The day of my first prenatal doctor visit two questions came up regarding you, Natalya, my third little miracle. One: Were you planned? (Yes, of course!) And, two: Where would I have you? Excellent question.
When I told my family the good news a few weeks later, the first words out of my mother’s mouth were “So, where are you going to have this one? The car?” Your brother had been born the “old-fashioned” way, at home with a midwife. I guess after that decision, most people figured anything was possible. Complicating matters was the fact that the one and only legally certified midwife where I lived had recently relocated to another state; homebirth was not a ‘no-brainer’ option even if I was low-risk and known to have precipitous labors.
In truth, I wanted the comforts and freedoms of labor at home along with the security of my doctor guiding the delivery. I was not 100 percent committed to home or hospital; therefore, the car was a kind of middle ground: not quite here or there. It was generally understood to be a joke, but I seriously pondered the possibility of the car option for months.
A couple weeks before you were born your papa and I visited the hospital. I wanted to remind myself of the spatial dimensions and imagine laboring there. If I could make this space feel more like my master bath at home, then I would definitely arrive sooner rather than later. The nurse on duty made it clear that they would expect me to be electronically monitored for 15-20 minutes every hour and that the bathroom would be off limits—“too many close calls,” she said. Then, she suggested that if I wanted to avoid the monitor and labor in a bathroom that I “should stay home as long as possible and just come at the last minute.”
So, my plan was to make it to the hospital with not too much time to spare, maybe 20-30 minutes would be ideal. Still, when people would ask at what hospital I was having you, I would pause for a minute, thinking “hospital?” Somehow I just was not totally convinced. We only lived five minutes away, but if we left at the first sign of ‘transition’ would we make it in time? I ordered an emergency instruction sheet titled “When Baby Arrives before the Midwife.” I gave it to your dad to memorize.
The night you arrived I had my first real labor contraction around 10 PM. At 30 seconds long and 6 minutes apart, they weren’t too bad, so I proceeded to finish the dishes, sweep the floors, pick up toys, organize my mail, etc. Things had to be in order before your birth, and with two toddlers in the house, this was a constant battle. An hour and a half later I talked to mom on the phone to give her the good news. Contractions were coming, but I kept chatting. No signs of agony yet. At midnight your papa had fallen into an aspirin induced coma—he’d been nursing a bad headache–and I headed upstairs to my labor retreat to get down to business. I dimmed the lights but still was not ready to ‘sit still,’ so I put in a CD and started dancing. Head rolls, spine rolls, hip circles. I was grooving in rhythmic peace, putting my dance and yoga background to work for us. When a contraction came I sat on my improvised birth stool and leaned forward onto the towel rack, breathing deeply and sighing softly or singing to myself. Then, I went back to my labor dance. I felt calm and completely focused in the moment. However, barely 3 songs and 5 or 6 contractions later my waters popped and you suddenly dropped—a lot! What an incredibly weird feeling. I felt less pelvic cramping but intense stretching and pressure in my bottom. Instantly it was time to push. The wave of nausea that was supposed to signal transition and my cue to hit the road came now too, but it came a bit too late this 3rd time. This was definitely my “oops” (or should I say oh, %$@# now how do I get off this toilet seat and down a flight of stairs??) moment.
I was in no state to do anything but bear down, but that would have to wait. I had a plan to follow. In the next 10 minutes, as I fought not to push, I said a prayer, grabbed my bag, walked downstairs, woke my comatose husband, called our doctor, called grandma, and hurried to the car where I assumed a side lying birthing position, just in case. Side lying is not easy in the front seat of the Honda, and I’m sure you’d never find my version in any textbook, but I read this position could reduce tearing. I needed all the help I could get there. Papa made sure your siblings were safe with our neighbor and soon took over the driver’s seat. Only blocks later at 1:01 AM your head ejected itself, quickly followed by your warm, wiggly body. Slightly in shock but not surprised, I immediately announced to your dad that your head was in my underpants (hey, great safety net!) He then exclaimed, “No way, you’re kidding!” As I shifted to reveal your presence, he did a double take and swerved off the road, almost sending us into a bayou. As he recovered, I lifted you up, tiny and perfect. You only made one squeak, though. Were you breathing? Was the cord around your neck a problem? Papa called the hospital in a panic for instructions. I slowly pulled the cord off and massaged your back with vigor, holding you close under a towel. I looked in your eyes and sensed you were fine, but we felt better when you made another peep. By then, less than 5 minutes later, we had almost reached our destination. At the hospital they checked us out and delivered your placenta. We were all fine, and not only that, I hadn’t torn!
As we told our story people were amazed. “You mean your baby came out without an episiotomy or anything!!?” One dear friend even sent me a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook in case in the future I have to deliver another baby in a car or perhaps land a plane or even escape from a mountain lion. Several said “you’re my hero, you’re superwoman”—even those who weren’t anti-establishment hippies like your dad. I was amazed they didn’t think I was a reckless dunderhead for not leaving for the hospital sooner, but I guess they wouldn’t say this to my face anyhow. Let me confess that an element of my apparent courage was actually fear of any medical intervention that would stress my labor or get in the way of the labor rituals I had come to enjoy with my first two births. Natural childbirth classes made me alert to—OK, a little paranoid about—the complications medical technology might cause. Most people would prefer anything to the “frightening ordeal” of a car birth, but I was not too afraid, especially considering we lived quite close to the ER. I was, however, afraid of monitors, vacuums, and C-sections—irrational, I admit, considering my babies seem to just fly out of my body, but there you have it. Actually though, tests made me very anxious. In each of my pregnancies some test or machine would indicate a problem—baby was too small, I had high blood pressure, I had gestational diabetes. With further probing it had always turned out that both baby and I were doing fine, but this was only after each test cost your worrywart mother days—and nights—of neurotic consternation and more fingernails than she can count.
Fortunately you arrived robust and healthy, and holding you for the first time was just my piece of heaven on Earth. Hopefully, you felt no trauma. Sorry we didn’t make it to a clean bed and a doctor, like other parents. Trust me, though, even if the location of your birth had not exactly been planned, professionals at the Road Runner Car Wash had actually cleaned my car very well just hours before my labor started. No joke.
I am proud and honored to have delivered you—my fastest and easiest—and truly in awe of the power of my body and yours! If nothing else, I found the confidence to just trust nature and to follow my own lead. I’d give birth a dozen times like this if I could!
Natalya Liat, born January 5, 2008 (38 1/2 weeks; 6lbs 10oz)
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