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Atlanta gridlock gives birth to panic

Mom’s rush-hour plight becoming more common

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ATLANTA — Worried about giving birth in the back seat of the car and nearly irrational with pain, Allison Reamer screamed at her mother: "Drive aggressively, this baby's coming!"

But the road rage wasn't going to get Reamer to the hospital. She was stuck in morning rush-hour traffic behind hundreds of cars inching along the perpetually jammed highways north of Atlanta.

"You panic," said Reamer. "I just thought Mom was going to have to deliver him right there. We were not moving at all."

Atlanta traffic has already been blamed for creating heavy smog and long commutes. Now add one more problem to the list: More babies are being born on highways because traffic jams keep pregnant women from getting to the hospital on time.

Atlanta may have more roadside births than other cities because the suburbs are so expansive — commuters average 34 miles a day, the most of any U.S. city — and many people choose to deliver at hospitals up to an hour away from their homes.

No one keeps exact statistics on the number of women who give birth in transit, but ambulance drivers, doctors and state patrol officers say it is happening more often as Atlanta's traffic gets worse.

Reamer, whose husband was playing in a golf tournament in California when she went into labor, had to travel about 20 miles south to Northside Hospital in Atlanta. It took her mother an agonizing 45 minutes to drive the first four miles.

"I was just crying and hollering," said Reamer. "I started telling her to drive, but there was nowhere to go."

During the long, slow ride that began around 7 a.m., Reamer nervously jumped from the front seat to the back, trying to find more room. As her mother prayed out loud, Reamer desperately tried to hold the baby back with her hands.

When they realized they wouldn't make it to the hospital on time, Reamer's mother called 911, and an ambulance met their car on the shoulder of the highway, which was already clogged with cars.

Once in the ambulance, the emergency technician strapped Reamer in and raced down the grassy median. Fifteen minutes after arriving at the hospital, Reamer gave birth to a healthy baby boy at 9:03 a.m. But the 32-year-old said the experience was so scary she doesn't want to have a third baby.

"I just never thought I'd have him during rush hour," she said.

One problem is expectant parents rarely map out an alternate route to the hospital, said Emanuel Jackson, supervisor for the state Department of Transportation's highway emergency unit.

"In Atlanta, you never know what you're going to run into so you have to plan ahead," Jackson said. He said his unit has already helped five or six pregnant women stuck in traffic this year.

Though it may be traumatic, giving birth on the side of the road often goes smoothly.

"It theoretically can be potentially dangerous, but the babies that come fast like that tend to be simple, straightforward deliveries," said Dr. William T. Cook, staff obstetrician at Piedmont Hospital.