Faraway dad sees birth via Skype

Erin Zimbelman poses with twins Brielle and Braylon and their older brother Blaine and an iPad connected to Jon Zimbelman, who is in Iraq but connected to his family by Skype.

Jon Zimbelman had two words to describe watching from Iraq as his wife, Erin, give birth to their twin boy and girl Sept. 25 at North Valley Hospital.

“Pretty amazing,” he said. “A few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Jon, 31, spoke Monday from Basrah over Skype from his laptop computer in Iraq where he has worked for more than three years for a communications firm in the private sector. Erin, 32, of Kalispell, received his often broken voice and image over her iPad, then responded and showed him his week-old babies as 3-year-old Blaine begged to talk with dad, too.

The Skype reunion took place in one of North Valley Hospital’s homey rooms for new mothers where Erin returned with twins Breille and Braylon, Blaine and Erin’s mother, Gayle Chaffey, and Jon’s stepmother, Beth Zimbelman.

Cindy Walp, birth center manager at North Valley Hospital, said that Erin them the idea of connecting Jon with the birth by Skype.

Walp said Erin was working with Jeanne Tremper, certified nurse midwife, who discovered Erin was going to have twins. Her birth plans changed to a Caesarean section when one of the babies moved into a feet or buttocks-first breech position.

The time to start the C-section was noon on Sept. 25.

“She asked if they could Skype her husband in on this,” Walp said. “Our anesthesiologist Dr. (Andrew) Zimmet said, ‘Sure, we can do that for her.’ We kind of told him the story of him being gone and the tragedies that they had during her pregnancy.”

On July 7, Erin’s father, 76, suffered a debilitating stroke.

Jon’s mother, 53, died suddenly the very same day.

Walp said Dr. Mirna Bowden, who performed the C-section, and Tremper, who assisted, were happy to comply with the request.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole O.R.,” Walp said. “It was so cool. Everyone saw that this could be a wonderful experience for this patient under less-than-perfect circumstances and they rose to the occasion.”

Bowden held up each baby — healthy and crying — right after birth. Erin was awake for the procedure and was aware of Jon on Skype.

“It was emotional for sure,” Erin said. “I’m glad he got to see it.”

 Jon was wide awake although it was late evening in Iraq, where he works as a radio technician. He said he was relieved as he heard his new son Braylon’s lusty cry as well as Breille’s.

Although the picture was broken up during the reunion, he said he was able to see his new babies very clearly as Bowden held them up for him.

“It was perfect,” he said. “I was pretty amazing.”

Erin said he went to Iraq to work for a private contractor because he could not find a job in the Flathead Valley that paid enough. He described living apart as “pretty miserable” but he visits by Skype every day, spending time playing remotely with Blaine.

“We have breakfast. He plays cars. He shows me all his stuff,” Jon said. “We hang out.”

The family now lives in Kalispell but plans to move to a house being renovated at Foy’s Lake. She grew up at Lake Blaine, which inspired the name of their first child.

Erin moved to San Diego when she was 20. There she met and married Jon in 2006. They moved to the Flathead Valley in 2009.

According to Erin, her first ultrasound in January this year didn’t show that she was carrying twins. She said that she felt like she had twins, which run on both sides of their families.

Erin only recently learned that her father had a twin who had died in infancy. Jon’s family had 14 sets of twins in seven generations.

“We’ve always wanted twins,” she said.

They learned in March that they were granted their wish, then planned a special “reveal” for their families on Mother’s Day. At a party in Lawrence Park, they opened a box of pink and blue balloons disclosing a boy and girl were joining the family.

Shortly after that, Jon returned to Iraq before tragedy struck in July, bringing him home for his mother’s funeral. As a result, he couldn’t come back in September but Skype let him watch 7-pound, 11-ounce Braylon and 6-pound, 4- ounce Breille enter the world.

“Technology is great,” Jon said.

He hopes to return for a visit around Thanksgiving to see the babies and Blaine in person. Erin said she has lots of family support helping her cope.

“They’re doing really good,” she said of the twins. “I actually got some sleep last night. They only woke up at 4 in the morning and 9.”

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at cchase@dailyinterlake.com.

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