The plan wasn’t to deliver a baby in the backseat of the car. The plan was to have a calm, low-intervention birth at the same hospital we had done our prenatal care. But like many things in our lives, convention didn’t seem to matter, and the outcome was something more amazing than we could have imagined.
Homeward Bound, October 1
“We need more time…” I told my partner, Gideon. We had just gotten back from Tahoe, three weeks shy of our baby’s due date. Over a spicy Korean meal, we talked about our roller coaster relationship and how we needed quiet time before she came. It wasn’t just to prepare the apartment, but to prepare our minds. We had been so good at being busy with life-houses to repair, dinners to attend, work emails to slam through, but outside of a natural birthing class, we hadn’t been very good at making space for the new life to come. In fact, sometimes I forgot I was pregnant. Well, until I tried to bend over and tie my shoes.
We were looking forward to slowness before her due date, as well as meeting our birth doula, getting our room set up, and finally putting in that infant car seat.
Maybe it was the descent from high altitude the night before. Perhaps it was the extra sriracha on the chicken that evening. Or it could have been the alluring warm autumn weather. Our little daughter just didn’t want to wait any longer to enter the world. Hospital or not.
Water Breaking, October 2, 2:30 a.m.
I awoke to a “pop.” Water ebbed from my body onto the sheets like the outgoing tide.
“Gideon,” I said, touching his arm to wake him up. “I think my water just broke.”
My due date was three weeks away. We hadn’t met our birth doula yet. The car seat was still in San Jose. Hell, we didn’t even have newborn clothes. This was not our plan.
“I don’t quite know what is happening,” I whispered.
“You know exactly what is happening,” Gideon whispered back. He held me. “It will be some time so try to rest a bit now. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said softly.
He fell back into a slumber, but I couldn’t sleep. I thought back through my entire life, dreamily watching memories go by like lazy summer clouds. Past adventures, cities, relationships, mountains, dreams — everything leading to exactly this moment. Here. Now.
The Start of the Surges (Contractions), 5:30 a.m.
Mild ripples echoed through my body. It wasn’t painful but rather a curious lower-body sensation. It reminded me of those bizarre sea foam “amuse bouches” at fancy fusion restaurants. A little “amusement” before the main main course appeared, right? Hmm, I thought. This isn’t so bad. Why do people need pain medication? Wimps.
Surfing Through Surges, 6:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
The “amusement” part was short-lived. Soon rolling surges took over my body. I grabbed Gideon’s hand and groaned. Pain medication now sounded delicious.
“Breathe into it,” he told me. I tried to recall the techniques from birth class. Was it “breathe out the mouth” or “breathe out the nose” or just take morphine?
“Raaaaaar!” My thinking was interrupted by my own animal roar.
Gideon wondered what the neighbors may think but only uttered, “Deep breath,” as he inhaled with me, our breaths merging.
I imagined I was surfing down in Pacifica, waiting patiently for each wave, paddling to catch it right before it rushed over me. With each one I let my back arch, and all animal noises release without judgment. It was the ultimate surrender. Except it was too much, too many and too soon. How would we ever make the hospital?
Time was not a concept I could grasp, but according to Gideon, the surges were coming in 1–5 minute intervals, with no pattern or consistency. He was timing them in conjunction with my roars and grizzly bear grip on his right hand.
“Man, I need a break,” I told him.
“Things will calm down,” Gideon said, rubbing my back. Your body just needs to adjust.” Gideon texted the doula we were supposed to meet to request advice.
“She said the surges should subside and not get more intense until sunset. She could come help us then.”
WTF?! Sunset? That was 10 hours away!
Sometime earlier, Gideon helped me create a to-do list of all the things that needed to be done to help ease my cluttered mind. Examples ranged from “Find my cozy pants” to “Send work notification.” I thought I’d be able to write my own emails, but there was no way I could focus on anything but labor. I dictated a few lines to him during my intermittent pauses. “Well, for starters, tell them I won’t be coming into work today…” Gideon filled out all the rest.
With my mind uncluttered, I could now completely focus on the task at hand. Breathe. Breathe. Roar and ride the wave!
To soothe my animal body, Gideon helped me take a warm shower.
There, standing in the shower, hair full of peppermint soap, an intensely powerful surge rushed up and through me, forcing me to my tiptoes as I grabbed onto Gideon’s shoulders.
“I think I feel something coming out of me!” I grumbled.
“Not yet…your body is adjusting…” Gideon was trying to remain calm. Everyone had told us labor would take much longer.
Was this an “adjustment”? Whatever I felt “coming out” eased back inside, slippery and warm.
“I think we need to go to the hospital now,” I said. “I don’t think I’m going to get that ‘break.'”
Gideon nodded and called my cousin Lauren to take us.
A Crown Fit for a Queen, 12–12:30 p.m.
