A snowstorm, an intuition and the serendipity of neighbors
Recalling their snowy drama are Tracy Kaufman, midwife Annie Rohlin, baby Cash, Pam (the new grandma who performed this special delivery), big brother Beck Rowe, moms Britt and Heather, and Kerri Larkin. More neighbors helped clear snow away for emergency vehicles, and consider Cash to be “Allegheny’s baby.” Photo by Julie Wiatt
by Howard Kohn
Picture, if you will, this scene from December 19, on the evening of the mammoth snowstorm that shut down most goings-on in Takoma Park.
On Spring Avenue a silver-haired, rosy-cheeked woman, the neighborhood nurse and midwife, was watching “Ratatouille” on TV. Two blocks away, on a slick, middle-of-the-road incline of Allegheny Avenue, kids and dads were speeding fast and furious on sleds. Indoors one of the moms was opening the next bottle of wine for a few neighbors.
Then, shortly after nine o’clock, an ambulance and a fire truck appeared at the top of the incline and stopped. Tires churned but went nowhere. At the bottom of the hill there was an emergency they couldn’t get to.
From a blue-painted house, with a Christmas tree shining in the front room, a woman ran out. She was long past decorum. “I’d say pretty close to panic,” recalled Heather Rowe days later, sitting at a long wooden table in the blue house. “If anyone saw her, she was shouting her head off like she had no idea what was going on or what to do.
“That was me.”
Earlier on the day of the storm, though, when her pregnant partner
Britt began experiencing contractions, more than two weeks ahead of her
due date, Heather had had a flash of clear thinking.
sure the pains were no big deal, just false labor,” said Britt
afterward. “But Heather had this insight. Somehow she knew it was the
Heather kept close to Britt’s side. In the early
evening she insisted that Britt check with an on-call obstetrician, and
they put in motion plans to go to Sibley Hospital. They procured
Britt’s mother Pam to babysit for their three-year-old son Beck, and
they alerted a friend, Kerri Larkin, who they sometimes call “Aunt
Kerri” or more kiddingly “Sexy Kerri,” to drive them in her
four-wheeler to the hospital.
Heather continued to worry. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call the squad?”
But Britt had no qualms. “We can make it to Sibley.”
successfully navigated the snowy streets from her house on Greenwood
Avenue about a mile to Allegheny and parked at the bottom of the
sledding hill. Leaving Britt at rest in bed Heather carried a suitcase
to the car. Mark Burlinson and his daughter Ellie were trudging up
with a sled. He asked about the suitcase, and Heather explained.
shovel a path,” Mark volunteered in a cheerleading way, and he signaled
other sledders, who included Roger Schlegel, last year’s surprise
Heather returned to her house, feeling a bit
of reassurance, but it all vanished when she saw Britt collapsed on the
floor, a leg and an arm under the Christmas tree. Britt had gotten out
of bed but managed only a few steps. “She was writhing in pain. It was
hard to remain calm.”
After dialing an emergency dispatcher,
Heather, feeling “dazed” and acting on impulse, announced to the men
shoveling outside, “I think the baby is coming.”
Mark told his daughter, “Go get Mommy.”
Kaufman, who is Mark’s wife and who has an impressively large I-phone
directory, was in her living room, uncorking a vintner’s special for
the indoor crowd. “We all sobered up immediately,” she said afterward.
As soon as Tracy took stock of the situation, she asked Heather, “Should I call Annie?”
“Who is she?”
“She’s a midwife. A couple blocks over.”
“Yes, yes, please!”
Rohlin, who has been a midwife for 13 years, answered Tracy’s call,
switched off a cartoon movie, pulled on boots, threw on a coat, yelled
“I’ve got to go” to her two teenage sons, slammed the door behind her,
faced a fresh wind and broke into a galloping gait. If it seems an
exaggeration to say that Annie, no spring chicken, was hoofing it at
top speed Tracy would disagree: “It was like I’d just hung up, and she
magically appeared.” And Heather would say, “I swear it was only 30
Had Annie not, in her haste, forgotten Heather and
Britt’s address she might have reached the house even faster. Instead
she shouted to everyone on the street, “Which house? Which house?”
this time the festive atmosphere on the hill had given way to nervous
pandemonium. The emergency crews were trying to find traction for their
stalled vehicles. Two firefighters dug frantically toward hard
pavement. Mark had approached and, with some impatience, encouraged
them to walk the rest of the way.
“Please, sir, try to be calm,” a man in charge said, but then the paramedics did decide to abandon the ambulance.
those moments, as Annie and the paramedics hurried down and as Heather
and Tracy stood on the sidewalk and motioned, Britt gave birth by the
tree. Only Pam, her mother, was with her. Pam is a nurse but had never
delivered a baby. She crouched next to Britt and held the little boy
scant inches off the floor. She implored, “Cry, baby, cry!”
came through the open door and later gave this account: “Pam couldn’t
lift him up because the umbilical cord was extra short, and there was
blood everywhere. It was like a barn, the wind blowing in. But he was
pink and screaming and very much alive.”
The medical work at
hand was quickly divided. The serenely good-natured Annie tended to
Britt, who, after her first childbirth, had scared the doctors by
hemorrhaging badly. “The firefighters helped, and we very carefully
took out the placenta.”
A snow clog still on one foot, Britt
whispered and beckoned anxiously for her glasses. Her voice got louder
until the glasses were found and she could gaze at her baby, already
named Cash, after Johnny-the-Man-in-Black.
Outside, the smoothly
packed trails of the sledding hill were being cleared away. With
spectacular enthusiasm Mark, Roger and other neighbors opened the
street, and the fire truck and ambulance rolled to the blue house.
Bundled up, Cash and Britt were sirened to Washington Adventist
By all that is holy, the next day’s news does not
belong in this narrative, and yet it must be reported. Out of the blue,
with no warning, Britt and Heather learned from the hospital doctors
that Cash has Down syndrome. “It sent us reeling,” Heather said.
“Hadn’t we been through enough?”
Several days went by, then
weeks, and on the morning of January 23, bright and sunny, the two
moms, accompanied by a photographer, took Cash into their front yard of
the home that’s been theirs since May of 2006. They had moved here
from the District after a long, frustrating search for four affordable
walls inside Takoma Park, after, in fact, giving up the search, only to
happen upon this modest treasure on Allegheny Avenue with a blue face,
a pillared porch and rows of sunlit windows.
directed Britt and Heather to hold Cash and pose against a stone wall.
Their Christmas tree lay a few feet away, finally discarded. They had
kept it in the front room, watered and ornamented well beyond its
prime. “It was a reminder of that night, which was so incredible,”
“What we’ve realized is that Cash is also incredible
and special,” Heather added. “It’s going to be hard for him, and hard
for us, no question, but we’re so happy to have him.”
photographer was giving more directions – “Move there, okay, yes” – but
was talking now to “Aunt Kerri” and Pam and Mark and Tracy and their
daughters and Annie and Roger and his wife Sasha and their kids and a
few more from the shoveling gang. Heather and Britt had invited them to
be part of a group photo, and everyone had shown up.
standing on the sidewalk, watching the ambulance pull away. It was
such a good feeling, and I know we were all thinking that Cash is our
baby, too,” Tracy said. “He’s Allegheny’s baby.”
“What happened is amazing,” Heather said. “It’s an amazing story.”
“And an amazing baby,” Britt said.