The Baby Who Couldn’t Wait by Angela Caldin
An extraordinary (or, if you look at it another way, quite an ordinary) event took place just outside our window a few days ago at around lunchtime. We’re on the third floor of an apartment block on a busy junction in Parnell. We were both working away on our laptops when my husband heard screaming from the road as though someone was in terrible pain or distress. He thought at first it was a child protesting loudly about something, but then he got up and went to the window to have a look. He turned to me and said, very calmly and quietly, ‘I think a baby’s been born in a car.’ I thought he might be joking, but then realised that he was deadly serious. I could hardly take it in; as such a thing seemed well-nigh impossible on a busy thoroughfare on a Thursday in Auckland. I dashed to the window to have a look and there beheld a man standing on the pavement on the phone, bending in to the passenger seat to cover a newly born baby which was lying on its exhausted mother’s chest. Meanwhile the traffic was roaring past reminiscent of Breughel’s Icarus where no-one pays any attention at all as Icarus’s legs disappear into the water after the wax has melted on his wings.
What to do in such a situation? Leave them to it as the baby had clearly been safely born and the man was talking to the emergency services on his mobile? Go down to see if we could help in any way and risk being seen as interfering and intrusive? It seemed wrong to do nothing at all and as no-one else appeared to have noticed them, we agreed that I should go down to offer solidarity if nothing else. So I set off with a bottle of water and one of our newly purchased $10 striped beach towels (Briscoe’s, you’ll never buy better). The father looked distracted and shell-shocked, as well he might, but gratefully accepted the towel to cover his wife’s legs. The mother sat, still in her seatbelt, unable to believe the speed of the delivery which had happened as they made their way to hospital. The baby, a girl, looked fine, peaceful, eyes open, mouthing gently, and the mother was smiling with that sort of ecstatic relief that you have after giving birth, though clearly in some pain. Whoever was advising the father told him not to do anything about the still-attached cord; thank goodness, as I had visions of rushing back to our apartment for the kitchen scissors and grappling with issues of sterilisation at the roadside. The ambulance took ages to arrive; actually, it was twenty minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. The paramedics were brilliant, quickly freeing the mother from her seatbelt, getting her and the baby on the stretcher and speeding them off to hospital.
So was I any use? Did I achieve anything with my bottle of water and my towel? Not much; having no medical knowledge whatsoever and no clue what to do, I just mumbled what I hoped were comforting words, told him what street he was in so he could tell the emergency people, told her how brave I thought she was and held his phone so he could put the seat back for her to lie down. One’s heard of course of babies being born in a rush in odd places and of heroic people who help deliver them but it’s something else to be involved in such an amazing thing, if only on the periphery and being basically completely useless. I got my towel back though which had been useful and I’ll never look at it in quite the same way again.