Gideon packed whatever he could find into a yellow Nike gym bag and helped me dress. I couldn’t lift my legs more than 2 centimeters off the ground. No cozy pants. Gideon slid a dress on over me, and I held onto his shoulders, standing upright as two more surges rippled through. I felt a searing separation between my legs and something else “coming out” again. But this time it didn’t ease back.
As Lauren and her husband fetched the car, Gideon slowly helped me down two flights of stairs, pausing to be my strong support pillar as deep surges continued. I felt something distinct in-between my legs. Perhaps it was just the oversized mega maxi pad Gideon had helped me put on?
The Delivery Dad, 12:30–12:58 p.m.
As we walked out the door to the driveway, another surge rushed through as I clung to Gideon’s body. This time water and blood rushed out of my body onto the warm concrete.
I went to the backseat of the car to lie down. I was a wild animal trying to find a quiet den in the bright midday sun.
“Heidi, I should check you out,” Gideon said calmly. He knew the blood was a sign of something a bit more urgent than a nap in his backseat.
He lifted up my dress, stared at the bulge in my blue underwear, and said quite simply, “The baby’s head is completely out. Heidi, we are going to deliver the baby right here.”
There wasn’t time for alarm or second-guessing. Gideon was going to deliver our baby. Here. Now. In the driveway. In broad daylight. In the backseat of his VW.
According to Gideon, my underwear and giant sized maxi pad were the heros that that held in the baby’s head during the staircase descent.
Lauren got into the front seat and faced back toward me, holding my hand.
“You can do this,” she said locking her blue eyes with mine.
And then there was a flurry of people, 911 calls, people “walking by,” paramedics — I didn’t know what was happening. Apparently a passerby had taken interest in our precarious street situation and offered her help. It turned out she was also a doula and had been one for 20 years! What were the chances?
“Can I help?” she offered.
“Yes come over here!” Gideon yelled to her, and she dropped her bags and scurried across the street.
The 911 voice from the phone urgently told me to to push the baby out now. Our new doula simply said “When you’re ready, Heidi.”
My body waited, and then I felt the familiar wave and a little body slide out of me.
“Catch her. She’s slippery,” the doula told Gideon. I looked up and saw him holding a pulsating little baby with dark hair. His eyes were wet with love as he laid her on my chest. I breathed her in. She was my life.
Placenta Delivery, We Stopped Tracking Time
The paramedics rolled me and the baby onto a gurney into an ambulance. Words fluttered around me: IV, hospital. placenta, cord, cut baby. Where? ER. All I could think about was this new life breathing on top of my chest. Nothing else mattered.
After what could have been five minutes or five years, I was rolled out of the ambulance and into a fluorescent lit room with stale walls. Multiple people in blue scrubs scurried around frantically. I felt I was part of an emergency scene in the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.
They took the baby (against Gideon’s wishes) to do what doctors think they need to do when a baby is born. Another doctor worked on my placenta, encouraging me to get it out. It would come out when it wanted to, I thought, just like the baby that had been attached to it only moments ago.
And then another wave and a warm blob plopped out. The placenta. I was done.
What happened afterward seems very faint now, like a sidewalk chalk drawing being run out by fresh rain. Another flurry of people and conversations. Another hospital? The baby and I were to drive in separate ambulances as required by law, me alone, she in a neonatal spaceship contraption. My face crumpled as tears dripped down my face. I couldn’t imagine being separated after just holding her. Gideon, ever the papa bear argued with the staff. I was pinned to a gurney like an upside down beetle. My parents arrived, offering reassurances. Many questions and decisions and stupid comments, and then, somehow, I was transported across town to UCSF with my mother while Gideon went with the baby.
Two hours later, we were all reunited, accompanied by a pediatrician who told me she was a fan of my writing, and it was an honor to be a part of our story. Oh, Gideon and I had such a good story, and we had so many more chapters to come. He placed the baby on my chest and she latched to my breast. Tears came to our eyes as she took in her first milk. We were a family.
Reflections and Moving Forward
Looking back, Gideon and I both realize that we didn’t need anything but ourselves to have this baby. In some ways, it was the perfect birth story — uncomplicated and intimate with a surprise twist toward the end that included a Fairy God-Doula.
We hope we can remember this as we raise our daughter. To not get caught up in the pressure and conventions of city life, but to be grounded in rural environments from where we were raised. To trust in our natural ability to create, even when in urban confines. To quickly adapt and delight in the spontaneous that magically transforms our plans. And of course, to let love, not fear, lead us forward. Even if it’s all in the backseat of a VW.
Someone once told me that love comes in a variety of forms. But once you have a child, you realize you’ve been living and loving in 2D your entire life. As soon as you give birth, your world instantly transforms to 3D.
And so it did.
Welcome our daughter, Vivianna Élise.