US couple's trip to Brazil becomes 4-month ordeal after wife gives birth early

Chris and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born around three months early.

US couple's trip to Brazil becomes 4-month ordeal after wife gives birth early
Christopher and Cheri Phillips
June 10, 2024, 4:07 AM

A Minnesota couple who traveled to Brazil in February for a two-week vacation have now spent nearly four months there after the wife went into premature labor, delivering their son at 28 weeks.

Chris and Cheri Phillips, of Cambridge, arrived on Feb. 22 in Brazil, where they planned to celebrate the eighth birthday of Chris's daughter from a previous relationship, who lives full-time with her mother in Brazil.

The couple told "Good Morning America" they were also looking forward to spending time relaxing ahead of the birth of their first child together, who was due in early June.

Their plans changed on March 8 -- just days before they were scheduled to fly home -- when Cheri Phillips began experiencing labor pains.

"It started off that I just kind of had a backache ... I thought I just need to go lie down and I'll feel better in the morning," said Cheri Phillips. "About 4 a.m., I started bleeding, so I woke Chris up and off to [the] hospital we went."

Once she was admitted to a local maternity hospital in Florianópolis, a city in Southern Brazil, doctors spent the next four days trying to prevent Cheri Phillips from going into early labor, according to the Phillipses.

PHOTO: Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips

Chris Phillips said they initially hoped Cheri's labor pains were minor enough that they would be able to fly back home to Minnesota before she gave birth. But soon, he said, it became apparent that their son would unexpectedly be born in Brazil.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that healthy, pregnant women can travel safely until they are 36 weeks pregnant, with the ideal time to travel coming between week 14 and week 28 of pregnancy.

Pregnant women who travel by plane also have to take into consideration restrictions and requirements from airlines, which each have their own set of rules.

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ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OBGYN, has previously said the primary reason pregnant women are warned against travel in the final weeks before birth is more about logistics and care than medical complications from flying.

"Her pregnancy had been perfect until that point," Chris Phillips said of his wife, adding that prior to their trip, the couple had taken precautions, including identifying the hospital nearest them in Brazil and receiving approval from their OBGYN to travel as Cheri Phillips was still in her second trimester. "Every ultrasound showed that Greyson was perfectly on schedule and perfectly on track for each gestation period."

On March 12, doctors in Brazil had to rush Cheri Phillips, then 28 weeks pregnant, into an emergency C-section, the couple said. After what the Phillipses described as a complicated and tense delivery, their son, Greyson Leo Phillips, was born weighing just over 2 pounds.

"For us, wasn’t a moment to celebrate. It was just pure fear and pure panic, for his health, for Cheri's health," Chris Phillips said. "And then, logistically, how are we going to get home in terms of all the bureaucratic stuff on both the Brazilian side and the American side? What are we going to do about health insurance?"

Almost immediately after his birth, Greyson was admitted to the hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit, or NICU, according to the Phillipses.

PHOTO: Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips

For the next 51 days, Greyson stayed in the NICU while his parents found places to live during their unexpectedly extended stay in Brazil, first at the hospital during Cheri Phillips' stay and then at multiple vacation rentals.

While spending their days with Greyson in the NICU, Chris Phillips, who speaks Portuguese fluently, translated between his English-speaking wife and the Portuguese-speaking medical staff.

"It was difficult for me to be fully present as a partner and as a father because I was working as a medical interpreter," Chris Phillips said. "I would retain some of the information that was passing through my brain, but a lot of the times, I would just count on Cheri to remember what I had interpreted, and then catch me up to speed afterwards so then we could make decisions as a parenting couple."

Cheri Phillips said the experience left her with fear that something would happen to Greyson and she wouldn't be able to communicate with nurses and doctors. In addition to being born premature, Greyson was diagnosed at birth with patent foramen ovale, or PFO, a hole in the heart that has failed to close after birth.

"I never quite knew what was happening, especially if I went alone, which happened because Chris couldn't always be there," Cheri Phillips said. "There were definitely days I came back [from the NICU] just absolutely defeated."

PHOTO: Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips

At the same time the couple was caring for their son in the NICU, the Phillipses were working around-the-clock to get Greyson the paperwork he'd need to be able to leave Brazil and travel to the United States.

The couple said they fought for weeks to get Greyson's birth certificate from officials in Brazil so that he could be issued an American passport. Their fight included hiring a lawyer to help them navigate legal roadblocks in Brazil, working with their U.S. senator's office in Minnesota and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil and sharing their story with local media outlets to raise awareness.

In early May, when Greyson was discharged from the hospital, he still did not have the birth certificate he needed to obtain a passport, according to the Phillipses.

PHOTO: Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips

"I struggled quite a bit that first week or two of having him here with us just knowing that the only reason we were stuck here is because we couldn't get his birth certificate," Cheri Phillips said. "I emotionally had a very hard time with that."

She continued, "I was stuck in this Airbnb that wasn't mine, not speaking the language, didn't have my village, no family, no friends."

The couple also had to purchase all the newborn essentials they needed for Greyson, including diapers, clothes and a crib. Their baby shower, they said, had been scheduled for March 30 at home in Minnesota.

As the days and weeks went on, both Chris and Cheri Phillips also had to return to work, each doing their Minnesota-based jobs remotely from Brazil.

The couple said they also completed the sale of their home in Minnesota and closed on a new home nearby during their time in Brazil, a process they had planned on completing in-person after their originally scheduled return date.

"It is truly overwhelming. You just kind of put your head down and get through it the best you can," Chris Phillips said. "What sustains us is the simple fact that there’s no option of giving up ... we have to get home."

It was not until June 5, nearly three months after his birth, that the Phillipses secured Greyson's emergency U.S. passport.

PHOTO: Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips' son Greyson was born premature on March 12, 2024, while the Minnesota-based family was traveling in Brazil.
Christopher and Cheri Phillips

The couple said they are now planning to leave Brazil with Greyson on June 23, and arrive in Minnesota on June 25, where family and friends will be there to welcome them.

"I’m excited to actually bring him home. We haven’t been able to bring him home yet," said Cheri Phillips. "I’m excited to be able to relax in our space, in our home, where we’re comfortable, and with our village, to be able to have grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles over."

Both Cheri and Chris Phillips said despite the obstacles, one silver lining of the whole experience has been spending time with Chris's 8-year-old daughter Melory, who has been able to bond with her baby brother. By chance of his early delivery, Greyson was born in the same operating room of the same hospital as Melory.

"She has absolutely taken to the role of big sister more than you can imagine," Chris Phillips. "He's the cutest thing in the world to her."

Added Cheri Phillips, "He’ll always have a special bond with Brazil, being born here and his sister lives here."

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