Interviewing NFI ‘roadside midwife’ Mike Hawthorne

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Mike HawthorneHow many roadside midwives do you know? Such is the unlikely description that can now be appropriately applied to NFI driver Mike Hawthorne, of Somerdale, N.J. Since I wrote about him several weeks back, the driver, who delivered the third newborn baby of his hauling career in late March, has been back at work delivering much less dramatic freight in his primary trailer/tractor relocation hauling niche with NFI and their maintenance department. The steady-as-she-goes approach Hawthorne takes to his day-to-day, though, is of a piece with the quality of a sort of bold humility I sensed in the driver during a recent interview. In my mind, it’s exactly that which facilitates the king of heroic action he’s seen so much of during his career. Following is his direct account of his latest birthing, in large part from the source himself:

It happened around 2 a.m. on westbound Interstate 30 well northeast of Dallas, where Hawthorne had pulled off on an exit ramp and was checking the chains holding down a service van he was transporting to NFI’s Waxahachie, Texas, location.

“I pulled over and, after about a minute and a half to two minutes checking my chains,” Hawthorne says, “I walked around the front of the truck to open my driver-side door and saw the father running by the backside of my trailer asking me not to go anywhere.”

His first thought: As in any such situation, he “didn’t know what to expect,” he says, “didn’t know if this would be a setup or what.”

Quickly, however, he realized it was no con or joke. “As soon as he said his wife was in labor, I said, without hesitation, ‘I’ll grab my phone,’” all the while thinking “this can’t be happening to me again.”

When he couldn’t get any phone service, Hawthorne grabbed his birthing kit. You heard right: this driver comes prepared. Hawthorne, who early on in life learned the basics of baby delivery from his mother and grandmother, both midwives, has kept such a kit on-hand at all times on the road since the first, 1999 baby he delivered outside the TravelCenters of America location in Ontario, Calif.

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In the kit, you’ll find sharp, sterile scissors, rubbing alcohol and alcohol swabs, plenty of clean water, a small suction device to clean mucus from the child’s mouth to ensure easy breathing and a pair of latex gloves, as well as a clean white shoestring for tying off the umbilical cord.

Fortunately, he didn’t need the shoestring or scissors in this latest incident. Police on the other side of the highway noticed the commotion, turned around and radioed for an emergency medical unit when the situation became clear. “The baby was born before the medical units arrived,” says Hawthorne, but “I was able to hear the sirens in the background as they came. I cleaned up the child with the water I had. I wrapped it in a towel and set the baby on the mother’s belly,” leaving the umbilical cord to the professionals.

And Hawthorne was on his way. The next day, he called in to his boss to tell him about the unscheduled delivery, leaving a message that only said he had something to tell him.

Meanwhile, new father Jack Smith was a step ahead. In all the commotion, Smith had not actually managed to get Hawthorne’s name. Remembering the company insignia on his tractor, however, Dallas resident Smith found NFI’s area office and taped a note of thanks to the dispatch office door. One thing led to another, and when Hawthorne finally got his boss live on the phone, he said, “I bet I know what you need to talk to me about. Is this baby number three?”

Two-time (1999 and 2000) Truckload Carriers Association Highway Angel Hawthorne says he’s not planning on delivering a fourth, but “if I’m in the right spot, I’ll do it again. I like helping people out, and if I’m there in the time of need, I don’t hesitate. I act before I think.”