It was a typical Sunday morning shift for Natalie Lucas, who works as a lifeguard at the YMCA of Northern Colorado. Until, suddenly, a pregnant woman’s water broke on the indoor pool deck.
“This was something I wasn’t prepared for,” said Lucas, 18, who has been a certified lifeguard for three years.
Tessa Rider and her husband, Matthew Jones, were visiting their local Y — about five minutes from their home in Longmont, Colo. — for a swim on July 24. Tessa was nine months pregnant with her third child, and daily swims offered a much-needed reprieve from the stifling summer heat.
“For the later part of her pregnancy she was very uncomfortable, and the only relief she had was when she was in the water and floating,” said Jones, 29.
Rider was a few days past her due date, and she had experienced some mild contractions, “but not anything very clear cut,” she said.
“We knew the baby was coming. We just didn’t know if it was going to be a week, two weeks, or today,” echoed her husband.
It was a particularly hot morning, and once Rider slipped into the pool around 10:45 a.m., “I had Matt toss me a pool noodle, and I remember this sense of complete relaxation,” she said.
But in the span of about 30 seconds, the calm swiftly shifted to chaos.
“All of a sudden, I felt the need to push,” Rider, 29, said, adding that she instructed her husband — who was scrolling casually on his phone on the pool deck — to grab their things and meet at the car.
That plan was quickly foiled when Rider took two steps out of the pool, and “I collapsed onto all fours,” she said, explaining that her water broke after she landed on the ground. Within seconds, she felt a sensation that the baby was coming out “and there was nothing that was going to stop him,” she said.
Lucas — who was the sole lifeguard on duty at the time — sprinted over and saw Jones rubbing his wife’s back while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher.
“We’re having a baby,” he told the very surprised teen.
Before they could give the 911 operator any details, “I realize, the baby is crowning,” Jones said. “I basically threw my phone away.”
“I was like, oh dear god, I am going to be catching this baby on the pool deck,” he continued.
Lucas — who had been trained to help in emergencies, though not this specific type of emergency — sprang into action, doing whatever she could to assist the couple during the frenzied delivery.
“My adrenaline kicked in right then and there,” she explained, adding that she immediately grabbed towels and an emergency first-aid kit, and she used a walkie talkie to alert other staff of the situation. She also asked a man who was swimming laps to call an ambulance.
“She was right there the whole time,” Jones said.
As Rider screamed and pushed — still on all fours and with one hand holding her swimsuit to the side — about 10 bystanders watched in disbelief.
“Everybody was kind of in shock,” said Rider, who is a nuclear engineer, though she is taking time off work to look after her children.
While Jones knelt behind his wife, Lucas tried to ensure Rider was as comfortable as she could be throughout the birthing process.
“I was helping support her head, and the husband was helping guide the baby out,” she said. “I stayed calm, and I didn’t freak out, because that’s what you need to do in this job. You can’t really hesitate or wait for someone else to come. You’re the lifeguard; you’re the lifesaver.”
In a matter of minutes, “I had the baby in my arms,” said Jones, a software engineer. Even though the whole ordeal “was very quick,” he continued, “in my mind, it felt like forever.”
Their son — Tobin “Toby” Thomas Rider – was crying and breathing well, and “I got him on my chest to keep him as warm as I could,” Rider said.
At that point, Lucas sat back-to-back with Rider, to help her stay propped up as she held her seconds-old son. An ambulance arrived shortly after, and paramedics gave baby Toby a clean bill of health.
The couple said Lucas was quick-thinking and calm, intuiting what they needed in real time.
“I would not have traded Natalie for anybody in that situation,” Jones said. “I’m just so thankful that she was a part of that, and that she supported us the way that she did.”
His wife agreed.
“She really played her part perfectly, and was so sweet to us,” Rider said. “I really, really appreciated her being there, and I’m glad she had that experience with us.”
In fact, the couple said that although giving birth at a hospital would have undoubtedly been more private and peaceful than at a public pool, “in some ways, it felt so much more personal and so much more intimate,” Jones said.
Lucas, for her part, said the experience was profoundly fulfilling.
“I’m so glad the baby is OK, and they now have a new addition to their beautiful family,” Lucas said, adding that she feels forever bonded to the couple, and she plans to send Toby annual birthday cards. “I was really happy to help them.”
What was ironic about the emergency situation, Lucas added, was that, as a lifeguard, “you’re trained for death rather than life, so it was a very eye-opening experience.” In this case, rather than preventing death, she was helping to welcome new life.
During her training and certification, Lucas learned how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid and water rescues. Helping someone give birth was certainly not a part of the curriculum.
“In past years, I’ve saved a few kids, but nothing quite like this,” said Lucas, who recently graduated high school and is heading to San Diego State University to study criminal justice in the fall. “To see firsthand how it happens, it was quite amazing.”
The couple spent one night in the hospital and are now home with their new baby boy and two daughters — Lila, 6, and Abigail, 2.
Contrary to the way in which Toby came into the world, “he is very relaxed,” Rider said. “And he is very entertained by his sisters.”
The couple, who have been married about seven years, hope to take Toby to the pool someday soon, to express their gratitude to Lucas and other staff who stepped up to help them during such a critical time.
“It was definitely a rewarding experience to know that I was helping them, and I was a part of this big moment,” said Lucas. “I don’t think it’s something either of us will ever forget.”