Erin Kelly received the call at 8:54 a.m. Sunday. It was already bright and sunny out. “Come expeditiously,” she remembers the police officer saying.
Six minutes later, four members of the Colonie EMS arrived at a most unusual scene on the Northway, just past the Twin Bridges at the Albany County line. A state police trooper had pulled a red pickup truck over for speeding, but the driver had a pretty good reason for clocking 86 mph in a 65-mph zone. In the passenger’s seat was his wife, and she was very clearly about to give birth.
“When he said she was in labor and I looked over and saw her, I saw the pain in her eyes and I took his word for it,” said Trooper Ian Henry.
The paramedics now had a question to answer: Should they risk trying to get her to a hospital, or should they deliver a baby on the side of the road?
“It’s hard to explain,” said Kelly, the lead paramedic on the scene. “We were dealing with a mother who had given birth before. She knew it was time. And based on her presentation, we knew it was time. In this particular case, we didn’t even have the back doors of the ambulance closed with her in it before we realized we were going to deliver this baby right then and there.”
EMTs are trained for such situations. Schooling requires a rotation on the delivery room floor of a hospital. But by some fluke, during Kelly’s rotation, she never once witnessed a delivery.
So if she had to guess, she was a lot more nervous than the Ballston Spa couple about to welcome a child into the world on the side of a busy roadway Sunday morning.
“They were calm, cool and collected,” she recalled.
Kelly pulled out the basic obstetric kit that every Colonie ambulance comes equipped with. It has warmers, umbilical cord clamps and a suction unit to clean out baby noses and mouths. If a birth becomes dangerous, there is resuscitative equipment for both adults and babies.
Still, an ambulance is a 4-by-8-foot box that’s cramped with equipment and lacks the bright lights and space of hospital delivery rooms. Delivering a baby there would mean delivering a baby into an unsanitary and exposed environment.
“We’re all trained paramedics and EMTs,” said Kelly. “We are trained to assist in deliveries and to perform basic procedures that could come up in a delivery situation. But I had never done this before. So I felt really behind the eight ball.”
She’d heard the horror stories — babies born in cabs and in toilets. Of all the calls EMTs respond to, this wasn’t the worst, but it definitely wasn’t the best, either.
Still, there are some basics you just know. Make sure your hands are clean. Keep the mother breathing. Support the baby’s head. Pay no attention to the passing motorists.
“You always hope that if you get into a situation like this, it’s going to be a normal delivery without crises to deal with,” said Kelly. “All I was pretty much hoping for was head-first and healthy. And that’s exactly what I got. Mom and baby were both very healthy and about as perfect as you could expect someone to be after that.”
Apparently, the baby girl born Sunday at 9:08 a.m. was not the first Northway baby. Of all the thoroughfares in the Capital Region, Interstate 87 is a popular one for giving birth, said Kelly. The Ballston Spa couple, who asked for privacy after the Sunday incident, were on their way to St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany when they were stopped.
“For whatever reason, they tend to make it over the bridge and not much further,” she said. “We always kind of err on the side of caution, though, and remind people that even if you are really experienced in labor and delivery and feel close to giving birth, it’s not worth putting yourself and anybody else at risk to speed to the hospital.”
In the end, the trooper who pulled the couple over decided to let the new father go with just a warning.