I am an unapologetic lover of birth stories. I love hearing them and I love sharing my own. I have four children and I have written many times about the aspects of three of those births. My last child was born nine months ago and I have yet to write anything about it. In fact, I am not sure I ever would have unless Spunky asked me to tell the story for this series. Birth stories can be painful; they can trigger traumatic memories, insecurity about our bodies, and sadness over the loss of a child or not having children. These are all valid feelings and I want to apologize if my story causes these emotions for any of you.
It has taken me months to sort through my feelings about my last birth. It was a difficult pregnancy. I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies and had controlled it through diet, exercise and medication. It was discovered, in the last pregnancy that I would ever have, that the diagnosis had been wrong and that I am actually a Type 1 diabetic who, hopefully, only exhibits symptoms in pregnancy. It was a hard diagnosis to receive, my mother is a Type 1 diabetic and her disease had a profound impact on my childhood. If I had been properly diagnosed in previous pregnancies I would have known that each successive pregnancy increased my risk of remaining a Type 1 diabetic, a reality that probably would have affected my decision to have more children.
Because of my Type 1 status I was required to take insulin injections which meant that the midwives I had chosen for my prenatal care refused to continue caring for me. Because of their insurance requirements my high risk status made it impossible to continue seeing them. Unfortunately, they were incredibly rude and uncaring about my feelings, what I was going through and the care I needed. They treated me as if I was a burden on them and as soon as they had the opportunity they pushed me off onto a general ob practice. Though I was under constant monitoring at this practice, going to the hospital three times a week and hooked up to machines for hours at a time, my prenatal care was impersonal and shoddy. If I had a provider who had actually cared enough to look at my history I would not have ended up with the dangerous birth I had.
I share this history because it is important to acknowledge the complexity of our experience. The birth of my son was exciting and memorable, filled with moments of beauty and grace. Sharing the moments of darkness not only helps me to paint the beautiful moments in greater relief but also shows that life is never perfect, that it is always messy and traumatic and wondrous.
My sister flew in three days before my due date to help with the older children and take care of me as I recovered. As soon as she arrived I felt a peace and calm that had eluded me throughout the pregnancy. She watched my children that evening so that mr. mraynes and I could go out and connect before the birth. I went to bed that night feeling safe and nurtured, but with no sign that birth was imminent.
I woke up at 5:45 a.m. with a feeling that something wasn’t right. Having had three unmedicated births, I know what labor feels like and this was decidedly not it. I got into the bathtub thinking it would help soothe away the ominous feeling. After a few incredibly painful contractions around 6 a.m. we decided to go to the hospital. I was Strep B positive and I needed to be attached to IV antibiotics for four hours before the baby was born. My last labor had lasted only two hours, however, and I was not hopeful that this one would be longer. We woke up my sister, called a friend from our ward to come sit with our other children, and got ready to go. Around that time my 6 and 2 year old sons woke up. I turned on cartoons to keep them distracted while I dealt with the intense surges. At 6:10 I had a contraction that sent me to the floor and broke my water. As my sister stroked my hair and rubbed my back I told mr. mraynes that I didn’t think we were going to make it. His memorable reply: “No! We are having this baby in the hospital!”
My husband went to pull the car around and my sister helped me to the door. I had my hand on the doorknob when another contraction hit and I felt my baby’s head emerge from my body. I calmly told my sister that his head was out and that we were going to have the baby on the living room floor. Leah yelled to mr. mraynes that the head was out and helped me down. She took off my leggings and I heard my husband telling the 911 dispatcher that the cord was wrapped around the babies neck. I desperately tried to keep my body from pushing but with the next contraction the rest of his body was out. At 6:20 a.m. on March 30, 2013, Henry Lee Raynes Matthews was delivered into my sister’s hands.
I never pushed. I never crowned. The whole labor and delivery lasted 20 minutes.
It was a mad dash after that. 911 told mr. mraynes that both the baby and me were likely to go into shock because the birth had happened so quickly. Thankfully, Henry seemed to suffer no serious consequences from the wrapped cord. My sister and husband ran around desperately looking for towels and blankets to keep us warm. Meanwhile I had taken the rest of my clothes off so that Henry could feel my skin and my warmth. My dear friend arrived in that moment to find me naked on the living room floor with a wrinkly, red baby lying on my chest. Her arrival was a moment of grace. I was in shock from what had happened and though I was calm, her presence anchored me to reality. When she walked through the door I could feel and see her love. She came to me with no judgement on my vulnerable situation, just love, concern and amazement. She picked up my poor two year old son who had witnessed the whole thing and was dazed by the craziness and gave him the love and attention he needed in that moment where I couldn’t.
The paramedics came and were completely un-phased by the image that greeted them as they walked in. Indeed, they seemed happy that the baby was already born and that they didn’t have to deliver it. They laughed and joked as they checked our vitals, cut the cord (without asking if mr. mraynes wanted to), covered us up in more warm blankets, put me on a gurney, and took me on my first ambulance ride. The hospital staff were wonderful but completely confused as to why I was there. They thought I had planned a home birth and then chickened out at the last minute. The emergency room staff checked us out and determined that we were fine and then sent us up to the labor and delivery ward where the on-call doctor delivered the placenta and stitched me up. Because I did not get the antibiotics we had to stay in the hospital for two days, which was ironic but fine. I found myself telling the story over and over again; nurses would come to my room to hear it and would then exclaim how lucky we were that nothing bad had happened and congratulated my sister on her first delivery.
It’s a great story, one that will follow Henry around for the rest of his life. In fact his middle name is Lee in recognition of the amazing woman who brought him into the world. This story has a happy ending but I know that we got lucky. There are so many things that could have happened and we were completely unprepared for all of them. When people ask about it I tell them that it felt like my body pushed the eject button and said, “I’m done! Please don’t do this to me again.” I remember after the birth of my first child, a 10 lb. baby, my body felt so strong and powerful. Now it feels tired. I am listening to my body and won’t have anymore children, something I can only describe as bittersweet.
The irony of this birth story is that I always wanted to have a home birth but was not allowed to because of my medical condition. In my pregnancies I chose midwives to deliver my babies because I wanted to connect with other women during the labor, but that never really happened either in my other three births. I got both of the things I had really wanted to experience in the birthing process, just not in the way I thought they would happen. Having a baby on the living room floor is not ideal but thankfully it was hardwood and had been mopped recently. The birth wasn’t calm or idyllic, but it was exciting which is also good. More importantly, the birth of my last child gave me a deeper connection with two of the most important women in my life.
My final birth story is one of love, struggle, adventure, and grace. It was a good way to end.