I live a very ordinary life in Olney, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Aside from a few adventures in my previous life as a bachelorette, you wouldn't consider me a daredevil or risk taker. I did jump out of an airplane at 10 thousand feet, but that was for true love. And I fired an M-1 Carbine, but that was paramilitary training, standard for high school students in Israel, where I lived at the time. But at age 39, I had yet to experience a really "wild" adventure. So when labor sneaked up on me the evening of February 27th I was in my own little world. It was just a little pelvic jostling. Nothing to get excited about. Right?
Not even close.
I was due March 1st. I was positive it would be a boy. I preferred a girl but low heart rates convinced me otherwise. With two healthy children already, what right did I have to be picky?
My daughter Neva, who was 3 at the time, came at 41 weeks. My then-17-month old son Noam was so late that I was induced at 42 weeks. I had just been to my own OB, Dr. Israel Alter, the Friday before. Absolutely nothing was going on. I had a big day planned for Monday, February 28th, and nothing was going to stop me. A broadcast journalist, I was set to co-host a live phone-in program on motherhood at 10 am. And I had my own cable TV talk show, Forward Motion, to tape later that evening (the guest was the oft-quoted Claire Lerner from Zero To Three).
I should also say that I'm married to a level headed guy. My husband Scott Adashek is a builder with his own company. He's used to making big decisions while remaining cool, calm and collected. He's been with me for all my deliveries and knows not just the facts of life but the facts of childbirth, which means my feelings for him come way after my feelings for the anesthesiologist. He understands I have to put my relationship with the epidural before him.
I had planned to do cawfeetawk that evening with my close friend Mel. A busy mother of two as well, we never found time to get together. I wasn't about to give this up for an occasional pelvic twinge which would probably turn out to be nothing.
So Mel comes over and I drive us to Starbucks. Mel treats me to a white chocolate mocha and we sip and chat. It's 9 pm and pouring outside. I start to pay more attention to the very slight contractions that seem to be pretty regular and on a whim I ask Mel to look at her watch and we're both quite surprised to discover these contractions are five minutes apart. But they don't hurt and I don't feel the need to leave because in my mind, this can't be the real thing. I've been through false labors and this is another. So we continue to talk and catch up on our lives.
When it's time to go, I turn down Mel's offer to drive my van home but I'm feeling these contractions more and more and starting to wonder if this is indeed labor. When we get home, Mel and I linger chatting for a few more minutes and I feel good about continuing to deny anything serious is going on but I feel my heart start to race, and it hits me: This could really actually be happening right now.
We say good bye and I come inside and Scott is at his usual perch --aren't ALL men? -- watching TV.
"I think I'm in labor," I say, probably more for me to hear than for him, because I want to test out how it sounds. I want to ease myself into accepting what I know will be a snowballing evening of events that no matter what, will change my life. Wow--a new baby--am I ready? I'm the only mother-to-be I know who loves being pregnant and stretches it out as long as possible. But now it's coming to an end, and no matter how long 9 months really is, I haven't had time to get used to it ending, even though from experience I know the best is yet to come.
Scott doesn't argue and does something completely out of character: he turns off the TV. Then he goes upstairs to pack the hospital suitcase, which of course I haven't done. He suggests I call the doctor.
After making sure my mom can come watch Neva and Noam, who are fast asleep by now, I call the doctor, and my beloved Dr. Alter isn't on call. The doctor who responds is the only one in the practice who I never see. She doesn't work in the branch I go to, and she hardly knows me. I'm sure she hears me loud and clear saying I don't want to be in labor, I'm not ready for this. My contractions at that point are 15 seconds long, still 5 minutes apart, and growing more and more painful but not yet killing me. She tells me to wait an hour or two because "third children can be tricky." It could be false labor, she says. It's what I want to hear. I'm happy labor is going to stop until I'm ready to entertain it.
But things accelerate. In the next hour, my pain goes from A to Z on my own highly objective personal pain scale. I can barely function during a contraction and have to stop and put the phone down while telling my sister (mother of four) what's going on. I call the doctor back. By now it's 1 am.
"I'm dying here," I say, " I gotta go."
She says she'll meet us at the hospital. Now I start to get really scared that I'll get to the hospital too late for my best friend, Mr. Epidural. The thought of delivering without drugs has me panicking to the very core.
My sister sends her husband over till Mom can get here and we're out the door. But not before making sure (in the most polite of hisses) Scott has packed the video camera, still camera, and tripod. I simply will not deliver without the tools of my trade. Given the pouring rain and chilly temperature, l also refuse the offer of a coat (which I later regret). Scott knows not to argue with a woman in labor.
I'm in so much pain by now I can't sit up in the seat. The back is full of stuff. So I get into the front of our Jeep Cherokee on my knees facing the back. Never mind the seat belt. I demand the windows be opened though it is still raining hard. My sweet, laid-back husband who is a careful, non speeding driver, floors it. It's 1:27 am Monday, February 28th. We have a 25 minute drive ahead of us on rain-slicked roadway.
