When expectant mother Brittany Gillette, 21, felt her water break at 5 a.m. Saturday, howling wind was stacking snow in front of her house and she feared she wouldn't make it to a hospital.
Gillette quickly woke up her fiancé and her dad, who went outside to shovel a path for the car outside their West Philadelphia home. After a futile hour of work, they called an ambulance. The ambulance got as far as the corner and got stuck.
"I was at the top of the block and they told me to walk to the bottom because they couldn't make it through," said Gillette. "By the time I got there" the ambulance was spinning its wheels "so we called the police and waited."
Ten or fifteen minutes later, two officers picked up Gillette, her mom and her fiancé Robert Robinson. But instead of heading to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital as Gillette had planned, the officers drove her to the nearest delivery room, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She arrived at 7:30 a.m.
"I was nervous about going to a different hospital, but the doctors were extremely nice, and it wasn't a problem at all," Gillette said. "It was a huge help to have my mom and especially my fiancé there to help me during the contractions."
The nurses gave Gillette drugs to induce labor, expecting the delivery to take 24 to 36 hours. Surprisingly, over the course of two and a half hours, Gillette's labor progressed to full dilation. Ka'lei Xaria Robinson, 7 pounds, 2 ounces, was born at 8:30 p.m. - 13 hours after Gillette made it to the hospital.
"Ka'lei did it quickly because she knew what her mom had to do," Robinson teased. "Being new parents, I expected Brittany's experience to be much more difficult and painful. I expected my experience to be much more panicky."
Despite all the street closings that accompanied the record-breaking 22.4 inches of Philadelphia snowfall this weekend, Gillette and other women across the region coped with the detours and delivered an exceptional number of "blizzard babies."
Throughout the storm, 19 babies were born at HUP, a "surge" compared to a normal delivery day, said Lacey Conaway, a permanent day-shift charge nurse at the hospital. In New Jersey, 13 babies were born at Virtua Voorhees Hospital between Friday and Saturday night.
Not all expecting mothers made it to their destinations this weekend. On Sunday, Mariah Bryant, 23, delivered her own baby on the side of Route 22 near Bethlehem while her friend stayed by the car on the phone with 911, according to The Morning Call. Bryant left her boyfriend, who had been up all morning shoveling snow, at home so he could watch her 4-year-old son. Her contractions became so frequent and painful while en route to the hospital that Bryant and her friend pulled over, and Bryant delivered her baby a month prematurely.
HUP nurse Conaway said the hospital typically sees more broken amniotic sacs (water-breaking) and deliveries during bad rainstorms and snowstorms, which she suspects could be a result of dropping barometric pressure. Some researchers have long suspected that the gravitational pull of a full moon, like the one on Saturday, can also induce labor, but others consider this "full-moon effect" a myth.
Having heard of the birth effects of full moons and snowstorms, Amber Lindsay, 26, of West Philadelphia, had a feeling she'd give birth over the weekend. Five days past her due date, Lindsay's water broke at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. She waited in anticipation for a half hour while her husband dug their car free.
"I was prepared to just have to walk," Lindsay said. "It would be like a mile and a half to HUP."
When they finally made it into the car, Lindsay and her husband passed abandoned vehicles on every corner and waited as two men slowly pushed a truck with four-wheel drive out of an intersection. They finally arrived at the hospital at 10 a.m., and Addison Lindsay was born at 11:49 p.m. Saturday, weighing 8 pounds and 5 ounces.
"Everyone says, 'If I can tell Addison we managed to get to the hospital so she could be born in a blizzard,' anything's possible" in her future, Lindsay said.
Anticipating the storm, many nurses and technicians slept at HUP on Friday night.
Gillette, who just graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is taking three months off from her job as an Army National Guard carpenter to take care of Addison. Mother and daughter will be released from the hospital on Monday.
"Being a first-time mom is amazing," Gillette said. "It's gonna take some getting used to."
Robinson, 22, is a welder in the Army National Guard and full-time student at Liberty University. He and Gillette are planning to marry on May 30, 2017.
"I was lucky to have a couple of superheroes in my corner this weekend," Robinson said of his new baby and her mother.