It was 4:50am on Wednesday July 19th and I was woken up by Braxton Hicks contractions. While I had experienced these throughout all three of my pregnancies, I’d never been woken by any. My husband, Tony, woke up and I let him know what was happening but not to be alarmed. I contacted my Doula, Nicole Mazanec Doula Services. I let her know they were stronger and slightly more uncomfortable than usual but I would wake up, go to the bathroom and go back to sleep. I let her know I was going to try to get back to sleep for a bit. I decided to time the Braxton Hicks contractions and I was having them about once every 10 minutes but they weren’t painful at all. I got out of bed around 6am when Tony’s alarm went off and went downstairs with our 4 1/2 year old daughter, Zoe.
A little after 6am, I noticed my first real contraction. It was more intense and I needed to stop and breathe through it. I used my Hypnobabies techniques to work through them and repeated some of my birth affirmations. After a couple more of those, I told Tony maybe he shouldn’t go into work that day. He said he already asked to work from home, which we agreed was fair since I didn’t know how long this process might take. My next two contractions brought tears to my eyes and I definitely knew it was real. In that moment, Tony looked at me and said, “Whoa that seemed like a lot more than I thought. Ok, maybe I won’t be working from home after all.” And with that, he joked with me that he was a little concerned I wasn’t making brownies. We had a running joke during the tale end of my pregnancy that since I wanted to labor at home as long as possible before heading to the Mercy Birthing Center, that I would make some brownies for the Midwives and nurses before going in. I told him I was just about to head in to start making some. If brownies were being made, we both knew it was real.
By 6:45am, I was making myself some eggs, eating a banana, and making brownies. I asked Tony to have his Dad, Joe, come get Zoe and our 2 1/2 year old, Finn. I asked Nicole to come over by that point and I was contacting our Birth Photographer to come over as well. Joe came over amidst me making brownies and I got my wish of being able to say bye to my two older kids, which was really important to me. Saying goodbye to Zoe before going to the hospital was something I longed for when I was pregnant with Finn. I didn’t get the opportunity to do so because I was unexpectedly told I would be induced with him at my 37 week checkup. It was surreal and emotional to tell them we were having the baby that day and it definitely left me with tears in my eyes.
After they left, I quickly ate my egg, popped the brownies in the oven and as I did I thought to myself, “28 minutes? Hmm. I really hope they finish in the oven before it’s time to leave.” I went upstairs and called my Mom to let her know what was happening. She was with my Dad and my sister on vacation in Gulf Shores and I wanted to keep her in the loop. After a brief conversation with her which included two or three contractions, I decided to hop in the shower at that point to clear my head, feel refreshed, and get dressed. After my shower, contractions were spaced about 4 minutes apart lasting about 50 seconds each. After the shower, I rocked through contractions, leaning on my dresser, and Nicole had arrived. She did some hip squeezes on me as I rocked through the contractions. We got into a good pattern of me holding on to Tony and leaning into him and Nicole squeezing my hips. It worked well and I knew I needed to get dressed soon as things were intensifying.
I made it back downstairs and Tony made me some toast with Almond Butter and honey so I could get some complex carbs in me per Nicole’s advice so I could maintain my energy. I ate half of it and continued through contractions. I decided I needed to use the bathroom and I had just finished in there when another contraction hit strong. It was uncomfortable and awful in there and I knew I needed to get out. In that moment I had decided that we probably needed to get moving to the Birthing Center. It scared me a little to say that because with Zoe and Finn once my water broke, I had them both about 4 hours later. Since my water hadn’t broken yet, I felt I might be prematurely choosing to leave, but it felt like the right thing to do in that moment. We gathered the last minute items on the list and made the decision to have Nicole follow us in her car to the Birthing Center and we asked Page, our Birth Photographer, to meet us at the Birthing Center instead of our house. I had another contraction before getting in the car and had to moan through it. I kept a mantra in my head from my Hypnobabies course, “Deeper and deeper with every breathe I take. Here comes another wave. I can ride it. Inhale, exhale.” It helped more than anyone could’ve imagined, including myself. I was deep in labor land but definitely felt the strong waves of contractions rolling on top of one another. It was about 8:50am when we pulled away from the house.
With Tony holding my hand through each contraction, I powered through them. I sent my sisters and niece a text at 9:01am telling them that the baby was coming. I knew it would be the last thing I sent them before I had the baby. I was still working through contractions when we hit traffic on highway 270 which is notorious for morning traffic jams. I opened my eyes and exclaimed, “Effing 270 traffic!” And just a moment later, my water broke in the front seat of the car. I immediately told Tony, “We’re having this baby in the car. I know it. I’m going to have this baby in the car!” And he said, “No we’re not, no we’re not!” Nicole called Tony and asked how I was doing since she could see me through the back window holding on to the “oh shit handle” in the car and getting through contractions. And with that, I let out a roar because the baby’s head was crowning. Tony made the split second decision to weave through 5 lanes of traffic to get off at the nearest highway, I-44, and to exit. In that moment, I was yelling at him “The baby’s head is coming out! I can feel the head. It’s out!!” Meanwhile, Nicole was following closely in her car and is on the phone with 911 trying to let them know what on Earth is happening. Tony pulled to the nearest parking lot he could find which happened to be Old Navy. He jumped out of the car and Nicole jumped out of hers. There was a family sitting in their car just across the aisle from where we were parked. I opened my eyes and thought, “Yep, you’re about to see a baby being born!”
