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R Birth Story: Will I have my baby in the car?

Updated: Mar 28

Pretty much every birth support person (aka, the one who drives to the hospital) is scared to death that the baby is going to be born in the car on the way to the birth location. We've have all seen those stories of a baby that slid out in the car, the waiting room, the parking lot, etc. I swear there is at least one per year and it's hard not to watch the videos. So what happens when someone decides to labor at home for a while?

R, a single parent by choice, knew she wanted an epidural later on in labor but wanted to start out on her own steam. Her labor started a lot like firs labors do, slow and unclear. Was it really labor? I was meeting another client down the street when she texted to say that she was pretty sure she was in labor. I knew her mom, her main support person, was nervous about laboring at home so I decided to stop in.

Experienced doulas can just "hear" when labor is serious. Since I don't do any medical checks of a person in labor, my spidey senses about progress have fine tuned over the years and I can usually make a pretty good guess.

I'm glad I went because labor was hot and heavy. R was working hard and needed support. We labored at home a while longer, mostly in her bedroom, before calling her friend to drive to the hospital. R went from "I just want to stay in bed" to "we need to go, now" pretty quickly. I knew it was active labor when she couldn't make it down her apartment stairs without stopping for a surge. I squatted on the sidewalk with her as she worked through a contraction and smiled (to myself). She was having a baby!

I have seen over and over again that someone wants to leave for the hospital and sort of holds their breath as they move to the car. And they actually manage to slow or stop contractions!! Bodies are wild, y'all. As a doula, I know then that it is early. Not the wrong time to go the hospital, just that we will spend more time there.

We arrived and since the staff didn't know what I knew, they treated us like any first time parent. They took their time checking us in and getting Renee a spot in triage. Luckily, we were only in triage for 10 minutes because she was 8cm dilated. I have never seen an epidural placed so fast in my life.

You want star treatment at the hospital? Show up in active labor. We got all of the attention. I bet you're thinking, good thing they went when they did because that baby COULD HAVE been born in the car. I disagree.

R knew when it was time to leave, knew when she wanted pain meds, and we arrived in plenty of time. She got some relief and we settled in. I'm so impressed with her ability to listen to her own body throughout her labor. Providers decided to break her water as it got late into the night. Her next check showed her cervix was finished dilating.

The midwife suggested "laboring down" for an hour before starting to push. This allows the baby to come down the birth canal on the steam of the uterus and saves the birthing person's energy. Especially if the birthing person is comfortable, this is a great use of time and medicine!

Chicago birth doula with postpartum parent at prentice Prentice with newborn baby
please note: I am very likely to show up to your birth in my emotional-support jean jacket

If you are out there thinking, am I gonna have my baby in the car???? I realize that this story makes it seem like everything was fast, but Renee was in labor all day before I joined her in the early evening. She had an hour car ride to the hospital, and several hours on an epidural. Sweet baby S was born early the following day. Even when things get serious, there is almost always time!

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