“On a hot Friday in August of 2018, I rolled out of bed at 33 weeks pregnant and got my 17-month-old ready to hop in the car. We owned one car, and had been driving my husband to the train each morning since our son was born. We had moved into our first home just one and a half months prior, and were living less than a mile from the train station. As I waited to turn left into the station, the light turned yellow. I saw two cars approaching the intersection from the opposite direction, and since the car in front was clearly stopping, I proceeded to turn. Unbeknownst to me, the car that had been behind the other sped up, ran the red light, and hit our car going at about 65 mph.
The whiplash I experienced at the time of impact knocked me out. I woke up to my husband pushing hair out of my face, and our car horn blaring. To be honest, I can’t be sure the next few moments truly happened. Not only had I gotten a concussion, I had temporary amnesia. In one moment of lucidity, a man pulled open my door, tore the panel from beneath the steering wheel to stop the horn, and helped me out. The next thing I remember was sitting in the grass with a toddler in my lap. A woman rushed over to us, frantically asking, ‘Are you okay?’ I stammered to ask her, ‘What happened?’ and, ‘Who is this boy?’ and I so clearly remember her touching my shoulder and saying, ‘Oh, honey…’
I remember my husband screaming in a way I had never heard anyone scream, someone shouting, ‘My brother! That’s my brother! Oh my god!’ Sirens upon sirens, or maybe an extension of car horns blaring. I remember panic and a feeling of watching my life play out on a big screen, but I also remember wondering if all those people were angels. How many people left their cars to run to our aid, called 911, and gave statements to police? Someone unstrapped my 17-month-old, who was nearly at the point of impact, and removed him from his seat amongst shattered glass and parents who were quite literally broken as well. Someone slipped my wallet and phone to the paramedics. Someone held my hand as they strapped me in a neck brace and lifted me into one of many ambulances.
We never found out who any of those strangers were, but they’ll forever be a part of my story, and I’ll never stop being grateful for unselfish humans. In the ambulance, they asked my name, the year, and the state I was in. I didn’t have an answer for any of them. There’s a strange internal panic that happens when you realize you don’t know your own name, the one thing you have been responding to since before you understood words—how could this escape you? When they asked me if I was pregnant, I said, ‘No, I wish,’ even as they used a doppler to try and locate my baby’s heartbeat.
Reality slowly clicked in over a series of hours. I remember coming back to myself in an MRI and being urged to stay calm. An officer came in and asked to photograph my injuries. I had never been in a car accident but I felt confused by this until she said, ‘I’m here to talk with you about the fatal accident.’ My hearing went out. Wouldn’t I feel differently if I had been a part of something that ended another’s life? She clarified with, ‘They told me they couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat,’ and it was a whole different sucker punch to the gut. A nurse rushed in and clarified, ‘They couldn’t find the heartbeat in the ambulance, but we found it here.’ And the whiplash I felt in that moment was comparable to the real deal.
I also learned I was in preterm labor, with contractions coming every 3-5 minutes. I was given medication to slow my contractions to around ten minutes, and they sent me home. My husband stayed hospitalized for four nights with three fractures in his pelvis and three broken ribs. Being at the point of impact, they continued to hammer home how lucky we were that broken bones was all he was dealing with. My son, who was directly behind my husband, didn’t have one scratch on him. I was bruised, foggy headed, but feeling really grateful knowing all that could’ve been.
We later learned the driver who ran the red light was a 15-year-old driver with his permit. He was driving a car from the 90s that was uninsured. There were two little girls in the backseat—one had to have leg surgery, and the other multiple eye surgeries. Throughout the course of the whole ordeal, I felt compassion for this boy. His mom worked multiple part-time jobs and he lived with aunts and cousins. It was likely he was responsible for driving the girls to school because no one else could, even being fifteen and driving an uninsured vehicle.
I spent the weekend visiting my husband, and my contractions started to feel more noticeable on Sunday afternoon. I had a visit with my OBGYN on Monday morning, so I breathed through them as my husband walked with his fractured pelvis for the first time. I got home and got my son ready for bed. As I was rocking him, my contractions suddenly became unbearable. I immediately knew I needed help, and was able to get my son down and text my brother to hurry. He lived about 20 minutes away, and I spent that time screaming into couch cushions, and texting my terrified husband as he lay in a hospital bed. I called my brother to tell him I couldn’t wait, but he was already in the driveway.
My sister-in-law stayed with our son, and I dove into the back seat of my brother’s car, begging him to hurry. I don’t know if the concussion messed with reality, if it was the trauma I had just experienced, or if it was sheer lack of belief that this could be happening to me, but I never considered I might be having a baby that night. My first labor was an induction with pitocin at 41 weeks, but these contractions were unlike anything I had felt. It was as though I was experiencing twelve hours of labor in 20 minutes, pain and all—actually, that’s exactly how they explain some precipitous labors. I felt something between my legs and pulled my shorts off. It felt like a water balloon, and I just remember thinking, ‘Once we get to the hospital, they’ll make this stop.’
On the next contraction, my body pushed my second child into my hands without my understanding. I pulled something warm to my chest, but it wasn’t a baby. I was holding a bubble, soft and squishy, warm with something hard inside. Two years later, my brother told me that was the moment he looked into the backseat, and couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing either. Something in me clicked. No words or knowledge, but instinct. I pulled the film until it broke, and saw big blue eyes staring up as street lights flashed above us. I knew there should be crying, movement, sign of life, but this little thing just kept blinking at me.
‘It can’t breathe.’ I put my mouth over this impossibly small mouth and nose, and sucked the fluid out of the baby’s lungs. I didn’t have a blanket, so I slipped this small body under my tank top, and the sweet thing latched. It was then I was able to see our second baby was a girl. My brother was frantic as he pulled off the highway. He turned off and instantly saw a hidden police car. He pulled up to it, got out, and shouted, ‘My sister just had a baby in the car!’ and the officer opened the backseat of the car and found me shaking from adrenaline and shock. She was a blanket of calm that covered me in affirmations. ‘The baby is safe. You are incredible. You were made for this moment. She is destined for something great.’
Paramedics arrived, and the ride to the hospital felt like a party my friends might throw after hearing my daughter was born—joy, laughter, shock, and fawning over her perfect face. I never once felt worry or panic, even knowing she was born seven weeks early. She was in the NICU for 36 days, and her dad met her when she was three days old. She had an IV in her head, a feeding tube down her nose, and should’ve still been developing in my womb. Still, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘She’s so beautiful. I’m so proud of you.’ They’ve been inseparable ever since. My husband struggled to walk for about four months, but now sees no negative repercussions. Our daughter is right on track developmentally with her age group. I struggle with chronic neck pain due to trauma from the whiplash, but I’d take this a million times over losing my husband or daughter in the accident.
Ten months after her birth, we got pregnant with our third (made it to the hospital this time!), and are now living a quiet life as a family of five. My husband works full-time from home while we raise our babies together, and I just feel so thankful this wild ride had such a movie plot ending. We weren’t owed more time together, we didn’t deserve to be spared when so many others experience endless pain. But I will never stop being grateful we were given another shot to live a simple life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tessie Heeter of Fort Collins, Colorado. You can follow their journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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