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Opera Singer From Westchester Delivers Her Own Baby In Car On Busy Highway

Emily Hardman of Briarcliff Manor, NY moments after delivering baby Rosemary Claire in the back seat of her car on Route 78 in Lebanon, NJ.
Emily Hardman of Briarcliff Manor, NY moments after delivering baby Rosemary Claire in the back seat of her car on Route 78 in Lebanon, NJ. Photo Credit: The Hardmans

Emily Hardman had a general idea of how she wanted the birth of her second baby to go: Vaginally and unmedicated.

The professional opera singer, who lives in Northern Westchester, got just that early last Saturday morning, May 15. The only thing was, though, she wasn't in a hospital with midwifery care and her doula.

She was in the backseat of her family's Honda Accord -- with her husband Travis Hardman, the CEO of Daily Voice, behind the wheel -- on Route 78 in New Jersey, guided by nothing but a meditation app and cues from her own body.

At 5:47 a.m. on that special day, baby girl Rosemary Claire Hardman was born at milepost 20.2 on the eastbound side of the highway in Lebanon. And her mom made it look easy.

"It went from 'Pull over'... to 'There's a baby,' in less than a minute," the 35-year-old mom told Daily Voice on Thursday, May 20 from her home in Briarcliff Manor

“It felt empowering. I did it all by myself. And I actually got most of what was on my birth plan, except for the location and providers."

Emily had been planning for a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) since 2018, when her son, Wesley, was born via planned C-section.

She spent the next three years preparing her body and mind for a VBAC.

The plan was to deliver at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut with midwives from the Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center. It wasn’t until Emily felt the baby’s head while in the back seat of the car over the weekend, when she said she knew her initial plan wasn’t going to happen.

The Hardmans were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a wedding that weekend, and Emily was 37 weeks into her pregnancy. She figured she still had a few weeks to go before she’d deliver her baby.

The couple returned to their hotel room around 11 p.m. after dancing the night away on Friday, and were asleep within 30 minutes. At midnight, Emily’s water broke.

“The amniotic fluid was clear, there was no odor and contractions hadn’t started, so I wasn’t panicking,” said Emily, who travels around the country singing professionally as a contralto.

Planning for a “marathon labor” with some time to spare, Emily tried to go back to sleep so she’d feel well-rested.

“I thought I had so much time,” Emily said. “Most first-time labors are long and stalled. Your water can be broken for a long time until your labor starts.”

“I’ve heard people say that looking back at their births that they had gone to the hospital too early, and that they wished they had labored at home longer.”

At 3 a.m., Emily’s contractions began -- and they were “instantly intense,” she said.

And so, Emily woke Travis and they began packing their stuff. At 4 a.m., the Hardmans got in the car and began the four-hour drive to the Danbury hospital from Pennsylvania.

Emily turned on the GentleBirth meditation app, which conveniently rolled out a separate contraction-timer app a few weeks ago.

When she felt a contraction, Emily hit the button on the app, which talked her through it. She noticed they were closer and closer together. And more intense each time.

Finding a tolerable position in the back felt nearly impossible. So Emily had Travis pull over so she could stand outside, which she said felt “luxurious.”

“I distinctly remember putting my wrists on the top of our car and it being really cold,” she recalled “That feeling was such a relief. But I knew we still had hours to go in the car and I didn't have time to be comfortably swaying my hips and moaning outside. We just had to get back.”

Her husband calm behind the wheel, Emily continued tracking her contractions, which were only becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

She texted her doula, who said she’d be happy to meet the couple anywhere. But by then, Emily was in labor -- but much further along than she thought she was.

Emily laid across the back seat of the car, one foot on the floor and the other on the seat, her hips tilted to the side, using the dry cleaning handle to hold her body up. She says it was the only tolerable position she could find.

“I was focused on relaxing my body and breathing through the contractions, acknowledging that there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening,” she said. “I had to go along for the ride and trust my body.”

Being a trained opera singer certainly helped, she said.

“Being able to control my breath was helpful in labor,” she said. “I used low moans, lip trills, and slow exhales to keep me calm.”

Emily had no idea how dilated she was. She didn’t know her baby was coming down the birth canal. In fact, she thought she was pushing too soon.

“I was trying not to push, I thought it was too early to be pushing,” she said. But I didn’t have a choice, my body was pushing for me.”

Suddenly, she felt a lot of pressure.

At 5:45 a.m., Emily told Travis to pull over. He said it wasn’t safe to pull over and that the side of the road was nothing but “a death trap.”

But Emily reached down and felt her baby’s head and realized, there was no way she was going to make it to Connecticut.

“With the next contraction, her entire body came out,” Emily said. “Travis was still driving. I looked down and said, ‘There’s a baby.’”

Emily brought her baby up to her chest, and immediately used towels to wipe her down. As she rubbed the baby down to get her to start crying, Emily realized that at some point during the delivery, the umbilical cord had snapped.

Travis called 9-1-1.

An ambulance arrived in approximately 10 minutes, and took Emily and her baby to St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. After 24 hours, they were released from the hospital -- both in perfect health.

Emily described the experience as an empowering one.

“I think that a lot of birthing people could do that if they were in the same situation and didn’t have a choice,” she said. “All my preparation kept me calm and in control. It allowed my body to do what it needed to do.”

Emily says in hindsight she wishes she had left the hotel sooner.

“I certainly would’ve loved to have been able to move around,” she said. “Birthing in the car isn’t comfortable and I would have loved a doula, midwives, lavender oil and a tub. That all sounds lovely.

“In the end I think birthing babies is a natural process that for the most part goes well and doesn’t need a lot of intervention,” she said. “I certainly did not plan on birthing in a car but what’s most important is that birthing people are made to feel safe, given options and informed consent.

“No matter what kind of birth you end up having, birthing people are rockstars, and it’s a journey, no matter which way you go.”

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