By the time Mark and Jennifer Scalise pulled to the side of Interstate 495 in Boxborough to call for help, the couple knew they wouldn't get to the hospital in time to deliver their daughter. The baby's head had begun to emerge, and it was all her father could do to get in position to catch her.
Mark Scalise used his fleece jacket to receive the child on his own. He removed her umbilical cord from around her neck, then called State Police for instructions on how to keep the baby's airway clear. "We make a pretty good team," the couple said to one another in their darkened minivan.
Harper Grace Scalise was born just before 6:30 a.m. Tuesdsay, and it was only after she was in her parents' arms that they had time to worry. It was cold outside, and hard to see in the minivan. The baby girl was crying at first, but then grew quieter.
"It's like the longest few minutes ever," Mark Scalise said in an interview Tuesday. "It just seemed like she was not moving around as much as she should be."
Boxborough EMS officials were on the scene quickly, though, and gave them confidence that the girl was safe. They cut the umbilical cord and took Harper and Jennifer Scalise to Emerson Hospital in Concord.
The Scalises had been headed to Emerson from their Clinton home before the unorthodox delivery. They had brought two boys into the world at Emerson, and woke up Tuesday morning to realize that their baby girl was on the way.
Harper was a bit early — about 38 weeks — but that was no surprise; Jennifer had been having some pre-term contractions, and the family knew they had to be ready to go.
"We were not surprised that it was going to be early," Mark Scalise said. "But when it finally happened, we didn't think it was going to be quite this fast."
Jennifer Scalise said she was surprised by the speed at which her labor developed. But while they were on the road, her previous childbirth experience let her know that she was out of time.
"I knew that my body was going to push the baby out, even if I tried to stop it," she said.
Mark Scalise said he does not have any formal medical training, but does work for a publishing company that creates EMS and fire training materials. That might have helped, he said. Plus, he's seen his other babies born.
"Clearly, she's not going to catch the baby when she comes out. It's going to have to be me," he said. "You don't really have time to get nervous."
With Jennifer and Harper in an ambulance, Mark continued on toward the hospital in the minivan. He watched as the emergency vehicles passed him, and then met his wife and daughter at Emerson.
Harper is a healthy 7 pounds, 6.5 ounces with a full head of black hair. The Scalises' oldest son, Jack, 7, was thrilled to announce in his school bus line that his family had been involved in such an exciting roadside delivery.
As for Jennifer, who works as chief compliance and privacy officer for Orion Health in Boston, she's feeling "very blessed and just surprised."
"I never thought I'd deliver a child on the side of the road," she said.