Two women and a 13-year-old girl are still a bit shocked but feeling exhilarated after one of the women gave birth in the passenger seat of a Prius as the trio headed down the steep hair-pinned Sheep Creek Hill en route to Williams Lake hospital in the early hours Tuesday.
“It was intense,” Liz Verges said as she held her newborn son, Tijmen Stowell, in her arms at Cariboo Memorial Hospital Wednesday afternoon. “I kind of knew where we were as it was happening, but it is kind of blur now.”
Liz and her family live at Meldrum Creek about 45 kilometres west of Williams Lake.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, her partner Rylan Stowell was already gone to work and she was at home with their daughter Baileigh, 13, and son Jeremy, 9, when contractions woke her up at around 2 a.m.
Half an hour later she woke up the kids, and arranged for Jeremy to go to a neighbour’s.
Baileigh contacted another neighbour, Shari Suter, who was on standby to drive them to the hospital in Williams Lake, and told her that Liz’s contractions were three minutes apart.
Shari told Baileigh to call the hospital and the nurses said since they were an hour away they should come then and they’d get a hospital room ready.
Shari said when she got to the house to pick them up, Liz couldn’t get into the car right away because she was having “such intense” contractions.
Once it subsided, Liz climbed into the front seat with the back flat down, and Baileigh climbed in the back seat, sitting in the middle so she could massage her mom’s tummy.
Shari, for her part, kept telling Liz to breath and try not to push, but that soon was not an option.
“My first push where I couldn’t stop it was at the brake check at the top of the hill and I told Shari to stop, but then I told her to keep going because I just wanted to get to the hospital,” Liz said.
“I had to get Baileigh to whip my hoodie off because I was sweating.”
Halfway down the hill at a hairpin turn, the baby’s head came out at 4:38 a.m.
“I’d done it before — given birth — so I pulled my pants down and scooped him up and put him right on my chest.”
Shari said being the driver was “really tricky.”
“I had to go fast and I had to be safe, knowing every minute counted. It was 17 kilometres just to get to the highway and that was the longest 17 kilometres in my life.”
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Shari said she told Liz to tell her when she wanted her to stop and they would “get it done,” but in the mean time she was going to keep driving and get as close to Williams Lake as possible because she knew they weren’t going to make it.
As they headed down the Sheep Creek hill, Liz said the baby was coming, but Suter did not want to pull over where there was no room on the side of the road and have someone slam into the back of the car.
“I said, I was going stop and then all of a sudden I heard a cough and then ‘waaaaaaa’ and she pulls this baby out,” Shari said. “I pulled over into the runaway lane right at the hairpin curve.”
Shari took a big duvet in the car and wrapped around the new baby and mom.
“I put my hands around Liz’s face and her eyes were as wide as saucers. I just kissed her on the forehead. I said ‘you’re OK Liz, everything is good,’ and then I pulled her shirt up, put her baby on her chest. Then I grabbed the duvet and wrapped it around her and said ‘OK we have to get to the hospital.’”
Shari pulled back onto the road and told Baileigh to make sure the baby’s pathways were clear.
At that point they did not know if he was a girl or a boy, Baileigh said.
“Mom — she adjusted him and I saw that he was a boy,” Baileigh said. “Mom said ‘are you sure?’ and I was like ‘I think so’ and then we double checked. Five minutes after he was born he was smiling and looking around.”
Liz said she was immediately in shock. It was -15C and she was shaking.
Once they arrived at Cariboo Memorial Hospital, Baileigh jumped out and ran into emergency and told the nurses her mom had a baby in the car.
They brought a stretcher out and Liz said it was awkward to try and hold the baby that was still attached by the umbilical cord and keep him warm.
“My pants were around my ankles and we didn’t know how to get me on the stretcher so finally I just threw off the blanket and got on. I just wanted to get inside.”
There is no cell service until the Welcome to Williams Lake sign just outside of the city and it was when they reached that point that Baileigh called her dad.
“He was hilarious on the phone,” Baileigh said of her dad. “He asked if we’d called an ambulance, but we told him we’d called the hospital and they knew we were coming.”
Liz said Rylan was also worried about Shari’s car and said they were going to have to get it detailed.
Shari, however, said she wasn’t worried about her car.
“My Prius has seen a lot. When I told my immediate family the story, they said, ‘oh my God, the things that you have done with that car.”
One of her goats gave birth in the back of the Prius while en route to the vet in Williams Lake, another time Shari transported a ram from Sorrento in the back, and during the 2017 wildfire evacuation she slept in it, she said.
Liz said they named their son after Tijmen (pronounced Tieman) Nieuwenhuizen, a long-time popular store owner in Williams Lake.
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She is originally from Kelowna and moved with Rylan and the children to Meldrum Creek in 2012 to live on the Stowell family homestead. For about five years she worked in housekeeping at Cariboo Memorial Hospital where she, Baileigh and the baby stayed until Thursday.
Liz said she will be forever grateful to her neighbour, Shari, for her help. Meanwhile, Shari added the experience was “unbelievably surreal” and praised Baileigh for taking such good care of her mom in a time of crisis.