If you are a woman of childbearing age in Los Angeles, you may have heard of me. I often get introduced at baby showers as, "My friend who gave birth in a parking lot." Having a baby in a parking lot is not what I thought I would become known for, but it was one of the best experiences of my life and, luckily, I love telling -- and retelling -- my birth story.
A watched pot never boils. At three days past my due date with my second child, I knew what it felt like to be the pot. Every time I came downstairs -- in the morning, after a midday nap, before dinner -- my in-laws, who were in town for the birth, observed, "Still no baby?"
Still no baby. The skin on my belly was stretched past capacity. There were fine fissures in a perfect circle around where my bellybutton used to be. I wasn't about to pop. I had popped.
The waiting was wearing on my in-laws too -- they decided to take the ferry to Catalina Island. In their absence, my parents moved into the guest room to continue the vigil.
I tried walking and yoga and sex to bring on labor. (Well, we tried to try sex.) Still no baby. There was nothing left to do except ride mini-trains, my then 2-year-old's latest obsession, so off we went to Descanso Gardens, where I carried my basketball-shaped belly around the koi ponds and across the wooden footbridges of the cherry blossom-strewn Japanese garden. Still no baby.
We ordered steaming bowls of soup at our favorite noodle shop on Sunset Blvd. Still no baby. But then as I squeezed myself in behind the steering wheel to drive home, I felt a cramp coming on like a gentle wave. I didn't tell anybody. I knew if I told my parents, the watched pot phenomenon would intensify and, besides, I knew from my first birth that I still had a long journey ahead of me.
At home, my husband and I watched a movie - no idea which one though -- I was too busy concentrating on the wave-like sensation that rolled through my belly every half hour. "The babe is on the way," I announced to my husband.
We got into bed and fell asleep, but then at 2:00 a.m., I was up again, so I read a few birth stories from "Spiritual Midwifery" by Ina May Gaskin, to get in the baby-having mood. The waves were stronger now -- coming about every 20 minutes -- but still far from the all-encompassing contractions that I remembered.
During my first birth, I walked around for most of the 19-hour labor. This time, when I felt a contraction coming on, I would leap out of bed and start circling our Oriental rug only to have the wave fade away without ever reaching the crescendo of my memory.
At sunrise, after hours of mellow waves, I had two body-rocking contractions in a row. The intensity of giving birth came rushing back to me. I remembered, in the middle of active labor, thinking about how easy running a marathon must be in comparison. This time, I just thought, I am never doing this again.
Of course, there was no turning back. I got into my favorite birthing position -- standing with my arms wrapped around my husband's neck -- and moaned. "We have to go to the hospital," I told him.
Just then, my 2-year-old woke up. My husband scooped him up and brought him downstairs to his grandparents. I went into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet. A contraction crashed through me. I could feel the baby's head crown and then, as the contraction subsided, it got sucked back into the birth canal. "We have to go!" I yelled.
I held onto the wall and the banister as I slowly made my way down the stairs. I held onto my very worried-looking mother as I walked out of the front door. Then I held onto the porch railing as another contraction rocked through me. My only thought was: Must get to car.
There was no way I could sit down. Every time I had a contraction, the baby's head would emerge a little bit more. So I kneeled backwards in the passenger seat and held onto the leather headrest. I moaned. My husband called our obstetrician on speakerphone. After hearing me in the background, our always laid-back, joke-cracking doc sounded serious, "Head straight to the hospital. I'm on my way."
It was an unseasonably cool and rainy April morning. Typically, it takes 20 minutes to drive from our home in Echo Park to the hospital in Beverly Hills, but Beverly Boulevard was being repaved and traffic was backed up. My husband drove into the maze-like streets of Hancock Park. In the brief moments between contractions, I noticed raindrops on the car window and naked tree limbs overhead.
Finally, we pulled into the hospital parking lot. "I have to get out of here. I have to get out of here," I repeated over and over. My husband jumped out, opened my door and started getting our bags out of the trunk.
Standing at last, I had another contraction. I reached my hand down and felt the top of the baby's head. "Ofer, I'm having the baby." I took off my underwear.
"Lea, we're here. The elevators are right over there."
"No, I mean right now. Feel." I grabbed his hand and pulled it up between my legs.
"Oh my God!"
My husband dropped down onto his knees. He dropped the car keys. He didn't have time to drop the bags that were slung over his chest. I stood with my hands on my thighs. My husband was behind me. One more push and the baby's head popped out. Then my water broke and a huge splash of fluid drenched my husband, the baby and the parking lot floor. I felt the baby's body slide out -- fast, really fast -- into my husband's open hands.
When the baby was out, I tried to take a step forward, but the umbilical cord yanked me back into place. Immediately, the baby started to cry. When we heard his cries, a wave of relief washed over us. "Hi baby," "Oh my God," "Hi baby," we chanted again and again. It was cold and damp and I gathered the long skirt of my dress to wrap around him. My husband hugged him close.
The parking lot -- one of the busiest in L.A. -- was deserted. Minutes passed. Eventually, I saw a parking lot attendant in the distance.
"911! Emergency!" I yelled. "We just had a baby!"
The parking guy looked over at us, looked away, looked back and then turned around and ran.
I didn't get it -- where did he go?
When he reappeared, I yelled again, "We just had a baby!"
More minutes passed. Then, the elevator doors opened and three nurses came running out into the parking lot, each pushing a wheelchair.
It was pandemonium. Nurses shouting. Wheelchairs flying. Baby crying. What was going on? Why were there so many wheelchairs?
"Pass the baby to me," one of the nurses instructed my husband. She held out her arms, urging him to hand the baby through my legs.
"I'm not passing my baby anywhere," he replied. "Are you crazy?"
Before she had a chance to answer, our doctor arrived, took charge and started yelling at the bumbling nurses. "Where are my clamps? Where are blankets? Why are there so many wheelchairs?"
We had been discovered, but we still had to figure out how to get from the parking lot up to the maternity ward. My husband was still behind me holding the baby and the baby and I were still attached by the umbilical cord. There was only one thing to do.
"Lea, do you think you could swing your leg over my head and turn around?" my husband asked.
After giving birth? No problem. I did a fan kick over my husband's head and with the cord now in front of me, sat down in one of the wheelchairs. My husband handed the baby to me and I got my first full on look at my new baby boy.
We went up to the maternity floor in a blissful, post-birth bubble. But once we got there, it was chaos again.
Dozens of doctors and nurses and hospital administrators squeezed into our delivery room, obscuring the panoramic view of the Hollywood Hills out of the floor-to-ceiling window.
I delivered the placenta in one easy push. I breastfed my new baby. The nurses took the baby over to the scale and weighed him. It was business as usual -- except that no one seemed to be able to figure out how to check us -- a mother and a baby -- into the maternity ward.
"Has this ever happened here before?" I asked a friendly nurse as she took my blood pressure.
"Honey," she said, shaking her head 'no' and laughing, "this is Beverly Hills."