Maria Gonzales thought she had plenty of time to get to the hospital Wednesday morning when the first contractions kicked in.

But when her water broke on the ride down Interstate 26, the baby's head came with it. Several screams and a wrong turn later, Gonzales found herself giving birth to her fourth child in the back seat of a minivan on the Ravenel Bridge.

Hours later, little Sherlyn Turrabiates-Gonzales was dozing comfortably in a private room at Medical University Hospital, weighing in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces. She seemed unfazed by the day's events, but her arrival certainly wasn't the way her mama had planned it.

The 30-year-old mother was due to give birth today, but she knew once the contractions started around 6 a.m. Wednesday that the baby wasn't going to wait that long.

She called the clinic where she had received prenatal care and was told not to worry until the contractions started coming five minutes apart. She decided to start heading to the hospital anyway, to give herself extra time.

Having moved to Hanahan from Mexico less than a year ago, she and her husband, Jesus, didn't exactly know how to get to Medical University Hospital in Charleston. So they stopped in North Charleston along the way to pick up their friend Mery Martinez to guide them.

Everything was going according to plan until the pains got worse. Then, as they entered Charleston, Gonzales' water broke and she felt the baby making an entrance.

Martinez jumped from the passenger seat into the rear of the Plymouth Voyager to help her friend. She reached down and felt the baby's head, followed by her little shoulders.

"I was just screaming. I was worried," Gonzales said through an interpreter. "But when I felt her start to come out, I relaxed. I knew it would be all right."

Behind the wheel, the baby's father was screaming and crying, worried that something would go wrong during the birth, the women said.

Distracted, he mistakenly took the wrong exit off the interstate and raced up the ramp to the Ravenel Bridge, heading toward Mount Pleasant, they said. "He was very scared for the baby, but we calmed him down," Gonzales said.

As the van moved along, the baby arrived into the arms of Martinez, who had never delivered a baby before. She held the little girl face-down to ease the phlegm from her system, then placed her on Gonzales' chest.

The father stopped the van and Martinez jumped out, frantically waving for someone to stop. She dialed 911 and handed the phone to a woman who pulled over to help. "I was so nervous, I didn't know what to say," Martinez said.

Taking the dispatcher's advice, they wrapped the baby in blankets and used a drawstring from a pair of pants to tie off the umbilical cord. About two minutes after the 7 a.m. birth, a police officer arrived, followed by a Charleston County paramedic.

EMS Lt. Raymond Bowers said they made sure the baby's airway was clear, that she was breathing properly and that her color was improving. "They are both doing excellent," Bowers said. "A lot better than we anticipated."

Later in the day, mother and child rested comfortably at the hospital while daddy, a pipe -fitter by trade, was back home watching their three sons, ages 11, 6 and 5. Life was returning to normal, but they will have quite the story to tell Sherlyn one day about her birth.

"I will never forget this day," Gonzales said. "It's just unforgettable."