Birth/Rebirth: A Precipitous Birth Story

Henry Lee Raynes Matthews, 3/30/2013, 8 lbs 12 oz

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.

My sister, Leah, holding the baby she delivered.

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.

Photo by Teri Grange



    • I felt like I was reading my own story. With my last child, I wanted a home birth but was unable due to medical conditions. On the day of my aon’s birth, I woke up with contractions 4 minutes apart, but didn’t recognize labor because it wasn’t too painful. An hour later, my husband pointed out that my contractions were 90 seconds apart and we should leave for the hospital. Looking back, I realize I was in transition then. I was shaking and couldn’t breathe during contractions, but I still wouldn’t describe them as very painful. My son was born into his father’s arms less than 2 hours after I woke. Very much like your story, but we were in the truck 2 blocks away from the hospital.

  1. I also love to read birth stories too. Yours made me a little teary because it reminded me in many ways of my son’s birth. I also had complications that sent me, rather unexpectedly and not very pleasantly, from midwives to a ‘high-risk’ OB. I didn’t feel like I got great prenatal care from him, but then he ended up saving my life and my son’s life after I had a placental abruption at 37 weeks. It was a miraculous birth in many ways, but also very difficult for many reasons and it took me a number of years to really process and deal with the aftermath.

    • Wow, I’m so glad you and your son are ok, Jessie. Placental abruptions are so scary!

      It’s amazing how profoundly birth can impact us and effect our sense of ourselves. I haven’t flushed this all the way out but I think the combination of being physically vulnerable as well as the pressure society puts on women to be perfect mothers can really screw with your head. I had a simple, natural, albeit exciting birth with a happy outcome and I still feel a little shell shocked by it. I have a feeling that it will take me a couple of years to really understand and feel comfortable with what happened.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s always nice to know other people get where I am coming from!

  2. In a weird way, I’m glad to hear of your problems with your midwives. Of course I’m not glad you had them but I chose midwives for the same reason you did and also felt the lack of connection. I developed gestational Diabetes also and though by law that meant I had to be under an OB/GYN from then on, my midwives were still able to be with me at the delivery, but I hear stories about the wonderful friendships and powerful connections formed and to be honest, I didn’t have that.

    I’m glad you and the baby were alright. That’s an amazing birth story. Your youngest will get to say “I saw you born!” 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, PDoE! I also thought that I was alone in my experience with midwives. I still think they are great I just didn’t get the experience I was hoping for.

      I have been wondering how much my 2 yr. old remembers about the birth and hoping it wasn’t an upsetting memory for him. Just last week he started talking about how my tummy popped open. He doesn’t seemed traumatized by it so it’s fun that he has a memory if it.

      • I think it you keep telling the story you can both keep it in his memory and guide it so it stays exciting and not scary. It’s a valuable memory, or so it seems to me. My favorite story for a long time as a little kid was my birth story. I remember asking for it over and over and over.

        Your post makes me curious about what form of birth control you have chosen. “The end of birthing” might make for an interesting discussion in conjunction with the birth stories.

  3. I’m grateful for the privilege of “witnessing” each of of your babies’ births on the blog. Every one has made me cry. Just lovely.

  4. Wow, I have never heard a birth story like this. Do you have any idea what happened to make it go so suddenly? It really sounds like your body just said, “Sorry baby, you’re outta here!” Is there any connection to that and the ominous feeling you had before?

    I have a 4-month old and have been obsessed with birth stories for the last few months now. I have so many questions!

    It is really really inspiring to hear you have such knowledge about your body and what it needs. Thanks for sharing this dramatic story.

    • I think there’s some disagreement about what cause precipitous labors. Some people think that it’s just everything working at an optimum. Others think there is some dysfunction of the uterine muscles. The biggest risk factor of having a labor like this is having a previous precipitous birth. My labor with my 3rd child was two hours long so it is not surprising I had another fast birth. If my provider had been paying attention they would have prepared me better for this possibility. I should have been given a birth kit or induced at 38 weeks. As it is, I never even heard the term precipitous birth until after I had Henry.

      I read your birth story and it reminded me a lot of my first labor. Birth is so amazing!

  5. It made me teary, too. I was sorry to learn that the medical professionals you worked with weren’t as caring as you needed them to be, but was so grateful that you were surrounded by loving women–including your sister! I would love to hear “her” birth story.

