PHILADELPHIA — “Philly, my baby is coming!”
A young mother-to-be screamed those frenzied words Thursday night inside a packed transit train as it pulled into 15th and Market streets. Moments later, in the arms of a SEPTA Transit Police officer, her baby boy started to do some screaming of his own.
And right behind them, watching the Christmas miracle, was Sunny Ali, a West Philly musician.
“Some people started tearing up, saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” Ali, 29, told the Daily News. “Honestly, I started tearing up a bit, too. I was just so overwhelmed.”
Ali had hopped onto the El at 46th Street, heading into Center City to a family holiday function. The train didn’t seem remarkable to him at the time, nor did the young Asian couple sitting directly in front of him.
But then, slowly, the woman started to make “weird noises,” Ali said.
Just before 6 p.m., as the train was barreling east into Center City, the noises got louder, eventually turning into full-on screams.
By then, other passengers took action: Some sprang up to comfort the woman, some just moved away from her.
When the woman made her famous announcement, Ali said, he had no doubt what was going to happen next.
The people around the woman helped her husband lay her across the train seats, with one fellow passenger cradling her head and whispering reassuringly.
As the train’s brakes screeched into the 15th Street berth, another birth was imminent.
It was about that time that Transit Police Sgt. Daniel Caban was standing at 15th and Market.
He was biding his time, making sure that everything was going smoothly on his quiet Christmas shift, thinking of his wife and daughter at home.
A passer-by told him that a woman was going into labor on the El.
So Caban started walking down to the platform. When he was halfway there, another commuter stopped him.
” ‘Hey, there’s a lady giving birth on that train,’ ” he was told.
“At that point, I just told everyone to ‘get your gloves on,’ ” Caban said.
Officer Darrell James was on the other side of the 15th Street platform when he noticed that the eastbound train had been stopped for some time.
Then he heard Caban’s radio call and rushed over.
When the two got to the train platform – which by this point was crowded with rubberneckers – the woman was splayed out on the seats, doing breathing exercises, both cops said.
The officers pulled down the woman’s sweatpants and found that her placenta and umbilical cord were already visible, Ali said.
The next sight was even more alarming: Junior’s head crowning between his mom’s legs.
After clearing some space for the mom, Caban and James squatted and delivered the baby – it “popped into their hands,” Ali said.
Things were a little dicey when the umbilical cord came out wrapped around the boy’s neck, but the officers quickly freed the newborn.
“There was a language barrier,” Caban said, “so it was hard to communicate through the process.
“But mom made a gesture with her hands like, ‘Give me my son,’ so we passed him over.”
Then, wrapped in his mother’s sweater, the baby boy was handed to waiting paramedics, who took him and his mom to nearby Hahnemann University Hospital, where they remained Thursday night.
“People told me that there would be crazy days like this. They just never said they would be on Christmas,” James joked a few hours later, as he and Caban stood on the same platform where they had helped bring a life into the world on Christmas Day.
With three kids of his own and a pregnant wife at home, James has been through the process before – just never on a crowded subway train surrounded by onlookers.
Both officers described the incident as a “blessing,” a holiday memory that they won’t soon forget.
“When I left this morning for work, I thought I had opened all my presents,” Caban said. “I didn’t realize I had another one waiting for me around 5:53 (p.m.).”
The two were extremely grateful to the passengers who came to the mother’s aid and who were respectful enough to give her some space when asked.
And their boss couldn’t agree more.
“What better day than Christmas to have a baby born?” SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel said.
“We had a lot of cops working tonight with families of their own at home, so to have everyone together to see this happen was great.”
It’s a night that Sunny Ali will always remember, at least every time he gets on the subway.
“I definitely got emotional,” he said. “The fact that it happened at City Hall – such a landmark place to be born – made it even more special.”