Here’s the scenario: You’re in a Turkish hotel, giving birth. You don’t think that anyone in the area speaks English, you’ve never given birth before, and you’re absolutely positive that the baby’s not going to wait another second. What do you do?
For Tia Freeman, the answer was obvious: Get on YouTube. With some help from the internet, she recently gave birth to her first child, Xavier Ata, alone in a hotel bathroom.
About 1.5 percent of U.S. women give birth in locations other than hospitals, per a report from Reuters Health. But many of them do so by choice, according to Karly Nuttall, a home birth midwife—they do it to keep control, to maintain body autonomy, to curate a comfortable setting. Tia did it out of necessity.
We spoke with Tia and Karly to find out what it’s really like to give birth in a strange place—and what every woman should know if she finds herself in that position.
1. In desperate situations, you might not think to call a hospital.
As soon as she arrived in the hotel, she started prepping. We asked Tia why she didn’t call a hospital right away.
“I thought about it,” she says, “but from the limited amount of time I’d been in Turkey—there were so few people who spoke English, and I didn’t know any Turkish other than ‘Thank you’ and ‘Okay.’ That was a factor. I also knew that each country had a different 911 number, and I didn’t know that number in Turkey.”
She also had practical concerns.
“I didn’t know how my insurance was going to work overseas,” she says, “and on top of that, he was coming so quickly. My contractions were, like, back-to-back at this point. I didn’t think I was going to make it to a hospital anyway, so I said, ‘Well, I guess we’re just going to have to figure this out.'”
“If a pregnancy is not planned and a baby is coming fast, sometimes people can’t get to the hospital in time,” says Karly. “A birth under three hours is a precipitous labor, and usually that means that there are no complications. Sometimes, the baby may need a little assistance breathing because it can be shocking for them, but more often than not, if a woman is having a rapid birth, usually everything is fine.”
2. A bit of guidance goes a long way.
After she realized that she was giving birth, Tia looked up tutorials on YouTube.
“In true millennial form!” she says. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I was like, ‘Well, the internet’s got my back. YouTube, Google—one way or another, I’m going to figure this out.'”
She boiled shoelaces in her hotel room’s teapot (Tia tells us that most Turkish hotel rooms have teapots), grabbed towels, and ran water in the bathtub. The shoelaces would tie off the umbilical cord, at which point she could cut through it with a sterilized pocket knife.
“I was like, ‘Alright, this should get the job done.’ I put the towel in my mouth to muffle out the screaming—because the only labor I’d known was what I saw on television, and those women always look like they’re going through hell and high water.”
Tia was preparing to “freebirth” it—she was delivering her own child, on her own, without any sort of assistance whatsoever. While, spoiler alert, everything worked out in her case, Karly recommends against that practice.
“If you are birthing at home with a midwife, they will have proper training and education,” she says. “There are three common types of complication that can happen out of hospital: hemorrhage, shoulder dystocia, and infant resuscitation. Midwives are trained and have all of the same equipment to deal with these situations. Our best tool is our ability to observe and know when something is no longer low risk and make the call to transfer if necessary.”
3. Ultimately, your body knows what to do.
As Tia began giving birth, she had a brief moment of panic.
“So I’m groaning into this towel and pushing, and I’m like, ‘Why is this baby not coming out? Where’s my epidural? How did I get into this situation?'” Tia recalls.
“And then, finally, I’m guiding his head, because I know not to pull. Suddenly, he just comes popping out into the water and floats to the top,” she recalls, laughing. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s a baby!'”
We asked Karly what women should know if they find themselves in the same situation. The short answer: Relax and let your body take over.
“Stay calm and realize that is a normal and natural process,” she says. “Mothers usually know what to do instinctively. You want to deliver the head as slow as you can. You want to keep the baby warm, you want to help stimulate the baby to breathe if they are not doing so on their own with rubbing or a quick puff of air.”
Of course, the safest option is to have a midwife or doctor nearby.
4. Cutting the cord can be pretty traumatic.
After the delivery, Tia successfully clamped and cut the cord. That was the first time she felt afraid.
“‘What if I cut the wrong thing?'” she remembers thinking. “‘This isn’t a game of Operation, this is the real deal. It’s game time.'”
Karly notes that this can be a tricky part of the process.
“You want to let the umbilical cord pulse until it’s finished,” she says. “Don’t touch it or do anything to it.”
Per the American Pregnancy Association, the umbilical cord doesn’t have to be cut immediately; in fact, one study found that babies whose cords were clamped more than a minute after delivery had greater iron storage three to six months after birth. However, those babies also required more phototherapy due to jaundice.
If you find yourself in Tia’s situation, you’ll want to clamp and cut—but take your time, don’t panic, and wait for the pulsing to stop before you reach for those scissors.
5. If you can give birth in a Turkish hotel room, you can do just about anything.
Amazingly, Tia didn’t panic at all during labor, and while she admits that the experience seems scary in retrospect, she remembers feeling fairly calm.
“I just thought, ‘What’s step one? Water birth, I saw that somewhere on the internet. Okay, step two: What position do I get in? On to step three.’ And the whole time, I’m talking out loud to myself. I probably sounded crazy to the person in the next room, but I was just trying to coax myself through it.”
“And I’m on the internet this whole time. The internet’s like, ‘Don’t push until your contractions are two minutes apart,’ and I’m like, ‘Psh, I’ve got a timer, I can do this. My iPhone has prepared me for this.'”
6. Flight authorities ask a lot of questions if you suddenly show up with a new baby.
The consulate authorities asked her how she’d boarded a plane in her third trimester.
“I didn’t really know the official rules regarding who can’t fly, but no one ever asked. No one ever told me I couldn’t—in their defense, though, I didn’t really look pregnant.”
Airlines typically prevent women from flying in the last several weeks of their trimester without a doctor’s note, but some airlines don’t have any policies whatsoever. According to the CDC, the typical cutoff date is 36 weeks into a pregnancy.
“At no point did anyone chastise me or anything, but they had a lot of questions,” Tia says. “They kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you did this.’ And I was like, ‘I barely believe it myself.'”
Tia answered dozens of questions to prove that the baby was actually hers, then filled out paperwork for a United States birth certificate. Xavier received an emergency passport.
Xavier, by the way, is doing well.
His middle name, “Ata,” references the unusual circumstances of his birth.
“It’s Turkish,” she tells HealthyWay. “I kinda just got it from the ladies that were helping me at the airport. They were like, ‘Oh, he needs a Turkish name, he needs a Turkish name!’ And I was like, ‘Well, I think I can do that.'”
Ata is both the name of the city where Tia gave birth and a reference to the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
“If you’re planning on traveling later in a pregnancy, pack a baby-go bag,” she says, “even if you’re super early and you don’t think that you baby’s coming. Babies come on their own time! If you do end up going into labor somewhere where you can’t get to a hospital—say you’re stuck at traffic or you’re at home and you can’t get to a phone—deep breaths.”
“I know, it sounds very cliché. Breathe and focus, and your body and your instincts will take over.”