IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Opera singer details giving birth in the back of a car: 'It was quite peaceful'

Emily Geller Hardman had been preparing for three years for unmedicated labor, but childbirth is full of surprises.
/ Source: TODAY

Emily Geller Hardman, 35, was intent on an unmedicated birth for her second child. But delivering at at a hospital — or even at home— wasn't in the cards for the singer. Instead, she welcomed her daughter in the backseat of her car on a highway in New Jersey.

“My first was a C-section, and since then I've been planning and like preparing myself for an unmedicated birth,” Geller Hardman, who sings opera as well as musical theater, told TODAY. “I've been working for almost three years to try to achieve this and then it happened and it was amazing but it was in a car, which is not planned.”

Emily Geller Hardman had the foresight to bring towels with her for the ride. Emily Geller

Her first-born Wesley, now 3, arrived via planned C-section because he was breech. During her second pregnancy, she busied herself preparing for an unmedicated birth at Danbury Hospital, approximately 45 minutes from her home in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

But at 37 weeks, at a cousin’s wedding in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on May 14, she went into labor. “I was getting a lot of comments about like, ‘Wow, you're gonna dance that baby out’ or ‘dancing induces labor, you know,”” she remembered. Soon after leaving the wedding hall around 10:30 p.m., her water broke.

Geller Hardman knew that contractions could take 12 to 24 hours to really get going, so she and her husband, Travis Hardman, went back to bed. But by 3 a.m., her contractions intensified. They got in the car and headed towards New York.

Text messages between Geller Hardman and her sister-in-law showing the timeline of events. Emily Geller

She used the Gentle Birth Contraction Timer app and tried not to push. But the baby had other plans.

“So I felt the top of the baby's head, and I say, 'there's a head,' and he says 'OK.'" As Hardman tried to pull over, "her entire body just flies out."

Through her extensive research, Geller Hardman believes what happened was something known as fetal ejection reflex, also known as the Ferguson reflex, which is when the body expels a baby without any forced pushing on the mother’s part.

“I was trying not to push because I didn’t want to give birth in the car,” she said. “I wanted to give birth with my midwives, with the doula and, you know, when you’re not in a claustrophobic space on wheels.”

Paramedics brought the healthy mom and baby to a nearby hospital. Emily Geller

As Geller Hardman caught the baby, she discovered she had a girl. Rosemary Claire arrived on May 15 at 5:47 a.m.

“She's out, and she's breathing, she's not crying or screaming but she is breathing,” she remembered. “And so I grabbed a bunch of the towels that I again instinctually just grabbed from the hotel room on our way out and wrapped her up and started rubbing her to try to stimulate her to get her to cry and tipped her over, rubbing her back just trying to let gravity just get any kind of fluids out if there was any mucus or gunk. And we blasted the heat and the car trying to keep her warm, and my husband called 911.”

She says it took about 10 minutes for paramedics to arrive after they were called.Emily Geller

Paramedics arrived to find mom and baby doing well and brought them to Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

When she tells the story now, Geller Hardman said people picture screaming and chaos. But in reality, “it really was quite peaceful,” she said.

Mom and baby doing great.Emily Geller

“Birth happens everywhere, in all sorts of locations, and it's rarely something that we can control. But I think what the most important thing is to try to cultivate and to plan for, to give birth in an environment where you're respected and heard, and you feel safe. No matter what way you give birth,” she said.

“I think that the mind is very powerful, and you're capable of more than you think you are. The power of positive thinking, meditation and breathing can really go a long way.”

CORRECTION (June 30, 2021, 5:06 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Geller Hardman's plans for her second birth. She was planning an unmedicated birth at a hospital, not at home.