Ever since my son was born two years ago, I’ve feared having a baby in the car. Perhaps it’s a weird fear—but when your child is born in 90 minutes, it’s not an entirely irrational one either. Thankfully, I was already at the hospital when labor started with my second. This time around, I wasn’t so lucky.
During the last few months of my third pregnancy, I mentioned my fear of having a baby in the car at every midwife appointment. My midwives deliver out of a hospital and unfortunately, it’s 35 minutes away (not during rush hour traffic).
To alleviate my fears, my midwives told me to come as soon as I thought I was in labor, even if I wasn’t sure. They also gave me a due-date appointment prep session on what to do if I did end up having our baby in the car, to help me feel more prepared. That appointment turned out to be a saving grace.
This Pregnancy, The False Labor Scares Kept Coming
On the morning of Thursday, April 27th, we left for the hospital. We thought this was the day. My husband Seth stayed home from work; we asked friends and family to cover childcare for our oldest two.
But as we drove south on the highway, my contractions began to dissipate. Since the prior Saturday, this had already happened four times: I would be in labor and suddenly, the regular and strong contractions would just taper off. My midwives called while we were en route, and asked if things were progressing. If not, they asked if we could head to the office instead, because the hospital was running out of rooms.
At the office, they told us what we already suspected: it was another false labor scare. Headed home, I felt incredibly foolish for being mistaken about labor so many times this pregnancy. I should’ve been a pro by now.
That night, contractions started again. I was on my bathroom floor moaning at bedtime, and Seth put the kids to bed. After the babysitter arrived, we headed to the hospital. Everyone thought this was truly it: my midwives, doula, and Seth. But I wasn’t so sure. My contractions were regular and moving on top of each other, but I was still able to talk through every single one. I knew what labor felt like. Joking and talking mid-contractions wasn’t it.
At almost 2 a.m., my midwife finally agreed with me. She suggested I head home, which I happily agreed to. I had been in this twilight labor for close to a week already, and didn’t want to keep everyone on the clock unnecessarily. We arrived home at 3 a.m., and sent our tired and confused babysitter home.
An Hour Later, I Was Giving Birth
Seth went to sleep, but I spent the whole night working through annoying but manageable contractions. At 6 a.m., they became uncomfortable enough that I took a shower, where they tapered off again. I crawled back into bed, next to my oldest daughter and husband. At 6:55 (according to my phone’s time stamp), I took a picture of the two of them sleeping next to one another.
One hour and three minutes later, a 911 operator would be declaring my son’s time of birth.
Perhaps 10 or 20 minutes later, I woke up to my water literally bursting across our bed. I jumped up and yelled at Seth. He saw the bed, and immediately jumped into gear, calling the babysitter and his parents to cover childcare (again). I stood in the shower screaming, already in the last stage of labor called transition. He dressed himself and me in record time; our babysitter, who had just left our house four hours ago, was somehow back at our door in minutes, dressed and delirious. We owe her big time.
I had two contractions on our way down our stairs and out the door. Seth later told me he thought I would give birth on our porch. I stood on the stairs moaning loud enough for our neighbors to hear at 7:15 in the morning. Seth was on the phone with his parents, who were trying to get details on how to care for our kids (whether they’d eaten, etc.). But as he watched me groan on the porch, Seth told his mom, “I can’t do this right now,” told her to talk to the babysitter, and promptly hung up.
From Courteous Driver to Aggressive Motorist
Part of my prep talk with the midwife involved instructions like “have extra towels in your car.” When I got in the car, Seth laid them out on his seat because my water had already broken.
We own a 2006 Nissan Altima with 130,000 miles on it. It works for Seth’s commutes; he just drives it to and from a nearby train station every day. But it has a few quirks—like it shakes and rattles when driven above 55 miles per hour. It’s barely holding on, and recently we put more money than we probably should have into it for a repair.
Seth is probably the kindest person I’ve ever known, and incapable of aggressive anything—driving included. As he was patiently following the rules of the road, waiting to attempt a left turn at an intersection, I screamed at him to cut people off.
He attempted to reason with me for about five seconds, before he looked over and saw me writhing next to him on the passenger side. He got onto the highway, and tried to make a few jokes. “Who will play you in the movie? I think Natalie Portman.”
I sat next to him, screaming, “We’re never going to make it!”
Ten minutes into our trip, my doula’s partner (who was subbing for her while she tended another client) called to check on us. She talked me through contractions and gave me tips to hopefully slow my labor’s progress. Her suggestions bought us a couple more miles—but within minutes of hanging up, I was pushing.
