Unscheduled delivery on I-295

Expectant mother who was sent home by hospital has baby in the car

December 10, 2010|By Allison Klein, The Washington Post

Tamia Washington was 39 weeks pregnant and having contractions at Washington Hospital Center for several hours Monday when the staff sent her home, saying she wasn't ready yet.

She got to her apartment in Southeast Washington, and just a short time later, she and her boyfriend realized they needed to rush back to the hospital. Five minutes into the car trip, as they were pulling onto Interstate 295, she reached into her sweatpants and felt her baby's head in her hands.

"The palm of my hand was where her head was, and I was like, 'No! no! no! no! no!,'" said Washington, 25, who was in the passenger seat of the 1991 Nissan Maxima. "I'm trying to hold it and do the breathing thing."

All of a sudden, her baby daughter's slick body was in her grasp.

Washington screamed. The baby screamed. The baby's father screamed.

Then the dad slammed on his breaks and turned on the hazard flashers.

Washington pulled her daughter onto her stomach, umbilical cord still attached.

"I wrapped her shoulders in my sweatpants," Washington said. "I was mostly feeling fear, because she was wet and it was freezing cold outside. I didn't want her to be cold."

Her boyfriend, Xavier Clemons, 21, jumped out of the car and flagged down a police officer who happened to be driving nearby. The officer put on his lights to block other cars and told the couple to call 911.

Several minutes later, an ambulance pulled up. Emergency responders rushed Washington and her baby to United Medical Center.

"When I was going to the hospital, she was just looking at me and lying there on my chest," Washington said of her baby. "I was like, 'We did it!'"

At the hospital, baby Taveah Althea Washington was examined by doctors and found to be in good health. She was weighed and measured — 7 pounds, 3.9 ounces, 19 3/4 inches.

"It was a miracle the way everything played out," Washington said.

But Washington and Clemons are angry at Washington Hospital Center, frustrated that they were sent away.

"If I had the opportunity to do it again, I wouldn't have left the hospital," Washington said. "I would have stayed there, right here, walked around the block if I had to."

This was Washington's second baby, but the first time she had experienced spontaneous labor. With her son, who is 5, she was induced several weeks before her due date.

So when she woke up Monday morning and said she was bleeding and had contractions, she and Clemons went right to Washington Hospital Center, where she had gone for all of her regular prenatal visits.

They arrived at about 10 a.m. and the doctors examined her and gave her an ultrasound to check the baby. Her contractions were coming about every 10 minutes, but were irregular, according to a fetal monitor. After several hours, the staff sent them home, saying the baby wasn't ready. Washington told them her contractions were happening faster, every five minutes now.

Still, the staff said go home. She was told the contractions were coming so rapidly because of the doctor's examination, she said.

They sent her home with information about how to figure out when she's in active labor.

When Washington got home at about 3:15 p.m., the contractions were still coming every five minutes.

She said she called at about 4:30 p.m. to report her condition and that the staff told her to call back in an hour.

Hospital officials dispute that account, saying they do not have a record of her call. They say that if a woman called reporting such a situation, their policy is to tell her to come in to get checked by a doctor.

At 5:30, Washington's water broke and the contractions were two minutes apart. She was in extreme pain. Clemons insisted they get in the car and go to the hospital. But he said Washington was in agony, so it took him a while to help her get dressed and into the car.

By 6:30, the baby had arrived in the Maxima.

Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer and senior vice president at Washington Hospital Center, said Washington received "careful medical care."

She said Washington's condition hadn't changed when she was discharged, and she was not showing signs that the baby was coming soon. She agreed to discuss the case with The Washington Post only after Washington signed a release form.

She said that the hospital, which delivers about 4,500 babies a year — or some 40 percent of the babies in the District — sends home about half of all women who walk into the labor and delivery ward. Some are told to come back in days; others in hours, she said. About once a year, a situation like Washington's happens, she said.

"There's no crystal ball when that baby is going to come," Orlowski said.

In fact, several women every day are in labor distress and call for emergency help. The D.C. Fire Department gets about seven calls a day, or more than 200 a month, from pregnant women who need to go to a hospital. But their technicians don't deliver many babies because they can usually get women to a doctor quickly enough, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS.

Clemens, who is a first-time father, said the experience was an amazing but scary way to meet his daughter.

"Next thing I know, she was out," he said.

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