.
But her extended family gathered an army of local mothers from an East Sacramento mom’s club to her rescue.
Ordinary day, then sudden pains
That morning, Carly had gone to work at Steamers cafe in Old Sacramento as usual, she said. She only rushed to the emergency room in the afternoon because of acute stomach and back pains, which she said worsened throughout the day.
“At first I thought that maybe my appendix was going to burst, something was going on,” Carly said. “I was in a lot of pain.”
She’d taken a pregnancy test in November after experiencing some early symptoms, but it came out negative and Linda said she never considered the option again.
Carly even lost weight during the pregnancy, Linda said. “In the midst of this nine- or eight-month pregnancy, (Carly) and her fiancé
had been out and eating healthier and she had lost 50 pounds during this time,” she said. “She’s not unintelligent. I have no idea how you could not know, but it was obvious that she was in quite a bit of shock… and scared of course.”
Doctor William Gilbert, the medical director of women’s services at Sutter, said cases like Carly’s are fairly rare, but can be explained.
He said women in Carly’s circumstances are sometimes in denial. Other times, weight can get in the way. “Sometimes overweight or obese patients ... just don’t know their bodies,” he said. “They may just think they have gas pains.”
Linda said Carly responded to her body’s changes as Gilbert expected, explaining the kicks in her stomach as gas pains. For a time, she also thought she had a bad case of the flu.
Carly was in the waiting room for three hours, when she felt her cousin Amy’s arm wrapping around her shoulder from behind. “I didn’t know anything yet,” she said, “but (Amy) was able to stay with me and just really support me through the whole process.”
About an hour after Amy recognized her cousin, Sutter medical staff tested Carly to identify the cause of her pain. “And before she had even been told (by a doctor), the sonogram technician said: ‘You do know you’re (36) weeks pregnant, right?’” Linda said.
Carly’s fiancé, Jullian Cuffman, 28, was working his fourth day on the job at OBO’ Italian Table & Bar in Sacramento and couldn’t pick up the phone. But Amy called his manager, and Linda said Cuffman rushed on his bike to the hospital to assist Carly in the delivery of their surprise child.
Lack of prenatal care a concern
Their main worry throughout the delivery was the health of the baby, since Carly had received no prenatal care.
When mothers don’t get adequate prenatal care, Steiner said, the risk of complications is higher. However American hospitals have become equipped to handle the most difficult deliveries, and Steiner said an estimated 90 percent of the babies delivered under these circumstances are healthy and strong.
And so was Isaac Christopher, a 6-pound, 2-ounce baby boy born in excellent health at 3 a.m. on July 8.
“I was very, very fortunate and very lucky that he was wonderfully healthy,” said Carly. “He was a big guy when he came out and there were no complications.”
Linda had driven down from Elk Grove to meet her great-nephew and said he was a “surprise blessing.”
At just 7 years old, Carly lost her mother to multiple sclerosis. She lost her grandmother in 2011 and two years later her father, who Linda said often self-medicated with alcohol to grieve his wife, died due to brain damage and other complications after receiving a liver transplant.
Carly was on her own by the time she turned 21.
“I’ve been the most mother figure that she’s had and especially the most stable one,” Linda said. “When Carly needed somebody or something was happening… she would come to us, especially me who she trusted and her uncle Rick, my husband.”
So when Isaac Christopher was born, Linda knew her she would have to provide a support system, and called her daughter and mother-of-three Stephanie Gouge for help.
Linda stayed with Carly in the hospital to help her through the shock and the initial postpartum stages. Meanwhile, Stephanie put out the word, working to find baby products, equipment and food for the newborn.
A serious concern, at that point, was Carly’s loss of income. “It’s hard enough when you plan for your first child, but (much worse) when it’s an absolutely unexpected surprise,” Linda said. “And she had nothing for the baby.”
In the following hours, Stephanie was able to reach dozens of mothers in her neighborhood, College Greens East in La Riviera, and in the East Sacramento moms’ online network.
Support surged, and Linda said in a matter of hours Carly’s hospital room was crammed with donations. “There were two car seats and a stroller, two baby beds, a pack and play (portable) baby bed, all kinds of diapers and toys and swings and clothes and baby monitors and breast pumps,” she said.
The mothers continued to drop off gifts on Linda and Stephanie’s porch for a week. Linda said she had to make two trips to Carly’s home because her car could not fit all the baby equipment and products at once.
‘Outpouring’ of support
“The trunk was full, the back seat was full, the front seat was full (both times),” Linda said. “It was just this outpouring of moms-for-moms. It makes me tear up.”
Carly said that by the time she returned home from the hospital, she was equipped with everything she needed.
Many others in the Sacramento community pitched in as well, Carly said. “My boss also set up a little fundraiser for me,” she said, “and a lot of different organizations in Old Sacramento ended up donating.”
The California Railroad Museum and the California Rail Foundation made substantial contributions, Carly said, donating basic fundamentals as well as customized railroad toys.
“I’m so grateful for everyone’s support,” she said, “because I couldn’t have done it without it, that’s for sure.”
Carly said suddenly having an infant son hanging around the house in midtown Sacramento was strange at first, but she is naturally becoming accustomed to being a mother. “I can’t wait to teach him and show him things and just see his little personality come out because he’s already just an awesome kid, I can tell,” she said. “It was meant to be.”
Many of the mothers who made donations will be meeting Carly and baby Isaac Christopher at his baby shower on Aug. 25.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 21, 2019, to correct information provided to The Bee: Carly Byers was 7 at the time of her mother’s death, her grandmother died in 2011, and her father died two years later after receiving a liver transplant.