Shirley Bonanni was overdue with her second child and a snowstorm was on the way. Her husband, Fabian, always the practical type, had a plan.
Because their car struggled in the snow to make it up and down the hill to their Philadelphia home, he bought an inexpensive, neon green sled on Tuesday morning. He figured he could use it to bring Shirley down the hill to the car to go to the hospital if she went into labor during the latest blast of winter weather.
The snow arrived, and so did Shirley's labor. The sled came in handy, but the contractions came on faster than the couple expected.
A calm and collected Fabian delivered their daughter, Bella, on that kiddie sled, in the middle of their street early Wednesday after about a foot of snow had fallen and temperatures felt like minus 15. Bella arrived healthy at about 6:20 a.m., weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
“Never in a million years would I have thought the baby would have come that quickly,” Shirley, 33, told TODAY Moms Friday. “My body just pushed the baby out.”
“It happened so fast,” said Fabian, 37. “She was a trouper. She was tough to do what she did.”
“We’re very lucky and we’re very happy we have a healthy daughter,” he added.
The experience brought Fabian through a blizzard of emotions.
“I felt calm and almost surgical the whole time” during the delivery, he said. “An hour or so later, the adrenalin stopped and I was a basket case. I went from having ice in my veins to pretty pathetic.”
The unusual birth story began when Shirley, who was due Jan. 18, woke up at about 4 a.m. Wednesday with contractions spaced about 10 minutes apart. The couple, both pharmacists, thought they had plenty of time. After all, labor with their first child, 2-year-old Logan, stretched nearly 20 hours.
So Fabian helped Shirley into the shower, called his parents to come mind Logan, and left to get the car and bring it as close to home as he could, about half-way up the hill. When he returned, labor had come on stronger.
“I came back in the house to hear her wailing,” Fabian said. “It went from 10 minutes apart to ‘Oh, she’s going to pop.’”
He helped her onto the sled and down the hill as she let out “primal screams from her toes all the way up through her vocal chords,” Fabian said.
Neighbors woke up and came out to help, and Fabian’s parents arrived as well.
As Fabian reached his car, engine running and Logan inside listening to classical music, he just wanted to get Shirley into the car. “I was ready to go but the new baby had other plans,” Fabian said. “She wasn’t waiting. She was coming.”
“I can’t get up,” Shirley remembers saying. “The baby’s coming right now.”
In the freezing temperatures, Fabian took off his coat so the baby could be kept warm after birth and kneeled down. He removed Shirley’s pants and saw Bella’s head. A neighbor relayed information between Fabian and an emergency dispatcher.
“They were giving me instructions, but I didn’t hear a word of it,” he recalled. “The baby was all Mother Nature in a catcher’s mitt. That’s all you really needed.”
George Leader, a neighbor who was on the phone with 911, said there was barely any time to pass on the information. “It’s was kind of a blur,” he said. “We all just jumped into action.”
Fabian broke the umbilical cord, Bella was wrapped in blankets that neighbors had gathered, and the new father ran the baby up the hill to the house to “grab every blanket and blast the thermostat.”
Leader and several roommates carried Shirley, still on the sled, into their living room to keep her warm until an ambulance arrived and took the family to Temple University Hospital.
“That sled was certainly something, hopefully, they’re going to keep forever,” Leader said.
Shirley and Fabian are thankful to everyone who helped them, especially the neighbors they met for the first time. “I’m really grateful for the neighborhood we live in,” Shirley said.
She is also appreciative of her husband’s foresight in buying the sled, even though she had told him she would never need it.
“Through my first pregnancy, he took care of me well, and this time he was very calm and focused, which helped a lot," she said.
As they prepared to go home Friday, the extraordinary circumstances of her daughter’s birth still hadn’t sunk in.
“I’ve never had any big experience and this was just one of them,” Shirley said. “Every day I’m going to be like, I can’t believe that happened. It’s real and not real at the same time.”