Five minutes into it, at 1:32 am, my water breaks. It's never happened to me with the first two kids and I'm amazed at how it explodes all over my black stretchy maternity leggings. As I feel all this lower pelvic movement, I wonder what is starting to happen. Actually, I know darn well what's happening, I just can't believe it.
I try to do the kegel exercises, hoping to hold the baby in. Forget it. I tell Scott to pull over and call 911. He keeps driving. He doesn't realize what I'm rapidly coming to grips with, still not sure it is really happening. I pull down my leggings and moon the windshield and it dawns on me that I am indeed really going to give birth right here in this car... and possibly suffocate my newborn in my leggings. It's a bone chilling thought. Suddenly I'm glad Scott isn't pulling over because there's no-one to help us -- it's the middle of the night -- and maybe I can still make it to the hospital in time. I feel like we've been driving for hours and I'm sure we'll be at the hospital any second. Actually, we're not even halfway there.
I have a major contraction and something starts to come out. I tell Scott again (why I'm not screaming is beyond my understanding) to pull over and call 911. I'll never forget what he says.
"If you really think it's coming, sweetheart, I'll pull over."
And then: I don't really want him to pull over -- what's the point? No one around and neither of us know what to do.
I have a bigger contraction. The pain is intense. I reach around and feel something soft and unmistakable: a head! My baby's head is out! Sudden total panic! How am I going to make this baby breathe?
Now Scott is on with 911 and they ask him what he wants them to do. He tells them I'm delivering in the car right now. Although I have absolutely no idea where we are, Scott knows we're just down the street from a fire rescue station. My calm, quick-thinking husband tells them to call the station and have them ready for us in 30 seconds. By now he has slowed down some.
Then, a third contraction and this one is off the charts. I can't control the primal scream I hear coming from deep within me nor the baby squeezing out. It's 1:42 am. A whole baby just came out from inside me! In shock and shaking like a leaf, I whip around and grab this tiny slippery bundle covered with schmutz. I don't know how I have time to fall in love, but I do. It's a fantastic sensation.
I feel the cord still inside me as I sit down on my side and place this newborn on the center console. I don't have a blanket (why did I turn down that coat?) so I just hold this baby in disbelief. I don't even know if it's a girl or a boy.
Immediately I hear the baby cry and see its color is pink, and I heave a sigh of relief. I know it's ok. It's scrawny and I figure no more than 7 pounds. Looks a lot like Neva.
Then I look the baby over and I'm just flabbergasted. It's a girl! In my pseudo-delirium, I don't believe it. I actually think I'm looking in the wrong place.
We roll into the fire station and out come the nicest firemen I have ever met. My first words to them are simple: "Save my baby."
The baby's fine, they say, noting her lungpower and her color. Scott helps maneuver the baby in my arms so a fireman can cut the cord. Scott doesn't dwell over the fact that it's the third time he doesn't get to cut the cord.
I don't care that I'm half naked, my tush is exposed to complete strangers and to call this scene messy would be putting it mildly.
The firemen ask Scott if he caught the baby. He answers, "No, my wife did!" Him saying it confirms to me that it really happened.
It's still pouring rain but I don't notice. The firemen take the baby, then me, out of the Jeep (which later costs $200 to clean) and place us in an ambulance. They wrap this miracle newborn and take us to the hospital, where everyone already knows what happened. Doctors and nurses congratulate me as I get wheeled through ER to Labor & Delivery.
Just as she promised, the doctor meets us there. The hard part is over but there's more work to be done. I still have to deliver the placenta and get sewn up. I've missed my devoted partner, the epidural, but I get nubain for the rest of the delivery.
It's 6 in the morning and the new father and mother are still trying to digest it all. Our newborn baby is with us in my room perfectly happy and unfazed by her incredible adventure in entering the world. Scott and I are still trying to calm down ourselves. It seems like a dream. Scott eventually leaves to go home and tell the other kids. I try to sleep but can't. I keep reliving the whole experience and thinking about how grateful I am that this baby girl knew exactly what to do and nature took care of us.
Now Scott says if we ever decide to have another baby, he's not waiting until I'm ready to admit to being in labor. He says If I sneeze at 5 months he's taking me in.
Epilogue: Tal Amit Adashek (the name is Israeli: Tal means dewdrop, Amit means friend) weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces (exactly what her big sister had weighed) and was 19 1/4 inches long. Tal is turning one year old now and is a wonderful baby, the easiest of my three. My recovery was astonishing. I guess it was the drug-free delivery I vowed I'd never agree to.
I ended up doing that live TV show after all -- from my hospital bed by phone. My co-host was floored by my experience.
Over the summer, we visited the firemen who helped us. They were delighted to meet all my kids and give us their perspective on our story. This time I had the cameras with me!