Thursday, August 02, 2007

Crossing Bridges: Cathy’s Birth Story

They lived in southern Indiana. As the time came close for the birth of their first child, she and her husband made detailed plans for short trip to the hospital across the Ohio River in Louisville: the suitcase was packed with all of those items she believed she’d need plus a list of telephone numbers to call all their relatives and friends to announce the birth. Both of their automobiles were kept topped off with gasoline, just in case one wouldn’t run.

The first labor pains came about fifteen minutes after her husband left on his 45 minute drive to work. Their plan was that she would call him as soon as her labor began; she made the call to his office (this was long before the advent of cell phones) and told his secretary to have him call her as soon as he arrived at the office.

Half an hour later, when she had not received a callback from her husband, she telephoned again. His secretary said he had not yet arrived. Another thirty minutes passed and her contractions were coming at an increased frequency. As a nurse, she knew she should be in hospital now. She telephoned again. Her husband’s secretary informed her that the radio had reported a major traffic jam caused by road construction and an overturned truck in which her husband was most probably caught.

She made a decision: she would drive herself to the hospital in Louisville; with the suitcase in her car, she started out toward the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge that crossed the Ohio River into Louisville. The closer she came to the bridge, the more the panic of her phobia gripped her. She was terrified of bridges—not just the Clark Memorial Bridge, but all bridges. She had never in her life been able to drive across a bridge; someone else had always driven her across bridges, while she kept her eyes tightly closed until the driver would say, “It’s OK now. We’re across.”

Her panic became terror. She could not close her eyes and drive across the bridge. Yet the frequency of the contractions was coming faster and faster—much too fast for a first childbirth. When she was in sight of the bridge she realized that she could not drive across it. She turned off the highway onto a side street and drove toward the center of Jeffersonville. She drove until she saw a taxi; she pulled in behind it, climbed out of her car, forgetting the suitcase, and, barely able to walk as another contraction seemed to roll from her back, she went to the taxi and told the driver she had to get to St. Mary’s Hospital across the bridge in Louisville as soon as possible.

The taxi sped toward the Clark Memorial Bridge as she tightly closed in eyes. The birth began before the taxi made it across the bridge. The driver pulled to the side of the bridge and, with the aid of another motorist, assisted in the delivery her first child, a daughter. At some point in giving birth, she opened her eyes and never again felt panic when crossing a bridge.

The above story is supposedly true. It is the “birth story” of a woman named Cathy with whom I attended high school. I heard it when we shared our “birth stories” in a literature class. Cathy ended the story by saying, “So my mom never knew if I was born in Indiana or Kentucky and I tell people I was born somewhere over the Ohio River.”

For some reason I remembered Cathy’s birth story when I heard of the collapse of the Mississippi River bridge in Minnesota's Twin Cities. I thought about the fear, the horror, the panic which must have gripped those on the bridge and those who witnessed its collapse. And I thought of Cathy’s mother and what a hell it would be if someone with her phobia was in one of those automobiles on that bridge spanning the Mississippi River.

Cathy’s birth story had a happy ending. I pray for the victims of yesterday's crumpling of the Mississippi River bridge in Minnesota's Twin Cities.


  1. That is a great story and my thoughts are also with the people affected.


  2. Minnesota has been on my mind a lot. I watched far too much of the news coverage late last night.

    I'm almost phobic about bridges but living in San Francisco, as I did for many years, I forced myself to cope. Strangely, I was better when I was driving. Control issues maybe?

    Anyhow, after the Bay Bridge partial collapse in 1989 and the pancaking of the Nimitz Freeway (not a bridge across water but it might as well have been) in Oakland, it took me some time before I could drive across that bridge once again.

    I still don't like bridges.

  3. Terrific story, Nick. Funnily enough, I've never given a thought to driving across bridges, even when I've heard of tragedies such as you've had in the US in the past and this week. I don't know, maybe that will change now.

    I do feel for the families of those on and around the bridge and who have not yet been found.

    Responding to your comment on my post of yesterday. I don't think it's energy, Nick. More likely no rest for the wicked.

  4. Interesting birth story. The tragedy on the Mississippi River had best lead to investing some of our wealth in a roads and infrastructure rather than on Chaney’s military adventurism.

  5. That's a very interesting story, Nick. I too have been thinking of the people caught on that bridge as it fell into the river. How terrifying must that have been. I pray for all those who've lost loved ones and for all of those lost.


  6. I've always been very uncomfortable on bridges. I've even plotted alternate routes in Dallas avoid high overpasses.

    I can drive over them if I have to, but I avoid them when I can.

  7. Oh wow, so now Kathy has dual citizenship ... both Indiana and Kentucky! Love the story and I so understand about the bridge thing. Our Mackinaw bridge between the upper and lower peninsula scares the heck out of me and I avoid the Zilwaukee bridge all together. I saw it partially collapse during construction and no thank you.

    My heart goes out for the people from Minnesota. I can not imagine that happening. The only good thing is you get to see the good come out in people as they helped save those around them. Of course you also get to feel the pain of those that were unable to do anything to help too.

  8. What an incredible story, Nick. That must have been so scary for her!!! It's horrible what happened to the MN bridge. For me, I just LOVE bridges- the views that you get and just the fact that you're up so high. Now, being that I live in New York, I have this GREAT fear of the Lincoln Tunnel. That's right UNDER the river. So, I always keep in mind that there is a possibility of it collapsing. I can't breathe when I drive through there-----------I don't think anyone could with all the fumes, but it's just pure panic for me.

  9. I loved the birth story.

    I don't like bridges at all, never have. I can drive accross them, but not without terrible thoughts running away with my brain.

    My hearts are with the victims and the survivors...that was just so awful.

  10. Phew, well, I share her terror of bridges. What a terrific story, Nick.
    My thoughts and prayers are also with the victims. And I can't help but think how much worse those fatalities could have been. Wasn't it something like 50 feet down to the water? My gosh! How terrifying.

  11. I, too, have problems with long bridges. To drive across one, I must keep both of my hands on the steeringwheel and my eyes looking straight ahead.

  12. I've been in the hospital and hadn't heard about the bridge. I too am afraid of bridges. What a terrible thing.

  13. I was out on the road when I heard about the bridge collapse. There are some of my blogger buddies who live in that area.

    I couldn't wait to get to a hotel with internet so I could e-mail them. Of course, they hadn't been able to answer before I had to leave the next morning.

    That night there were no hotels with internet available. That's what happens when you drive through the Canadian Yukon Territory, I guess.

    By late the next night we were able to get internet and found out my buddies were okay. But there are so many other people who were affected by this. So sad.

  14. Good one Nick. Thanks for sharing it.

  15. I didn't know this was a common fear. My sister suffers this same fear of bridges. Nick, I know the bridge on I64 in Frankfort that you spoke of. I avoid that one whenever possible. Detour thru 'town' and pick it back up on the east side!