Genet Sebani almost made it into the hospital in time to deliver her baby. Almost.
Sebani planned to give birth at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, but on Dec. 10 she made it only to the driveway outside the front door.
“I ran into the hospital yelling that my wife was having a baby in the car,” said Derejew Tessema, who had driven from their Laurel home in less than 15 minutes in the family’s Toyota Highlander. “In a split-second a whole army of people with all the right equipment were there.”
The hospital has a busy labor and delivery unit — more than 3,500 babies are born there every year. And staff have their choreography down for such emergencies. There’s even a special code for it.
The last time there was a birth in the front driveway was summer 2017.
Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that not even 1.4 percent of babies are normally born outside a hospital. In two-thirds of cases, babies are born at home. An additional 30 percent are born in a birthing center. Others are born in clinics or doctors’ offices.
Even with 3.86 million babies born last year, that doesn’t leave much room for births in cars, in a hospital driveway or on the side of the road, no matter what happens in the movies.
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And at Howard County General, an obstetrician still delivered the baby, the neonatal intensive care team was ready with an infant warmer and the emergency department was waiting with a stretcher for the mom. It was just a few minutes after they pulled up.
“It was like clockwork,” said Nancy Smith, interim chief nursing officer. “I was in a meeting in another section of the hospital and saw it all happen from the window. The teamwork was amazing to watch. Everyone was there to do their part.”
Though Symphony of Lights has grown into one of the county’s most anticipated holiday events, there have been hiccups along the way. One year, a woman gave birth during a drive-through. Another time, three runaway reindeer crashed through several displays. Then there was the car that caught fire.
Tessema, a dentist, said he stayed calm, either because of his health training or because the couple has four other children. He said he feels a bit guilty his baby was born in the back seat of the car, which hospital workers cleaned for him. He would have come to the hospital sooner, but Sebani had just been to the doctor that morning and there was no sign of labor, though she was four days past her due date.
He had run to visit a relative after the appointment and was headed home and then to work, where he had a patient appointment. When he arrived at his house, Sebani met him at the door. He drove. She screamed. He drove faster.
They pulled up at the hospital and called for help. Tessema said he was grateful for a smooth delivery just a few minutes later.