ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nine years ago last Wednesday, nurse Joanna Rubi took off early from the night shift at the University of New Mexico Hospital to grab a little extra sleep.
It was dark, quiet, which made it all the more startling to see a man standing in the shadows of the parking structure across the street where her car was.
The man was wild-eyed, scared, frozen in place.
Then, she heard a woman scream.
A shriek, really, like someone in pain or terror or both, coming from a nearby SUV.
“I thought maybe a woman was being beaten up,” she said.
She wasn’t sure how the wild-eyed man was involved.
A co-worker passed by. Come with me, Rubi urged. But the co-worker scuttled away.
The woman shrieked again. Rubi, not one to back down from much, approached the SUV alone.
And then she knew what was going on.
A baby was coming.
Too fast. The shrieking woman was sprawled across the front seats, her pregnant belly swollen, her legs dangling from the passenger door.
Even through the woman’s gray sweatpants, she could see the bulge of the baby’s head.
Rubi, a nurse in the newborn intensive care unit, knew what to do with babies after birth, but not before. This baby, apparently, didn’t care about that.
“So I jumped right in without introduction, pulled this woman’s pants down, and, yup, there’s the baby. He’s crowning. I can see an eyebrow,” she said. “And I think, oh God, I can’t believe this.”
Rubi called the nurse’s station from her cellphone.
“There’s a baby being born out here,” she shouted.
They hung up on her.
“I guess they thought I was joking,” Rubi said.
Once a baby’s head emerges, birth is imminent and, Rubi thought, relatively easy – at least for the person not in labor. But this baby was stuck.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Worse, she discovered that the woman and the wild-eyed man, who she figured was the stunned father, could speak only Spanish.
“I’m trying to explain to the man on how to redial the hospital on my phone, and I’m telling him ‘Dos!’ and trying to remember how to say the rest of the numbers,” she said.
Rubi credits what happened next to God’s graces.
“Something just came over me,” she said. “And I knew I had to figure out what was keeping that baby from being born. So I pushed the baby’s head back inside the mother. And I could feel that the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around the baby’s neck.”
With only faith and the glow of the dashboard lights to guide her, Rubi freed the infant from the twisted cord, and out it slid.
Out he slid. The baby was a boy. But he was a boy in distress. He wasn’t breathing. Slimy green meconium – fetal feces – covered his tiny body and clogged his airway, a potentially deadly situation.
Rubi tugged at the man’s shirt, gesturing for him to take it off. She used it to wipe away the gunk. And just like that, the baby started breathing.
It’s a blur after that. Hospital staff showed up and whisked the new little family into the hospital. Rubi went home.
She never got that extra sleep.
“It was so exciting, so exciting and amazing,” she said. “I stayed up the whole day saying over and over, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it! I just delivered a baby!’ ”
Three days later, she peeked in on mother and baby, who had weighed in at a healthy 8 pounds, 8 ounces. She thinks the mother thanked her.
But it was Rubi who was the most thankful. Two years before, she had watched a baby die whom she could not save. The baby, a girl, had been born with a catastrophic defect that she would not survive, and the parents and physician had decided against extreme measures to keep her alive. The baby smiled before the breathing tube was removed.
It devastated Rubi.
“I had a hard time forgiving myself for that baby,” she said.
But it felt to Rubi that this baby boy she had helped bring into the world that early April 8, 2006, morning was God telling her all was forgiven and that it was time she got on with things. In a way, that baby boy was her rebirth.
These days, Rubi works in the newborn intensive care unit at the Lovelace Women’s Hospital. She is also a tireless health volunteer, traveling last summer to Piura, Peru, to provide nursing care to the needy. And she’s been both foster and adoptive parent of special needs children.
It’s a busy life, one filled with God’s graces.
Every April 8, she rises before dawn and celebrates the life of a boy she saved – and who saved her.
“Happy Birthday to this little mystery baby,” she wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “I think of you every year and hope you are having a blessed life!!!”
Someday, she hopes to meet that boy and tell him how he came into this world, and how she came into her own.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.