The Wood River Valley is suddenly fertile.
Last year, 302 babies came into the world at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, just south of Ketchum. This October alone, 80 babies were expected. In a three-week period at the end of September, 24 of them already had arrived in the world. If this rate keeps up, the hospital could see the annual number of births more than double. With just four private birthing suites at the hospital, that makes for some crowded days and nights.
"What is happening is that as soon as the mother delivers, if we have someone on their way, we move them to regular recovery rooms," said Tanya Keim, St. Luke's WRMC public relations manager. "People are getting moved around, but it has not been unbearable."
For instance, on Thursday, Oct. 19, two babies were already birthed by 10 a.m., and three more mothers were in labor. Several of these folks are friends, so there was a cozy, small-town mood.
By 11:02 a.m., Luke James Hebert—at 9 pounds 2 ounces—had been born to his parents, Andrew and Monica Hebert of Hailey.
Family members were sticking their heads into other rooms to say hello. Mike and Sarah Torres, who was in labor, were visiting the Heberts, until her contractions began again and she scuttled off with a pained look on her face.
In another suite, Michael Bulls and Karen Stevens, of Hailey, were enjoying their day-old baby, Jack.
So what in the world is happening? Is it that the population of the Wood River Valley has increased or, as a few people have speculated, it was a chilly holiday season nine months ago?
"We just don't know. We're (normally) pretty consistent throughout the year," Keim said. "We average about 25 in one month. We get our information from the obstetricians and the Hailey clinic, so we can kind of plan. This year, though, September was in high 30s and October is in the 60s. Last year, there were 20 babies born in October."
One of the new mothers, Karen Stevens, said a lot of people are starting to have babies now that they're in their early- to mid-30s. "There was a large number of people who moved here at the same time and stayed. It seems like the right time."
Mike Torres had a different explanation of the fall boom. "We were probably celebrating powder days nine months ago. It's kind of cool and good for us. They'll all grow up together."
The four birthing suites all have full birthing equipment, a full bed and a Jacuzzi tub. There's enough room so as many people as one wants can be present at the birth or for visiting, as well as an extra bed for someone to spend the night. Unless there are medical problems, the babies always remain with the mother in the birthing room.
"It's controlled chaos," St. Luke's WRMC Manager of Obstetrics Sebina Pettengill said from behind her crowded desk and surrounded by nurses. Pettengill said she's had to call in for extra help in recent days.
"The babies have been a little cooperative. They could have really slammed us. Next month looks to be about normal with 30 births due."
Last week, the Ghostly Gala benefit sponsored by the St. Luke's WRMC Volunteer Core raised money to fund the construction of two new birthing rooms.
St. Luke's WRMC also offers breast feeding support groups, birth and parenting education, and maternal and infant medical transport.
"Our birthing center is above and beyond anywhere I've ever seen," said Childbirth Educator Larsen Peterson. "It's pretty awesome."
While there is only one obstetrician/gynecologist in the valley, Dr. Joseph Rodriguez, the hospital has 11 OB-specific nurses, with two always on shift.
During this busy period, Rodriguez happens to be out of state, from Oct. 8 through Oct. 30, taking preparatory classes for his medical board certification.
Replacing him is Dr. Virginia Rauph, of Texas, who is at the hospital as the "Locum tenens," or temporary visiting doctor.
If these families stay in the valley, these babies should be part of the 2025 graduating classes at Wood River High School and The Community School, in Sun Valley. According to research done for the Blaine County 2025 plan—an effort to plan for the county's future in 2025—the population is "conservatively estimated to be 31,000, or 9,000 to 10,000 more people than reside in the county today."
Blaine County is not alone. In Aspen, Colo., and Jackson, Wyo., the birth rates are also steadily increasing. In Jackson, it's attributed to expectant mothers from the booming towns of Pinedale and Teton Pass. In Aspen, there are plans to triple the size of the existing maternity ward.