Rachel Sut­tie set out to hike the re­mote West Coast Trail un­aware that she was preg­nant. Then she went into labour and touched off a re­mark­able wilder­ness res­cue.

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY LARRY PYNN lpynn@van­cou­ver­sun.com

Rachel Sut­tie used to watch the TV re­al­ity se­ries

I Didn’t Know I Was Preg­nant and think: “ What

is wrong with these women?”

That was be­fore she found her­self dou­bled over from

un­ex­plained ab­dom­i­nal pains so se­vere she had to be

res­cued from Vancouver Is­land’s West Coast Trail, trans­ported through the crash­ing Pa­cific surf, and rushed to

Vic­to­ria Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal.

Sut­tie ar­rived just in time to give birth to Fern — a healthy, baby girl she never knew was in­side her.

“ It does hap­pen,” the 28-yearold Vancouver mother said in an exclusive in­ter­view Fri­day. “ Now I’m def­i­nitely more un­der­stand­ing how peo­ple could at­tribute preg­nancy symp­toms to other things ....”

Sut­tie said she grad­u­ated as an hon­our-roll stu­dent from Her­itage Park sec­ondary school in Mis­sion in 2001, then moved to Vancouver in 2004 to be­come a long­shore­man, like her fa­ther Steve and mother Kathy.

Her strange and re­mark­able story be­gins when she be­came preg­nant in mid-De­cem­ber 2010, then had a mis­car­riage six weeks later, on Jan. 26.

Sut­tie ex­plained that she vis­ited her fam­ily physi­cian, Dr. Hugh Robin­son on West 41st Av­enue, and he per­formed an in­ter­nal exam and con­cluded she’d had a “ clean mis­car­riage.”

He did give her a re­fer­ral for an ul­tra­sound in case she ex­pe­ri­enced any “ cramp­ing or dis­com­fort” but she felt fine and never went for one.

As a re­sult, ev­ery­one missed out on some crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion: Sut­tie had been preg­nant with twins and one was still alive and well, thank-you.

“ I was preg­nant with twins and didn’t know it,” she con­firmed.

Weight gain min­i­mal

Over the en­su­ing months, Sut­tie and her fa­ther be­gan to train for the West Coast Trail, partly as a bond­ing ex­er­cise and partly to put the dis­ap­point­ment of the mis­car­riage be­hind her.

“ I was do­ing a lot of hik­ing, try­ing to eat well, drink­ing lots of water,” she says from her par­ents’ home on First Av­enue near Clark Drive.

“ My weight gain was pretty min­i­mal. I did no­tice some of it had moved to my stom­ach but it wasn’t dras­tic. I’m also on a cou­ple of med­i­ca­tions that have some side ef­fects — heart burn and hav­ing to pee all the time.

“ The preg­nancy symp­toms I just at­trib­uted to my med­i­ca­tion. It was just a re­ally weird cir­cum­stance.”

Still, the sin­gle mom does feel em­bar­rassed to not have known, es­pe­cially since it was not her first preg­nancy.

As she breast­feeds Fern on the liv­ing-room re­cliner, her other daugh­ter, Rowan, al­most six years old, ar­rives home from Grade 1. Rowan says she is happy to have a sis­ter and her mom home safe. “ It’s a good thing she had it in the hos­pi­tal. But they had to cut her open,” Rowan says.

Sut­tie es­ti­mates she only gained about 15 pounds dur­ing the preg­nancy and that she nor­mally has weight fluc­tu­a­tions.

“ I was ac­tu­ally get­ting frus­trated be­cause I was do­ing all this hik­ing with my dad and he was start­ing to lean out and I was get­ting a lit­tle rounder around my belly.

“ I felt fine. I was go­ing camp­ing, chop­ping wood. We have a big ca­noe and I’d put it on and off the van, all the stuff I usu­ally do.”

And what of the other signs that might have sug­gested preg­nancy? Did she no­tice the baby kick­ing? “ There was a lit­tle bit of kick­ing. Again, I thought it was in my head.”

