Marianne Albert reached down and helped guide her baby's head out of her womb as her friend's car skidded to a stop outside the Emergency Room at University Hospital, where she had been in the labor and delivery department less than an hour before but was sent home.
Mrs. Albert lay across the front seat as Elizabeth Martin-Greist raced around the other side of the car, yanked open the door, grabbed her legs and pulled off clothing.
"And there was the baby," said Mrs. Martin-Griest.
Eralyn Grace Albert's chaotic and dramatic entrance into the world April 20 is a bone of contention between the family and University, which insists the proper procedures were followed. The family insists it is just luck that everything turned out OK.
Ms. Albert, 22, was 40 weeks pregnant and due to be induced in two days to deliver her third child when she began to have contractions that Sunday afternoon. She began recording her contractions in a small notebook at 3:10 p.m. Around 12:16 a.m., they began coming every five minutes.
"After that I was like, OK, I think it is time to go," Ms. Albert said.
"They calmly left here at 1 a.m.," said her mother, Celia H. Albert.
They arrived at University at 1:20 a.m. and were shown into the triage room, where Ms. Albert was hooked up to a monitor. After about an hour and a half, her cervix had still not dilated much -- a sign that labor is progressing toward birth -- even though the contractions were still coming. And her water had not yet broken.
Ms. Albert's obstetrician-gynecologist was not on call that night, so another doctor in the practice was called. The nurse said the doctor wanted Ms. Albert sent home.
"Which was the last thing we expected to hear at that point," Ms. Albert said. "When she came in to tell me I was going home, I was contracting. And then she started trying to explain to me that I wasn't in labor. At that point I just started crying. At that point, I really couldn't say much."
Labor and Delivery nurse manager Terri Krygier said she reviewed Ms. Albert's monitoring, as did other nurses and physicians. When a patient is in her situation, where the cervix has not changed, the water has not broken and the baby is doing well otherwise, "she should go home," Mrs. Krygier said.
The family and Mrs. Martin-Greist tried to argue that though Ms. Albert wasn't very dilated, when she delivered her second child, she dilated and delivered very quickly, in about 45 minutes. But she was still told to go home.
"Certainly, they look at the concept of she has a history of rapid labors but just like every labor is different, even every labor that the same patient has can be different," Mrs. Krygier said. "Sometimes people come in and their second baby went real quick, and now that third one is your one that takes the longest."
Ms. Albert was given some demerol for pain before she checked out. The nurse handed her a form to sign before she left.
"And I was doubled over having contractions," Ms. Albert said. "She said, 'I know that's not what you want to hear. And I know you think you're in active labor but you're not.' She's telling me I'm not while I'm bent over having a contraction."
The family left at 3 a.m. and headed to Mrs. Martin-Greist's house about six miles away, intending to stay for a little while before returning.
About 10 minutes after they got there, Ms. Albert's water broke. After calling the rest of the family to turn around and head back, they got back in the car and started down Washington Road toward University. As they neared a red light at Berckmans Road, Ms, Albert felt the baby drop down. Her birth was imminent.
"I slowed down for the red light right," Mrs. Martin-Greist said. "And Marianne said, 'Run it!'"
She sped through the light and every other red light after that, topping 80 mph as she sped down Calhoun Expressway toward the exit to 15th Street. Ms. Albert pushed herself as flat as she could in the front seat, screaming and crushing Mrs. Martin-Greist's free hand.
"She started screaming, 'Pull over here! Pull over! Pull over!," Mrs. Martin-Greist said. "And I'm like, 'No, we're going to the Emergency Room.'"
As the car hurtled onto 15th Street, the baby's head started to crown in the birth canal.
"At Walton Way, I knew she was about to come out at that point," Ms. Albert said.
"And that's when it started pouring down rain," Mrs. Martin-Greist said.
Flying around corners, the car raced into the parking lot and up to the Emergency Room entrance, where the driver slammed on the brakes and ran around to Ms. Albert's door. Pushing her legs aside, Mrs. Martin-Greist saw the head and grabbed onto the right shoulder. Ms. Albert was screaming and laying on the horn.
"And I screamed, Push, blow the horn, push," Mrs. Martin-Greist said. Ms. Albert could see some patients in the waiting room staring at her, but no one came out.
After a couple of minutes, Eralyn Grace was all the way out and Mrs. Martin-Greist wrapped her in Ms. Albert's pants. Staff finally did start coming out and Ms. Albert was put on a stretcher and brought into the ER. Mrs. Martin-Greist wasn't allowed to follow because her car was still in the way.
"She was just shaking, she was in shock," Ms. Albert said. "She said, 'Can I just move my car up and come inside?' And they said 'No, you have to move your car now.'
Mrs. Martin-Greist said she was told to put it in a parking garage but "I didn't even know where the parking garage was. I didn't know where I was. All I wanted to do was go with Marianne and the baby to make sure they were OK.
"I drove around and drove around and drove around. I didn't know where I was."
She finally parked and made it around to the front lobby, where she ran into Celia Albert and the baby's father, Daniel Sutphin, who were waiting to take them up to labor and delivery again.
"At that point, she had blood on her. She looked like an accident victim actually," Celia Albert said.
At home, Eralyn Grace sucks loudly on a bottle in Ms. Albert's arms.
"She is the best baby. She sleeps all night," Celia Albert said.
"I'm not," the mother said.
Mrs. Martin-Greist, who had her children by C-section, still has a look of wonder when she talks about the delivery.
"It was amazing. I knew exactly what to do," she said.
"It could have ended up differently," Celia Albert said. "We're blessed that it didn't."
Having reviewed everything that happened, Mrs. Krygier said she is confident everything was done appropriately but that these things do happen.
"She had a baby that was eager to come and (she) came," she said. "You just can't predict labor and you can't live on hindsight. I have seen this happen before in my practice, in other organizations as well as this one, and it will happen again because you can't always predict when these babies are going to come."
Eralyn Grace will always have a reminder of her dramatic entrance into the world: her name begins with the letters -- E.R.
"It wasn't planned," Ms. Albert said, "but that is kind of funny."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.