For her parents and a Howard County 911 operator, Amber Reece O'Connor's entry into this world was a surprise: The baby girl -- 9 days old today -- was born eight weeks early, delivered by her father in the back of a station wagon beside U.S. 29 in Ellicott City.
"It was a very joyful, very scary time," said Paul J. O'Connor, 27, who delivered his daughter with the help of a county emergency operator's instructions over his car phone.
"We still relive the moment over and over again in our heads," added Jodi O'Connor, 26, a Clarksville Elementary School teacher.
Just 3 pounds and 8 ounces at birth, Amber has been in the special care unit of the maternity ward at Howard County General Hospital, where she is considered healthy. In her crib, the O'Connors have placed a small stuffed soccer ball -- because her birth began at a soccer game in Eldersburg.
The birth also was memorable for emergency operator Tony Cirri, 36. He's taken calls for all sorts of reasons but never had guided a delivery in his two years at the Howard County Communications Center.
"It was real exciting for me, but it was scary too," Mr. Cirri said. "A lot of time you deal with tragic calls. It's nice to have a real happy one."
He said the couple was lucky that the unexpected birth turned out well.
"They did a great job," Mr. Cirri said, adding that Mr. O'Connor "was very calm, trusting his wife and baby to a voice on the phone. It's very hard to have your first baby on the side of the road."
The story began about 10 p.m. July 10, when Mrs. O'Connor, who teaches gifted and talented students at Clarksville, was at her husband's soccer game at the Super Sports arena in Eldersburg and her water broke.
Mr. O'Connor, a state occupational safety inspector, was on the field. A player told him his wife needed him. "I really didn't think much about this in terms of my wife because she still had eight more weeks to go," he said.
He found Mrs. O'Connor in an office speaking by phone with her gynecologist, who told her to get to a hospital immediately. "I was a bit anxious," Mr. O'Connor recalled. "I felt, oh my gosh, I'm going to a delivery and I'm not prepared."
The day before, the Ellicott City couple had taken their first child birth class. Mr. O'Connor had started reading a book called, "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
But the time for reading was over.
She lay across the folded-down back seat of their Ford station wagon as he drove for Howard County General. "We really didn't know we weren't going to make it there," Mr. O'Connor said.
As the car sped down Route 32 and then east on Interstate 70, Mrs. O'Connor began feeling contractions. Judging by the car clock, she felt them again four minutes later -- closer together now. Just then, the sky sparked with lightning.
"I felt helpless," Mr. O'Connor said. "I really didn't know how to help her."
That's when the father-to-be grabbed the car phone that his wife pTC had constantly chided him about for its $30 monthly fee -- money she felt could buy items for a new baby.
A call to 911 connected them with Mr. Cirri, who was three hours into his overnight, 12-hour shift.
"The baby was obviously on the way," Mr. Cirri said.
As the contractions shortened, Mr. O'Connor was instructed to pull to the side of the road, where Mr. Cirri pinpointed his location on U.S. 29 -- about a half-mile north of the U.S. 40 exit -- and dispatched an ambulance.
Meanwhile, back at Communications Center in Ellicott City, other 911 operators encouraged Mr. Cirri.
Mrs. O'Connor cried out. Her husband clenched the phone between his shoulder and his neck, and leaned across his seat into the back seat to assist his wife.
"There was a short calm, then another contraction . . . then all of a sudden her head came out and her neck and body were there," Mr. O'Connor said. He caught the 3-pound, 8-ounce surprise in his hands. "I was scared," he said. "You see the movies where the baby comes out crying, but she was subdued."
Mr. Cirri instructed Mr. O'Connor to clear the baby's mouth and to pat her feet. "She kicked!" Mr. O'Connor said.
Mr. Cirri said the communications center roared with cheers, as his co-workers shook his hand and slapped high-fives. Moments later, about 10:50 p.m., an ambulance crew arrived and showed him how to cut the umbilical cord.
"She was on her own," Mr. O'Connor said.