The lack of pe­ri­ods? “ I did have light spot­ting a few times. Af­ter a mis­car­riage, it’s not that un­com­mon not to get back to your reg­u­lar cy­cle right away. I have pretty late pe­ri­ods, any­ways, so I wasn’t think­ing any­thing of it.”

Food crav­ings? “ I did have them — yo­gurt, fruit, ice-cream, a lot of dairy stuff.”

Morn­ing sick­ness? “ I did, but that was when I knew I was preg­nant, be­fore I mis­car­ried.”

Sut­tie adds that she broke up with her boyfriend, Fern’s fa­ther, right af­ter the mis­car­riage so there was no rea­son to think she was preg­nant from hav­ing fur­ther sex. They are still not to­gether.

Sut­tie and her dad be­gan the chal­leng­ing 75-kilo­me­tre West Coast Trail hike at Port Ren­frew on south­west­ern Vancouver Is­land on the af­ter­noon of Aug. 29 head­ing north.

“ Right from the get-go I felt kind of weak,” she con­tin­ues.

“ I didn’t feel like my­self. We weren’t mak­ing the kilo­me­tres we’d planned on. I know my­self, and I was not per­form­ing the way I usu­ally do.

“ There are lots of fallen trees you have to scram­ble over and he was hav­ing to help pull me over them. A cou­ple of times I’d take my pack off and hand it to him.”

She sol­diered on for two days be­fore she slipped on Aug. 31, twist­ing her right an­kle, which turned pur­ple.

“ Be­cause I was weak, I stepped off of a board­walk and rolled my an­kle re­ally bad. I fell face-first into a big pile of ferns [ yes, that’s where her daugh­ter got her name] and onto my stom­ach. That’s when I had what I now know were my first con­trac­tions that put me into labour.”

Still, she con­tin­ued to hike north over the tough­est por­tion of the trail, stop­ping as the cramps dic­tated. “ I am go­ing up rick­ety lad­ders, stop­ping and hold­ing on to have a con­trac­tion. I thought it was the worst pe­riod of my life.”

On Sept. 1, Sut­tie and her dad camped near the Pa­cific Ocean where the trail meets Wal­bran Creek. Her pain in­ten­si­fied.

“ Half­way through the night, it was ex­cru­ci­at­ing. I’d been in labour for two days. We didn’t know what was wrong. I said, ‘ I’m throw­ing in the towel, I can’t do this.’”

The next morn­ing, Sept. 2, at 8: 15 a. m., Steve Sut­tie bor­rowed the cell­phone of an­other hiker — a nurse from the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries — and called Parks Canada to re­quest an emer­gency res­cue.

( Steve also called his wife, Karen, to re­port that Rachel was hav­ing tremen­dous stom­ach pains and that she should catch a ferry to Vic­to­ria Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal im­me­di­ately. Re­calls Karen: “ I said to him, ‘ Steve, it sounds like she’s hav­ing a baby. Is she preg­nant?’ He said, ‘ No, how can she be preg­nant, un­less it’s the im­mac­u­late con­cep­tion?’ I got a ferry and made it to the hos­pi­tal and within 20 min­utes I was in the op­er­at­ing room with her, hold­ing her hand while they op­er­ated on her.”)

Res­cued by boat

By 10: 30 a. m., two Parks Canada vis­i­tor-safety of­fi­cers, Shan­non Dixon and Per­nell Tarnowski, ar­rived from Port Ren­frew on board an in­flat­able boat pow­ered by two 140-horse­power out­board en­gines. They an­chored, then pumped up an­other four-me­tre in­flat­able, which they rowed across the surf line to the beach.

Dixon said the two of­fi­cers, who are trained in first aid, spent about an hour con­duct­ing a phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion and try­ing to fig­ure out what might be wrong. Ap­pen­dici­tis went through their minds, as did preg­nancy, even though Sut­tie showed no ob­vi­ous phys­i­cal signs. “ It’s so weird,” Dixon re­flects. “ I did an ab­dom­i­nal exam, and there wasn’t an ob­vi­ous belly.”

