Midwife Elsa Waldman, who is nine months pregnant, was driving home from a surprise baby shower thrown by her Drexel Medicine colleagues when screams poured through her open car window as she was stopped at a red light on North Broad Street.
Waldman knew the screams well. They were not wails of terror or pain, but of great intensity. They were labor screams.
She was already running late, but Waldman threw her car into park on Broad Street near Vine, put on her blinkers and jumped out of the vehicle during Wednesday's evening rush hour on one of Center City's busiest streets.
"I apologized to the people around me because I knew it would create a traffic jam, but there was no way I was going to be able to pull over to the side of the road in time," she said.
Waldman, 35, of West Philadelphia, followed the screams to a minivan parked on the other side of Broad in front of Hahnemann University Hospital, the academic affiliate of Drexel Medicine. Waldman could see a woman with her legs bent up in the van, surrounded by family members who didn't appear to know what to do.
She introduced herself and said, "I'm one of the midwives; I'd be happy to help you deliver your baby, if that's OK with you."
A security guard let Waldman borrow her purple latex gloves, and Waldman urged the woman in labor to push. She delivered the baby easily and immediately brought the newborn to the mother's abdomen for skin-to-skin contact, as is best practice, Waldman said.
"The baby was birthing itself. There's very little to do in those situations," she said. "I just kept telling her she was safe, and her baby was safe."
It all happened so fast, Waldman didn't even catch the baby's sex or have time to worry about the umbilical cord. Hahnemann emergency room staff quickly took the mother and baby inside.
Just 11 minutes passed between when Waldman hopped out of her car and when she got back in.
"I sent my husband a text that I had to deliver a baby, but I was on my way home," she said.
Waldman said the mother appeared overwhelmed, but one of the security guards gave her a "good job" as she walked away. She still doesn't know the name of the mother or baby.
Lauren Ingeno, spokeswoman for Drexel, said Hahnemann doctors reported that the mother and baby are "well and happy."
Laniece Coleman, director of Drexel's midwifery service, said she was not surprised by Waldman's actions.
"She's very kind, very caring, and a wonderful advocate for women," Coleman said. "She's incredibly knowledgeable, but she's also someone you'd want to be around to take care of you, especially in a very stressful situation — like giving birth in a car."
Coincidentally, the same day Waldman delivered the baby in the van, someone else gave birth in Hahnemann's lobby, Coleman said.
"It's going around," she said.
Waldman, who is due to give birth to her second child Nov. 25, said delivering a baby on Broad Street didn't feel all that unusual, but it gave her some perspective.
"I'm reminded of how much the world stops when a little baby is born," Waldman said. "Even if just for a minute."