When Joanna Neal started having painful contractions two weeks shy of her due date, the Centennial, Colorado, mom visited her ob-gyn. The doctor assured Joanna that she had plenty of time before her baby arrived. So Joanna got some work done (she's an online social-sciences professor), took care of her daughters, Mia, 5, and Morgan, 2, and went to bed. At 4:35 the next morning, her water broke. "I ran to the bathroom, shouting to my husband, David, that we needed to leave for the hospital," Joanna says. But when her contractions began coming one right after another and she suddenly felt the need to push, she changed her mind. "Forget the hospital," Joanna shouted. "Call 911!"
While waiting for the ambulance, Joanna made her way to the kitchen and lay down on her left side (she'd read that the position might slow down labor, though experts say it's an old wives' tale). "But after a couple of minutes, the baby's head started to emerge, and I realized he was coming no matter what," she says. Fortunately, Joanna had read up on how to deliver her own baby. She instructed her spouse to guide out their child's shoulders one at a time, but David stood there, frozen, so Joanna guided them out herself. David finally snapped out of his shock and finished delivering the baby. Then, following the directions of the 911 dispatcher, he tied the umbilical cord with a clean shoelace to separate the baby from the placenta. The ambulance showed up ten minutes later and escorted Joanna and her new addition, Ethan, to the hospital. The Neals estimated that he was born at 4:56 a.m., a mere 21 minutes after her labor began. "Delivering Ethan was scary, and we know we were lucky there were no complications," says Joanna. "But it was an incredible experience that we'll never forget."
Jenny Komenda woke up last December 24 and said to her husband, Michael, "This is going to be the day." Her third child was already a week overdue. "I felt guilty that my mom, dad, and sister had come to visit and were leaving soon," says the Dover, Delaware, mom, who is an interior designer. "We all wanted this baby to come out." They got their wish. Five minutes later, Jenny started having contractions seven minutes apart. Still, the hospital was only two blocks away, so she took a shower and chatted with her family before leaving. By then it was too late. They barely made it out the front door when her water broke. Frozen in pain on the porch, Jenny blurted out, "I need to push -- now!"
"It looks like we're having this baby right here," announced her dad, Alan DeWitt, a family doctor in Snowflake, Arizona, who's done his share of deliveries. He and Michael laid Jenny down on the living-room ottoman. As she pushed, her sister, Heather, supported her back, while Jenny's mom, Linda, and Michael held her legs. Within a few minutes, Evelyn Jane (nicknamed Evie) arrived. Then the crew drove to the hospital. Within three hours, Jenny and Evie were given the all-clear to return home. Her family spent Christmas Eve playing games with Jenny and Michael's other kids, Grace, 5, and Claire, 3, and getting to know the child they had all helped deliver. "I'm not a home-birth kind of gal," Jenny says, "but there was something special about being with everyone as Evelyn Jane arrived. We all felt a special connection to her -- and to each other."
Alicia Weintraub knew the five-mile drive from her new home in Calabasas, California, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles (where she was scheduled to give birth to her second child) might be a super-slow ride. After all, it was L.A. at rush hour. But as she and her husband, Adam, got into the car at 5 p.m., her contractions were still six minutes apart. "We thought my delivery was hours away," says Alicia, a public-policy project manager.
Alicia and Adam were wrong -- about the traffic (there was none) and the timing. As they reached U.S. 101, her contractions narrowed to every three minutes. Adam opted to take a back way through Beverly Glen, their old neighborhood. "I drove as fast as I could on Mulholland Drive without getting into an accident," he says.
But Alicia, in excruciating pain, told him she wasn't going to make it. She remembered that a fire station was coming up. Adam spotted it, pulled into the parking lot, and ran for help. Firemen and paramedics rushed out with a stretcher and helped Alicia onto it, but they didn't have time to move her inside. With their assistance, she delivered her daughter, Lauren, in the driveway. "There was almost no coaching," she says. "It happened that fast."
Right after the birth, the paramedics rushed Alicia and Lauren to nearby UCLA Medical Center. Although Lauren was four weeks premature and weighed only 4 pounds, 14 ounces, she was given a clean bill of health and left the hospital five days later (Alicia went home after two nights). About a week later the Weintraubs visited Station 99 to thank the battalion. It was only then that they learned this fact: The men on duty that evening had never delivered a baby before. "I'm glad I didn't know that at the time," says Alicia, "but they did an amazing job of keeping everybody calm, including me."
When Maya Polton was awakened by contractions around 12:30 one morning last March, the soon-to-be first-time mom recalled what she'd been told in childbirth class: Don't show up at the hospital too early because you'll be sent home. So the senior marketing manager from Brooklyn, New York, went back to sleep. Finally, at 5:30, she nudged her husband, Eric. Since the pain wasn't awful, they waited another two hours. Then her contractions intensified. Maya's water broke as Eric was on the phone with the ob-gyn. "Come to the hospital now," the doctor said.
Thinking a shower would slow down her labor, Maya stepped into the tub. "Then I reached down and felt the crown of my baby's head between my legs," she says. Eric phoned for a taxi, which arrived within minutes. The fastest route to St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, in Manhattan, was to take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which goes under the East River. But it didn't turn out to be fast enough. "By 8:30 a.m., I was in the back of the cab trying not to push, and Eric was on the phone asking the doctor if there was any way to slow down labor," Maya says. Then they lost cell service. With Maya crouching on the backseat, Eric calmly took over, delivering the baby in the still-moving vehicle. "It's a boy," he said.
After they exited the tunnel, Eric spotted an FDNY truck and asked the driver for directions to the hospital. He was instructed to pull over and wait. When firemen appeared on the scene minutes later, they gave Maya oxygen and wrapped the baby up. EMTs then arrived, cutting the cord and taking the couple to the hospital.
It wasn't exactly how Maya had planned her child's birth, though as she points out, "I did want Eric to catch the baby and announce his sex all along." The only complication was determining whether their baby boy (whom the couple named Jacob) had been born in Brooklyn or Manhattan. "We were in the middle of the tunnel when it happened," Maya says. "Jacob's birth certificate says 'New York Downtown Hospital,' but on the correction form, I put down 'Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.'"
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.