I needed both hands on the wheel, even though I wanted to hold her hand. Her cries of pain and ritual concentration were too close together for comfort, especially when I know that we’re 19 minutes away from the birthing center–at best.
“Don’t worry, hun,” I say to my wife, with a squeeze to her thigh. “We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it.”
We’re not going to make it, I thought, frantic. She screamed again. This one was worse than before. We actually might not make it.
Earlier that day…
She had been laboring for hours, so many hours, but it was manageable. That night she had rolled over in bed and said quietly, “I think I’m in labor, babe.” Having learned from last time, fearing a ridiculously long and hard labor, she remained in bed and attempted sleep. I did the same, even though butterflies fluttered in my gut. Eventually my mind worked through the issue to come with a variety of bizarre, nonsensical, yet relevant baby dreams–the types of dreams that try and work out all the fears one must be having.
We woke, walked, ate, and took care of soon-to-be-big-sissy Clara, for the rest of the day. Everyone was waiting for the call. Last time we had left for the birthing center too early. We were there for what seemed like hundreds of hours laboring, suffering, until Clara finally finished her 27 hour marathon. Terrified of another ordeal like that, we were determined to time this one better: the less time at the birthing center, the better, but when my wife started chanting I knew something was up.
“We’re leaving,” I say, trying to sound the authority. The contractions were close enough together for me, and while they weren’t quite debilitating yet, I knew we had a 47 minute drive to the birthing center, assuming traffic cooperated (does such a thing ever happen on the roads of Florida?).
“No. One more. Just a few more. Then we’ll go,” she said.
I let that battle go her way, instead packing our go bag, and getting the car ready. Knowing another contraction was coming, I hurried up the stairs to support.
“I can see you, baby. Come on baby. I can see you. I can see you,” she chanted, hunched over the kitchen table, swaying back and forth, her hand gripping mine like a claw. She continued to chant. I could only make out a few words, phrases.
That’s when it hit me. She’s in no position to be making decisions right now! What have I done?
I waited for this one to finish–it was a big one. I looked right at her. “We’re leaving. Now.”
I made the calls, we said bye to Clara and Papou (Greek word for Grandpa), Grammy and Gia (family word for Grandma) helped us down to the car (super concerned, as grandmothers are required to be) and then they made there way to their vehicle. We left.
With heightened senses, I negotiated the roads. Nothing could stop me. I could see everything: a slight waver on the wrong side of the lane, a rolling stop, the intent to change lanes without signaling, a hub-cap that might come lose, a stale yellow, a ripe green. In a moment like that, you feel the superhero, and you feel what all the superheroes must feel: a sense of purpose. A sense that you’re not the hero at all, but the person next to you, the people you’re helping–they’re the real superheroes.
All superhero like, I missed our turn. Really?! I thought to myself. But in my defense, at no point was the road actually labeled the name of the road. Thanks, Florida.
That’s when it happened.
That’s when the screaming started.
We weren’t even halfway there. The screaming came, and it came quick. Every slow driver may as well have been walking. Every red light was broken, and never turned green. I should have swept her up and took to the skies, but bound to the road by four tires, I continued on.
She roared, bestial. I weaved through the traffic. She screamed. “We’re going to make it, hun. We’re going to make it.” That’s true. We have to make it. We have to. Be her rock.
“I’m pushing,” she said, after that last bout of roaring.
We’re not going to make it. We’re not going to make it. Holy F&^%$ &^% we’re not going to make it. “Don’t worry. You’re doing great. We’ll make it.”
We called the birthing center. Everything needed to be ready the moment we arrived, and I needed to know, “Is there a chance I need to pull this car over?” I asked our midwife.
Calm as a clam, she said, “There is always that chance.”
“What do I need to look for? What signs will signal me that I might need to do that?”
“You’ll know. Mom will say ‘the baby’s coming.’”
The world blurred. The cars blended together. There were no more lights, lines, roads, or rules, only a need. The racing in my mind concentrating on every moan and roar coming from my right.
“I need you to tell me what’s happening. Right now. Tell me!” I demanded of her.
“Stop talking!” she yelled. “Oh no. My water just broke.”
I stole a glance at my phone. Nine minutes left. Nine minutes!
Another contraction racked her. She became the lioness. “Baby is coming. Oh god. Baby is coming!”
I spotted a white charger. I got closer. A row of lights sat along the top of back seat. Driver’s side, I saw a spot light, but the license plate was civilian. A police officer! I hoped. It has to be.
I waived. I yelled across my screaming wife through an open window. I honked. I tried hard–everything I could think of to flag this white horse down. I just couldn’t catch him. Then, finally, they got wind that something was amiss. We both stopped short of a red light and the charger’s window rolled down. Two men stared back at me. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The driver wore a red flat-billed baseball cap. He was wearing some matching red and white cloth jersey. But I could see cop-like equipment in the cab. It made no sense. What the hell is this? His passenger leaned forward. He was not wearing a cap, but somehow had some type of matching red and white outfit on too. I’ve failed. My heart sunk into unimaginable despair. I felt completely alone and helpless. “I’m sorry. I thought you were a police officer.”
“I am. I’m off duty. What’s happening?”
My rambling and yelling must have been coherent. They understood. They couldn’t escort me, but they agreed to follow. I asked for that because I knew we were having this baby on the side of this highway and I needed help. Even though we were six minutes away, I knew there was no way we were making it. But I was no longer alone, no longer in despair. I was steeled to the task and empowered by the trailing police.
The pedal couldn’t go down any farther, the floorboard prevented it. Our little Prius couldn’t go any faster, the wimpy engine prevented it. That’s as close to flying as a car like that will ever get. White knuckled, there was no time for caring. I was trading one risk for another. Get there. Get there. Get there.
The screams became the soundtrack. There was no relief. She pushed, and pushed again. “Feel for the head! Is there a head?” I needed to know.
She was unresponsive.
Skidding around the right-hand turn, I could see it: the end. We slid into the birthing center. The white horse parked and two red and white knights charged over; one took an arm, the other the door. The practitioner burst through the doors. Over her shoulders a classroom full of eyes and gaped mouths looked on. They considered a wheel chair. They thought maybe we should sit her down.
“I feel a head!”
There was no time to sit. My chest shook. Somehow we walked quickly through the center. Somehow my wife was in the tub and I was on my knees, tears streaming down my face. “You can do it. You’re doing it. You’re doing it.”
In what seemed like an instant, my wife caught the baby and brought her to her chest. I couldn’t wipe the tears fast enough. I just let them flow. I don’t think I was breathing. I didn’t need air. Emotion became me. The entire ordeal compressed down into the three hundred seconds between arrival time and delivery time.
It was the most intense emotional release I’ve ever felt. “We made it. We did it.”
At my request, the two off-duty knights secured our vehicle and denied my request for their names. I asked the practitioners to ask their names again as they were leaving. They wouldn’t. “We’re just doing our jobs,” they told her. “It needs no thanks.”
The rest of our family arrived and met our new little one: a precious little girl with a full head a brown hair and blue eyes. And as a family we turned the page on the next chapter of life.