What not to expect when you’re expecting: baby born in clinic a rare surprise

Feb. 15, 2018
Baby born in clinic. Family picture showing Zoey with her sister and parents. Zoey was born unexpectedly in a clinic when her mom went for a checkup.
Mariah, 4, kisses Zoey as mom and dad look on. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrell.

Cheryl Harrell was an ICU nurse with a “spitfire” four-year-old daughter, a hyperactive year-old adopted Plott Hound and a job working as an ambulatory surgery center nurse. If all this weren’t quite enough already, she was pregnant, too.

Thirty-nine weeks pregnant, and a week short of her due date, she was at the stage of pregnancy where disrupted sleep and general bodily discomfort adds up to a very basic desire.

“I was just ready to have her out of my body,” Harrell said. “I was just impatient. I was miserable. I was ready.”

She had an appointment at UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic – Greeley on Thursday, December 28. As she left, she joked with the front desk staff, “We have to stop meeting like this.”

Early the next morning, Harrell, 34, noticed the contractions she’d been having on and off since her second trimester were coming more regularly, though without the intense pain and five-minute spacing that mean it’s time to get to a hospital ASAP. She figured she should check in with her UCHealth certified nurse midwife team, though, so she called over to the clinic at about 8 a.m. They could squeeze her in, not a problem.

‘This is different’

She and her husband Jeff drove the five minutes over to the Women’s Care Clinic, arriving at 8:30 a.m. Lindsay Burgess, one of the certified nurse midwives who worked with Harrell and would, when the time came, deliver the baby in a highly prepared setting at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland (MCR), walked into the clinic exam room to see Harrell about 15 minutes later. Burgess was expecting a routine labor check – with Harrell’s firstborn, Mariah, labor had gone on for hours. This time was going to be different, Burgess realized. Harrell’s water had broken as she stepped up to the exam table.

Baby born in clinic. Zoey made an unexpected arrival after her mom went in for a checkup.
Cheryl and newborn Zoey head for MCR post-delivery. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrell.

The contractions were coming every two minutes now, intense ones. The baby was on its way.

There are women who want to experience natural childbirth. Harrell was not one of those women.

“It went from tolerable to ‘I need to get to the hospital and I need an epidural. This is no joke,’” she said.

Burgess agreed, but it was clear to her now that Harrell was in labor. She suggested the 20-minute drive to MCR was longer than the baby might wait. Harrell insisted on going, though, so Burgess and Jeff helped her out to the truck, a new Ford F-150 Raptor Jeff had gotten last Father’s Day. They put waterproof pads in the passenger seat. Another wicked contraction came. It was clear to Burgess, too, that Harrell was now feeling the natural urge to push. “I think we need to get back into a room,” Burgess said.

She and Jeff helped unload Harrell and they walked back inside. The waiting room was busier at this point. Harrell was, she said, “walking like an old lady. And trying not to scream.”


A flurry of action among nurses and Burgess produced blankets, pillows and a delivery kit. Nurses Donna Dugan and Elaine Ferguson stayed to help. Burgess, in heels and a black suit, snapped on rubber gloves. The location might have been atypical, but one of midwifery’s basic tenets is to embrace the body’s natural ability to have a baby, Burgess said later.

Baby born in clinic. A team of experts went to work to help baby Zoey make her debut during a checkup for her mom.
The Harrells, back at UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic – Greeley five days after an eventful delivery. From left, Donna Dugan, RN; Elaine Ferguson, LPN; new mom Cheryl Harrell; husband Jeff holding baby Zoey; Lindsay Burgess, CNM; and Natalie Rochester, MD. Photo courtesy Cheryl Harrell.

“This is happening, this is O.K., this is natural and normal – just not exactly the normal setting,” she said.

Natalie Rochester, MD, the obstetrics and gynecology specialist leading the medical practices at the UCHealth Women’s Care Clinics in Greeley and Loveland, was in another exam room consulting with a mom-to-be in a somewhat less-urgent state of pregnancy. Rochester had been on call at MCR in Loveland the night before and come straight to the clinic for her routine OB/GYN appointments. A medical assistant knocked on the door and explained the situation.

Rochester excused herself and snapped on her own rubber gloves. Burgess would catch; Rochester, also in dress clothes and heels, was there to make sure Harrell and the baby both emerged unscathed. Dugan and Jeff were holding either hand; Ferguson stood close by. Right about then, the emergency medical technicians arrived. There were four guys with a stretcher in the hallway waiting to help or transport patients to the hospital. And the women who are trained to deliver babies went to work. Between them, Burgess and Rochester have delivered more than 2,200 babies. Rochester had delivered four the previous night alone.

Another contraction hit. Harrell pushed, hard.

Seven pounds, 11 ounces of Zoey Harrell announced her arrival with the most beautiful cry that can strike a human eardrum. It was 9:16 a.m. Jeff cut the umbilical cord; the staff quickly cleaned Zoey up and suctioned her and swaddled her and placed her in her mother’s arms. The EMTs lifted Harrell onto a stretcher. As she and Zoey rolled out for an ambulance ride to MCR for postpartum care, the staff applauded, and so did the folks in the waiting room.

Zoey was the first baby born at the Greeley clinic in as long as anyone could remember.

Hello again

Back home over the weekend, the Harrells were still thinking about the UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic team. Cheryl felt like she’d disrupted their day. She worried that she’d “put everyone out and made them work so hard,” she said. Jeff suggested picking up a cake and bagels and stopping by. So they did, on the following Wednesday.

The cake read “Sorry about your carpet.” The clinic staff was tickled. They took photos with staff and the nurses, who despite working in an OB/GYN clinic don’t typically experience actual childbirth. Harrell learned that the experienced hands had been impressed with her toughness, and that the carpet had been fine. Even Burgess’s and Rochester’s dress clothes had emerged spotless.

A cake that reads sorry about your carpet. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrell
A cake that takes the cake. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Harrell.

“We felt like a family, and I think she trusted us and we trusted her in the process,” Burgess said. “It was wonderful. It was beautiful.”

Harrell was thankful to them all.

“They were so kind and so professional,” she said. “And I had a healthy baby girl under some surreal circumstances.”

About the author

Todd Neff has written hundreds of stories for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth. He covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and has taught narrative nonfiction at the University of Colorado, where he was a Ted Scripps Fellowship recipient in Environmental Journalism. He is author of “A Beard Cut Short,” a biography of a remarkable professor; “The Laser That’s Changing the World,” a history of lidar; and “From Jars to the Stars,” a history of Ball Aerospace.