Babies born in a hurry have made headlines this week. A New Jersey baby was born on a commuter train and a Washington baby arrived in the hospital elevator (so close). A woman in Oregon gave birth in her bedroom this week, not because she was planning a home birth, but because she didn’t realize she was pregnant until the baby started coming out.
While giving birth in planes, trains and automobiles may sound like the stuff of movies and TV shows, it actually happens in real life with some frequency. Somewhere around 6,000 and 7,000 American babies are born outside the maternity unit every year simply because their mothers couldn’t get there in time. Sometimes, they make it all the way to the hospital, only to deliver in the parking lot or lobby.
One night when I was charge nurse on the graveyard shift, I took a call from a patient who said her water had broken and she wasn’t contracting, but she was coming in to the hospital. A second call fifteen minutes later came from her husband who was driving the car and totally freaking out. “She’s having this baby. She’s having it now!” They were less than a block from the hospital.
I alerted the emergency department, grabbed an emergency delivery kit and raced down three flights of stairs to meet them. Before the emergency team or I got to them, however, the husband squealed his car to the front of the hospital, grabbed a wheelchair and ran, pushing his screaming wife through the hospital lobby. When she started peeling off her pants, he shouted, “help me” to a man in a black suit walking nearby. As his wife shouted expletives with machine gun rapidity, the man in the suit, took off his jacket, knelt on the floor, caught the baby and quickly wrapped it in his suit jacket. The emergency room doctor and I arrived on the scene a moment later. The mom looked up, noticed the man was wearing a priest’s collar and said, “Oh sh**, you’re a priest. I bet that’s more parts of a woman than you’ve seen in a while, isn’t it?” He answered with grave dignity, “Well, ma’am, in fact that’s quite a lot more than I’ve ever seen before. Thank you for the honor.”
Some years after that and again, a night when I was in charge, we got a call from the emergency room that a pregnant woman had just raced past them and into the elevator and she was screaming at the top of her lungs. Just as I hung up the phone, I could hear her scream getting louder and louder as the elevator rose to our floor. When the doors popped open, she had a baby-shaped bulge in her pants, a puddle on the floor and tears in her eyes. Her husband looked like he was about to wet his pants.
Both of these babies were fine, by the way, and so were their mothers. Shaky, frightened and somewhat embarrassed, but healthy and fine. The dads and bystanders, on the other hand, are usually somewhat the worse for worry.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is in labor and it looks like birth is imminent, don’t do what you see on TV. Don’t tell her to push like you’re her Lamaze coach. If she has any control over it at all, she’ll wait until she’s at the hospital or somewhere where she can get proper care. If that baby is coming whether she’s ready or not, you don’t need to tell her to push. She won’t be able to help it. Instead, call 911, help her maintain some privacy, create a clean space and catch. But please call 911 first.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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