FAIRBANKS — Rich and Darja Sivils thought they had plenty of time to drive to Fairbanks from Healy for the birth of their second child earlier this month. But their new baby had other plans.
On the night of Dec. 4, the two parents went to the weekly training session at the Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department in Healy. Darja was starting to have contractions, so they figured they should head north soon. Usually, it's about a two-hour drive. At 11:30 p.m., they knew it was time and started packing the car.
"As soon as we got in the car, her contractions were four minutes apart," Rich Sivils said. "We still thought we were going to make it to town fine."
Ironically, just a week earlier, a friend gave them an emergency birth kit that had been making the rounds among Healy families during the past 20 years. It had never been used.
"It's for if you have a baby in the car," Sivils said. "It had pads, stuff to put on the seat, a little suction bulb, everything you needed."
They threw it in the car, but never dreamed they would use it.
When they got to Nenana, Darja moved to the back seat to get more comfortable.
"She was in labor, basically," Sivils said. "She was basically yelling every time she'd have a contraction, and I would drive faster."
Just north of Nenana, her water broke.
"You have to call an ambulance," she told her husband.
"Oh man," Sivils thought. "This is really happening."
Things started moving very quickly after that, he added. They had to slow down for a moose that was recently hit by a semi tractor-trailer and still in the middle of the road. He finally stopped a few miles later, maybe Mile 325 Parks Highway.
They dialed 911 on a cellphone.
"I got on with the dispatcher and I told her she was having the baby; we weren't gonna make it to town," Sivils said. "The dispatcher was a super-nice lady."
The dispatcher started asking questions and providing instructions on what to do to help the birth happen safely. They called their midwife on another cellphone and got instructions from her, as well.
But, when Sivils first stopped the car, he jumped out and forgot to put the transmission in park. The vehicle started rolling, so he jumped back in, slammed on the brakes and made sure it was secure. Then he climbed into the back seat to help his wife.
"I was freaking out, but at the same time, I was super calm," he said.
He relayed the dispatcher's instructions to his wife. She pushed and the baby's head emerged. Soon, the baby was born. Sivils held the newborn gently and realized it was a girl.
"It was surreal," he said. "She looked just like our son. We didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl."
"It's a girl," he told his wife, but she wasn't too interested at that moment.
That's when he ripped into that emergency birthing kit. The new baby was placed on her mother's chest and he covered her with towels they had in their Ford Expedition.
Sivils then started driving north again until they intercepted the ambulance coming from Fairbanks. The new mother didn't want to leave the warmth of their vehicle, so medics climbed into the Ford to check on the new baby and mother.
Mother and baby were both fine. The family then drove to their original destination, the Alaska Family Health & Birth Center.
"It went as good as it could have," Sivils said.
And by the way, baby Ruth Ann was not supposed to be born until Dec. 7. She arrived two days early.