    I also love your recognition that even the best things in life are often messy and imperfect, because they are, and it can frustrate me. I want them to be clean and the way I pictured.

    And I really love that exultant (and handsome) picture of Henry.

  6. What a beautiful story – I had both tears and joy reading it. Birthing can also bring us so close to our own mortality. What a fabulous picture of your Henry. Thank you for sharing.

    • I love what you said about birth and bringing it close to our own mortality. I think this is why it affects us so powerfully. Thanks for the kind words!

  7. oh, i love this so much. what a beautiful story, and it just reflects the strength i (and i’m sure we all) see in you, brave m.

  8. Your comment about your body being exhausted and worn out rang true for me. I only have three and was not “energized” post-partum, like some women are.

    I was wiped out immediately when I had my third, and I could barely push to deliver the placenta. The entire labor lasted four hours, but I had to hold onto my abdomen for three days for lack of core strength.

    Lovely story. I’m glad you had such a good outcome.

  9. M, I cried when Leah delivered Henry. I love your family and what a bonding experience even though obviously not ideal. In fact, that makes it a more powerful experience to tie you together.

    I love my traditional ob because he really gets to know me as a person and my medical history and I was grateful for him with how scared I was delivering Jack emergency c section. However I have felt loss in my birth stories because my mother couldn’t be there either time. she was the one person i wanted there more than anyone including my dh. I think we as women find strength in other women at those times particularly. I’m glad Leah was there for you in this traumatic and exciting time.

    After this experience you should read “the red tent”. A historical fiction about the family of Jacob from Leah’s daughter’s (dinah) perspective. it is a story about the strength of women forged in the menstrual/delivery/post partum tent.

    Love to you and your sweet family!

  10. Mraynes,
    This post took my breath away. As I was reading it silently to myself, I became teary. It moved me so much that I took a moment, and told my husband to listen as I read it out load to him. Just as you told of Henry’s -jump- into Leah’s hands, I broke in tears again… and so did my husband. What a powerful story. I was surprised, having never given birth, that I connected with your story so powerfully. I think I am somehow a better person because of it, though I don’t know how or why.

    Thank you so much for sharing this– I needed it.

  11. Great way to begin this series. Huzzah! Baby on the floor!

    Favorite moments from your beautifully expressed story:

    “As soon as she arrived I felt a peace and calm that had eluded me throughout the pregnancy.” [Sisters. The End.]

    “Meanwhile I had taken the rest of my clothes off so that Henry could feel my skin and my warmth.” [How you found/felt the critical element in a moment of chaos and just went there. Period. This is how I see you. And the metaphors are endless.]

    “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.” [I can’t begin to express how much I love this image. Or all the reasons why. I love paramedics with all my heart.]

    And I love you.

  12. Stories like yours remind me of how amazingly blessed I am to have given birth in a normal, unmedicated way to four healthy (I was about to say “normal” again, but decided against it) children, attended each time by competent, caring people. The OB who attended my first delivery was an Iraqi woman who had begun her training in a Bedouin tent. By happy coincidence, the nurses on duty for my second delivery were my visiting teacher and her sister-in-law (also a member of our ward). The on-call OB at my third delivery was an arrogant ass, but fortunately he didn’t show up until the last five minutes and we had a marvelous nurse to help us through the hard part. My fourth delivery was attended by two midwives at an otherwise deserted birthing center; I remember hearing kids playing basketball in the street outside through the open windows as labor progressed. No trauma, no drama, but plenty of joy and relief. Thanks for sharing your experience and allowing me to recall mine.

  13. I love this post, mraynes! Thanks for sharing your experience so beautifully.

    Also, if I remember correctly, just a week later, you were acing an exam (like a boss!) in the same room where you had given birth. Can I just say that you’re amazing?

  14. I’ve heard this story a few times and it just doesn’t get old. I’m so happy for all your sister brought the scene. It seems the experience would have been notably different without her. Fine and all, but it is just so much better with her a part of it.

  15. I love birth stories, too, and this one is amazing. Given my history and my mom’s history if I have any more kids I’ll probably be delivering at home, too, planned or not. I’m glad you had the support you needed at hand!

    And seriously, you should get a medal for making it through such a pregnancy. The pains our mothers go through for us.

  16. Beautiful story. I’m so amazed at your calm during the storm. Glad that you understood the message from your body. It’s nice to know you are done.

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