SHANNONDALE – Bethany Ulsh doesn’t remember a lot about the six-minute call she made to 911 in the predawn hours of Memorial Day, but the outcome made for a labor day she’ll never forget.
[cleeng_content id="278176502" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]When mom-to-be can’t make it to hospital, 911 dispatcher delivers
Hours earlier, Ulsh’s 17-year-old stepdaughter Autumn had been sent home from the hospital 30 minutes away in Winchester, Va., assured her contractions weren’t close enough to merit a stay even though she was a week past her due date.
By the time Autumn woke Ulsh just after 5 a.m., her labor had progressed so far, Ulsh worried they wouldn’t make it back to Winchester – or even to the closer hospital in Ranson — before the baby arrived.
Then as Ulsh gathered her keys and slipped on shoes, Autumn crumpled up in pain on her bed and Ulsh realized they wouldn’t even be able to make it to the car.
So she dialed 911.
The man on the other end of the line, Jefferson County Emergency Communications dispatcher Bill Schweitzer, had never assisted in an over-the-phone delivery before. When Ulsh’s call came in, he was preparing to head home for the holiday after putting in a 12-hour shift.
“I’m so grateful for him,” Ulsh said in an interview Saturday. “He was so calm the whole time and he had such a confidence as he walked me through every step. That gave me confidence and helped me help Autumn.
“I can’t say enough good things about Bill Schweitzer. He didn’t miss a beat.”
Schweitzer last week accepted a formal commendation from Jeffrey A. Polczynski, director of communications for Jefferson County’s 911 center, along with the heartfelt thanks of Ulsh, Autumn and baby Maiyah Marie Brown.
The Sept. 11 award ceremony marked the first time Schweitzer had met the Ulshes. He also had the opportunity to hold Maiyah, who arrived May 27 perfectly healthy and measuring 19 inches long and 7 pounds, 3.4 ounces.
In an interview Tuesday, Schweitzer described the experience as a highlight of his six-year career with the 911 Center.
“It was almost as thrilling as when I was at the hospital watching my kids be born,” he said.
Schweitzer said the 911 Center is prepared in the event it takes a call like Ulsh’s; he is trained to follow a set of protocols to walk women through childbirth.
Still, it can be a challenge.
“Obviously, one difficulty is that all I have is a telephone,” he said. “I have to be asking the right questions. Autumn was overdue. What was running through my mind the whole time was that we could very well be delivering a baby.”
During the ceremony, the county gave the Ulshes a tape of the 911 call. Listening again, both Autumn and Ulsh, who’s given birth three times and watched her niece born in a hospital 16 years ago, were surprised to hear details that had slipped their minds.
After Maiyah’s arrival, for instance, with an ambulance en route to take mother and baby to nearby Jefferson Medical Center, Schweitzer instructs Ulsh to keep the pair warm and so Ulsh has another family member turn off a fan that had been running in Autumn’s room.
“I had completely forgotten that,” Ulsh explains.
Autumn says she’s astounded her stepmom, who works at the Coast Guard facility in Kearneysville, managed to bring a baby into the world while clutching a phone to her ear.
“I don’t know how I held the phone the whole time,” said Ulsh, who had never had to make a call to 911 before. “We didn’t have it on speaker phone.”
Autumn’s fiancé, TeVon Brown, was at his home asleep when the drama unfolded in May and missed last week’s ceremony for Schweitzer because he was in Keyser, where he’s studying criminal justice at Potomac State College of West Virginia University.
But on Friday, he was back in Jefferson County to spend the weekend with his young family as he does every week. He says he’s grateful to Autumn, Ulsh and Schweitzer for the safe arrival of his daughter.
“When Maiyah’s old enough to know about how she was born, she’s going to be impressed,” he said.
For Autumn, a senior at Washington High who has a friend’s mom babysit Maiyah while she’s attending class, the start of the school year in late August brought a flood of inquiries from classmates who told her they’d heard a crazy story that she had to give birth in her bedroom with help from her stepmom and a 911 operator.
“I tell them that’s not a rumor,” Autumn explains. “It sounds wild, but that’s what really happened.”