“Can you feel the head?” The midwife’s voice echoed through the speaker in our car, as my husband weaved and honked his way through traffic.
The head? I sat, or rather hovered, next to him with a white-knuckled grip on the door, barefoot, wearing sweat pants, and groaning through another rapid-fire contraction. Didn’t she know that? Didn’t she know that my carefully-packed hospital bag was home, next to the shoes I didn’t have time to put on? And, that we were urgently trying to get to the hospital—not our planned hospital, but any hospital—and that the driver in front of us wasn’t moving. Didn’t she know that? The contraction slowly ebbed and I shimmied my pants down enough to check.
Know this: If you ever happen to give birth in a car, you’ll forget a lot. The mind protects itself, and you, and you focus on the pain and breathing and the here and now. One thing you don’t forget, however, is feeling your baby make its way into the world, whether you’re ready for her or not.
I reached down and yes, the head was starting to crown.
My first birth didn’t go as planned. I wanted a blissful, natural, roaming-the-floors labor with a drug-free delivery, but at 42 weeks, we had to evict (read: induce) my son and one day, and one epidural later, he arrived. This time around, my goal was simply to go into labor and avoid being induced.
For me, showing up to the hospital for an induction was akin to being the first one to arrive at the party, while the hosts are still prepping and the drinks haven’t been poured and the music hasn’t yet been turned on. It’s unsettling. You showed up too early, but you’re here so come in anyway until the fun starts.
My due date came and went, and nothing. My heart sank when the doctor called me to schedule my induction at 41 weeks. “My body isn’t working,” I pouted to my husband over and over again as I drank raspberry tea, took evening primrose capsules, and lamented over the “this is it!” contractions that would putter out after an hour.
During my next appointment, my husband told the doctor he’d like to be as involved in the delivery as possible—maybe he could even catch the baby. She seemed a bit surprised, but listened, smiled, and told him he could be a part of the action, and perhaps support the doctor’s hands as she delivered. He was satisfied.
“Yes, I can feel the head,” I responded, panicked and shocked. We were a few minutes away from the hospital, and I didn’t know whether to push, stop the car, or just keep going and hope for the best. We kept going.
We pulled into the entrance and my husband ran inside to alert anyone within earshot that we were having a baby, which apparently is what every partner says regardless of the stage of labor his wife is in. “My wife is naked and giving birth,” would have likely elicited more of a sense of urgency because as the staff slowly started the check-in process, I yanked down my pants and started to push. Outside. Underneath the carport. Near the staff having their cigarette break and the woman who pulled out her iPhone to start filming.
One thing nearly all mothers can agree on when swapping the war stories and touching moments of childbirth is that it almost never goes as planned. At some point in the early stages of labor or wrenching contractions or pushing or surgery, that little babe throws you a curveball—or wrecking ball—and congratulations! You just learned your first lesson in parenting: You can’t control everything.
As I pushed through another contraction, the door opened next to me, and my husband was by my side, letting me know that I was one push away from meeting our daughter, Miriam. Within seconds, she was there, barely making a sound, peacefully taking in the world around her.
He caught her. We did it. And, as the adrenaline, love, and awe coursed through my veins, I looked into her big blue eyes and learned the second lesson in parenting: You’re capable of more than you think.