At that point, the baby’s head was crowning and with one push, her head came out. In that moment, I sat there in a very zen like state, but the birth photographer in me couldn’t help needing pictures. I told Tony and Nicole to get my camera immediately because I needed photos of this and I knew there was no stopping this baby. I changed my settings for them so the photos would turn out. Once they grabbed my camera and things weren’t as chaotic, it was sweet relief to have her partially out and I just needed a moment to take it all in. I accepted that this baby was going to be born there in the front seat of the car. I remained calm and let my body continue to work.
Very quick thinking on Tony’s part led to him pulling the car seat out from behind my seat to lay it down so I could have room to birth the rest of her body. Nicole told me to reach down and grab my baby and by the time Tony moved the seat and looked back, I had one more push and she was fully out! I pulled her up to my chest and couldn’t believe how sweet this baby was. We weren’t prepared for my water to break in the car and we certainly weren’t prepared to have a baby in the car. We hadn’t brought towels or blankets, so Nicole and Tony grabbed pillowcases off the pillows we brought with us so we could keep the baby warm. She let out two sweet little cries to let us know she was completely ok. In that moment I heard Nicole say, “The baby is out. The baby is completely out.” The 911 dispatcher asked if the baby was breathing and crying. Thankfully Nicole was fielding their questions, because I was too wrapped up in holding our sweet bundle of joy and in awe of the vents that had transpired.
There was a police officer on scene a moment later and the paramedics arrived shortly thereafter. After a few moments of hardly being able to believe this happened, someone asked if we knew whether the baby was a boy or girl and I realized that I hadn’t even checked yet! I lifted the pillow case to check and found out we had a sweet baby girl in my arms!
After much laughter at the situation, I told Tony to tell the family standing at their car across from us to come over and see the baby they just witnessed being born! Thanks to the photos, we know she was born at 9:16am. From the first contraction to being born, it was a three-hour marathon whirlwind of action. Just 15 minutes after I had sent that text while on the highway asking for good birth vibes, she was in my arms.
Someone asked what her name was and Tony announced the name we had agreed upon for a dark haired baby (we had another name picked out if I had a redhead girl like me ha ha!), “Emma Jupiter!” And the small crowd gathered let out a round of applause.
We took an ambulance ride to the Birthing Center and once I was on the gurney, I latched Emma on to nurse. Once I did that, contractions for the placenta started up and I was back in labor land, holding Tony’s hand, working through contractions and nursing my sweet baby who latched on like a pro. The paramedics were amazing. They never forced anything on Emma or me and were completely respectful of our space, which was so nice.
I may have seen Tony cry a handful of times over the last 14 years we’ve been together. And it was then in the ambulance that I saw him crying and I knew the situation had completely overwhelmed him and taken him by surprise. My rock and support looked at me with tears in his eyes and streaming down his face and I finally got to thank him and tell him just how amazing HE did and that everything was going to be ok. He still won’t admit that he did great, but I’m here to tell everyone he did everything that I don’t think I could’ve handled myself in that moment. He made split second decisions all morning, weaved through bumper to bumper traffic, kept my Doula informed as to our status, and pulled to the safest location he could get to in that moment. He supported me, held my hand, and guided me through my unassisted birth in the front seat of our car and was STILL supporting me in the ambulance (and taking pictures!).
Photo credit: Nicole Mazanec iPhone from the front seat of our van while following us in the ambulance
Once we arrived to the Mercy Birthing Center, I was met by two of the Midwives, Maria and Elizabeth, as well as our official birth photographer, Page Miller, who picked up on the photos right where we left off. I transferred to a wheelchair and was brought into the Spring Room where I was able to deliver the placenta and finally had sweet relief. Baby was in my arms nursing still, contractions had stopped, and it was a state of calm and peace for the first time since we were at home.
It was surreal, beautiful, chaotic, amazing, and absolutely all natural which despite the change in plans, was exactly what we wanted all along. I prepped for months taking classes and using the Hypnobabies birthing classes, mentally and physically preparing, and working towards my natural birth at the Mercy Birthing Center. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the natural birth we so carefully planned would wind up with our baby being born in the front seat of our van. As a Birth Photographer, in the Birth Photography community, there’s a saying I’m all too familiar with — third births are wild cards. My Doula and I speculated throughout this pregnancy about what this birth may look like. Between Tony, Nicole and I, we considered that the baby may come early, may surprise us with an extra fast or extra long birth, or throw us for a loop. Emma Jupiter made sure to follow suit as a third birth wild card and gave even me as a Birth Photographer, the absolute wildest ride we ever could’ve imagined!
If this car birth story documented here looks familiar, it's because quite a few media outlets picked it up after a tip from one of our friends:
If you are in the St. Louis area and looking for a birth photographer, Katie Gaeta specializes in birth photography -- no matter how wild your story may be! Let's get together, grab a coffee, and have a chat!