Our Baby Arrived In a Gravel Parking Lot
While pushing a baby out naturally is technically a voluntary response, I compare it to having diarrhea after food poisoning. While it is a voluntary motion, there is no holding it back.
After two pushes I felt our son crowning. I yelled to Seth, “He’s coming out! Pull over! PULL OVER!”
Seth cut across two lanes of traffic, pulled to the shoulder, and entered the gravel parking lot of an auto body shop. I found myself irrationally irritated with Seth for not choosing the paved lot of a respectable business establishment, like a hotel. Or even a fast food chain. Was even pavement too much to ask for?
“Come around to the other side and call 911,” I yelled at Seth. But he was already out the door and halfway around the car.
I heard him on the phone yelling our location—“Jeff’s Garage!”— to the operator. He joked about inviting the operator to the bris if she got help to us before the birth. Even amid the turmoil, Seth never lost his good cheer or sense of humor. Part of me suspects he was even having a bit of fun; he tends to get positively giddy at the births of his children.
The Fearful Moments After Our Son Was Born
Seth knelt next to me. Over my belly, I could see our son face down and half delivered in Seth’s cupped hands. There isn’t a word in the English language to describe this terror. I pushed as hard as I could, not waiting for contractions, and instead just bearing down with every ounce of strength inside of me. Within another two or three pushes, he was totally out.
Seth put him to my chest, and he lay there purple and lifeless. He wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing, and I could see the cord on the side of his neck. After a moment of terror, we realized the cord wasn’t around his neck completely. But he still wasn’t moving or breathing.
“What do we do?” I yelled over the phone at the 911 operator. She nervously kept affirming that help was on the way.
In a moment of clarity, I remembered a blog post our friend Sarah had written after her own accidental home birth. She too delivered a purple baby who wasn’t crying (in her toilet!), and was told to gently pat her baby and massage her to stimulate her breathing.
We did the same with our son. He took his first breath, then his second. His lips soon turned pink, though the rest of him was still discolored from his fast exit. I told Seth to get something to wrap the baby. He chose a Rangers sweatshirt—“because it’s soft, and it’s the playoffs.” (I’m not kidding.)
When The Adrenaline Wore Off, I Felt Panic
Within moments, police cars parked alongside ours. But by that time, there was little for the officers to do but take photos for us (which they kindly offered to do). Two ambulances arrived minutes later. They took our son, cut the cord, and put me on a gurney. They helped me get skin-to-skin contact with my baby, and I held him in the ambulance for the rest of the 20-minute trip.
Seth followed the ambulance in his car, and police cars with sirens flanked the caravan. When we hit rush hour traffic, we rode the shoulder until we arrived at the emergency room. Waiting for us was my intended midwife, smiling with a crowd of nurses. Our son was thoroughly evaluated by the nursing staff before we were moved up to the sixth floor.
Seth was still giddy, but by this point I had a delayed panic attack as the adrenaline wore off. I couldn’t stop shaking. Even though he was alright, I couldn’t shake the image of our son half-delivered in the front seat, when I imagined I was delivering a stillborn baby.
The attack didn’t last long. But I share it because while I might seem like a badass (especially after we found out his weight clocked in at an even 9 pounds and I had not experienced a single tear) I hardly felt like one. I felt foolish for not knowing when I was in labor, and that birth was so imminent. I worried people might think I orchestrated the whole thing for attention, after spending so many months fixated on the possibility of a car birth. None of these fears are particularly logical. But I felt consumed by them the first hour of our son’s life.
Our Baby Boy Will Have A Great Birth Story To Tell
But those feelings quickly dissipated as we began to call family and friends and share our story. Before day’s end, we were inundated with well wishes online and from publications like our own New York Post and Jewish Daily Forward, in addition to news items on Red State, Twitchy, and elsewhere. We got a shout-out from our friend Dana Perino on “The Five,” and a short segment on our adventure appeared on the local news station NY1.
On the labor and delivery floor, nurses and staff stopped Seth to shake his hand and wish us a hearty congratulations. That Shabbat, as he walked around town with our kids, several passing parties stopped to shake his hand and wish him a mazal tov on delivering his own son.
Despite his fast and furious entry into the world, our little “Altima” (his nickname till his circumcision and naming ceremony on Friday) appears to be a positively laid back and chill little man, which bodes well for him—he’s the youngest of three kids under four years old in our family. He’ll have a baby book filled with news clips and screen grabs of his 15 minutes of fame, and a great story to tell of his birth.
And if there’s another Mandel baby, he or she will be a planned home birth.