In attending births for nearly a dozen years now, I have perfected the middle of the night dash from the house so I can do it quickly and smoothly. Here’s what I do:
1. Have a full set of clothes, including socks, underwear, and shoes, all ready in a pile somewhere you can grab it quickly and get dressed. I like to stick a ponytail holder in the pocket of the pants so I don’t have to find one. I keep a brush in my car, so in extreme urgency, I can do a quick ponytail at a red light. (And take a cardigan sweater year round – hospitals can be COLD!) This saves you the time figuring out what to wear, what’s clean, etc.
2. Shower cap. Seriously, if you wash your hair daily you can usually get away without washing it in the middle of the night. Take some time on one or two mornings to experiment with ways to fix bedhead without a full wash and style.
3. Brush your teeth before you leave, but eat in the car. Something high in fiber and protein helps you wake up and stay full longer. (And stable blood sugar, which keeps your hands steady.) If you have time brush again when you get there. I carry those Whisp thingies in my purse and also have a full toothbrush and toothpaste in my birth bag.
4. Have your gear packed and possibly in the car every single night before you go to bed. I don’t put my camera gear in the car overnight, but I do have a bag with a book, some granola bars, some cash, etc. that lives in my car. Since I use it often, if I’m taking my camera gear, I pack it up every night and leave it in a handy spot to just grab it. This saves you time thinking about what you need, packing it, etc.
5. Have a map, directions to the birth place, and some cash for parking somewhere handy in your car (I keep it clipped to the sun visor). Saves you time figuring that out.
6. Always, always fill your gas tank when you get to half a tank. Then you’ll never have to take time to stop for gas. Keep your car in good working shape, too. I had a tough time getting to a birth once due to a flat tire. My local garage saved the day by fixing it for me super fast when I explained the situation, and didn’t even charge me for the repair, just sent me on the way with well wishes for the mom!
7. Know the procedures for getting into hospitals after hours. Know where to park, where to get in the building, where you might need to sign in, if they’ll want photo ID so you can have it handy, etc. This saves you wandering.
8. Stay aware of the location of things like construction projects, events that close streets, etc. Have an alternate route in mind even if you don’t know in advance there could be an issue. I had a birth once at a hospital that was smack in the middle of the U shaped route for the SLC marathon, and I lived at the bottom of the U. Fortunately, when she called me to come at 8 am, I already knew the race was in full swing and I knew where there were places I could cross over and get through. I had minimal trouble, but could have wasted a LOT of time wandering looking for access.
I’ve only missed one birth in all these years, and that was a birth I did as a last-minute backup for another doula, when I wasn’t on call and didn’t have stuff ready. I’d have made it if I was prepared!