They put Sut­tie and her fa­ther in floater suits, then rowed back through 1.5-me­tre swells, trans­ferred to the larger ves­sel and headed for Port Ren­frew. A wait­ing am­bu­lance picked them up at 1: 30 p. m. for the ride to Vic­to­ria Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, where Sut­tie was of­fi­cially ad­mit­ted at 4: 18 p. m.

Along the way, she said a para­medic tim­ing her con­trac­tions con­cluded: “ This can only be labour. You’re hav­ing a baby.’ I was in shock ... and ex­hausted deal­ing with the pain.”

She added: “ I can hon­estly say that labour is more painful when you don’t know you’re in labour. You have noth­ing to fo­cus on.”

At 8: 12 p. m., Sut­tie gave birth via cae­sarean sec­tion to a full­term baby girl weigh­ing seven pounds, four ounces.

“ They did a lot of ex­tra test­ing on her be­cause she had no pre­na­tal care, and she’s com­pletely healthy.”

Steve Sut­tie said he thought at the time his daugh­ter might have been suf­fer­ing from a trou­bled spleen or ap­pen­dix or gall blad­der — any­thing but a preg­nancy. “ We didn’t even think about that. Who would? To think, ‘ maybe there were twins and an­other one sur­vived,’ ... that doesn’t even pop into your head.”

And even though his daugh­ter put on weight, at no time did she give the ap­pear­ance of be­ing preg­nant.

“ You know how some ladies carry their ba­bies? You could sit a can of pop or a beer on their belly be­cause it’s flat, it goes right out and then curves and comes right back in and you can tell they’re preg­nant. She didn’t look like that,” Steve Sut­tie said.

And when he fi­nally learned of the truth?

“ You might as well have taken a bat and swung it at me. I was out­side the hos­pi­tal and the para­medic says: ‘ You have to go up­stairs, your daugh­ter is go­ing in for surgery. She’s hav­ing a baby.’

“ I was just floored, stunned. But then every­thing made sense.”

He adds, with a preg­nant pause: “ I thought I was go­ing to bring back some glass fish­ing floats or some sea shells, but we came back with a baby in­stead.”

Mir­a­cle baby

Karen Sut­tie de­scribes Fern as a mir­a­cle baby. “ She re­ally is. We were all dev­as­tated when Rachel had the mis­car­riage. None of us would have imag­ined in a mil­lion years there’d be an­other baby there. I’m thrilled.”

Af­ter six days in hos­pi­tal re­cov­er­ing from in­ter­nal bleed­ing from a torn uterus, Rachel Sut­tie went straight to her fam­ily doc­tor. “ He felt ter­ri­ble about it. I see him reg­u­larly and he didn’t no­tice that I looked preg­nant.”

Sut­tie said her doc­tor said he will in­sist on ul­tra­sounds in fu­ture for such pa­tients. She be­lieves he is a great doc­tor de­spite what hap­pened and is more up­set at her­self for not pick­ing up the signs.

Dr. Robin­son de­clined to speak with The Sun.

As for the fu­ture, Sut­tie said one thing’s for sure: she plans to re­turn to fin­ish the West Coast Trail with her dad — and with Fern and Rowan when they’re old enough.

And when they come to that patch of ferns where she gave birth to one of the great­est sto­ries ever told about the West Coast Trail?

“ What will I say to her?” she con­cludes. “ I’ll just say this is where it all hap­pened.”


Rachel Sut­tie, 28, holds her three-week-old daugh­ter Fern, who was born af­ter Rachel was res­cued from the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Is­land while hik­ing with her fa­ther.


Rachel Sut­tie, 28, says she’s more un­der­stand­ing of women who do not rec­og­nize the symp­toms of preg­nancy af­ter she went into labour while hik­ing three weeks ago.

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