Greenbush mom gives birth on Interstate 29
With her mother driving and her husband by her side as she lay in the back of the family van, Annie Henry realized not far out of Greenbush, Minn., that she wasn't going to make it to Fargo to deliver her second child.
"You'd better call for an ambulance," she said.
It was past midnight. Robert Henry dialed 911 on his cell phone, and beeper messages soon went out to Greg Kalka and other crew members of the Drayton (N.D.) Valley Ambulance Service. They scrambled to their rig and raced to meet the Henrys in a convenience store parking lot at the four-way stop in Drayton.
"It was about 12:30 a.m. when we got the call," Kalka said. "A lady was going to have a baby, and they were trying to make it to Fargo.
"We had a good turnout, a good crew. One of our EMT students happened to be a nurse practitioner.
"We were ready."
Plenty of time?
Rob and Annie Henry's first child, 2½-year-old Robbie, had arrived after 34 hours of labor and, even then, had to be delivered by Caesarian section.
"So I didn't think the three hours to Fargo for this one would be an issue," she said.
"I was wrong."
But she never panicked. In addition to her doctor in Fargo, where the Henrys had lived until moving to Greenbush a year or so earlier, she had a "doula" there. The term, from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves," now refers to a trained professional who doesn't assist with the actual delivery but provides emotional and physical support to a mother before and during childbirth.
"She instilled a confidence in us," Annie Henry said. "She helped us understand that it wasn't a 'medical procedure.' It's what your body does. That prepared us.
"I wasn't scared. I felt more excitement than anything, and I really wanted the second birth to be natural. My energy was so consumed with labor that I didn't have time to be scared."
Her mother, Colette Mooney, also was composed.
"I was kind of nervous, but it was one of those things I needed to guide my child through," she said.
But near Donaldson, Minn., Annie started to feel pressure, then pain around the caesarian scar.
"If that popped, I probably had seconds to live," she said. "And by then I didn't think we'd make it to Grand Forks for the birth, let alone Fargo."
The Drayton ambulance stormed into the convenience store lot, lights flashing as it came alongside a van, a woman at the wheel.
"Did you call for an ambulance?" one of the crew shouted.
"No!" the startled woman shouted back before speeding off.
The Henrys arrived in their van moments later.
"We reassured her and loaded her into our rig and headed out onto Interstate 29," Kalka said. "We had the maternity kit out. We were all ready for her."
But the contractions were coming more rapidly, and the Drayton ambulance is certified only for basic life support; crew members aren't able to dispense drugs. By this time, the pain was persuading Annie Henry that she might want medication despite her desire to keep the birth as natural as possible.
The Drayton crew called ahead to Altru Health System in Grand Forks and asked for an ambulance with paramedics to "intercept" them on the way.
Just south of the Oslo, Minn., underpass, the ambulances met. Two paramedics from the Altru rig jumped into the Henrys' van just in time to assist with the birth.
At 12:48 a.m. on Jan. 11, on a wintry night in the very definition of rural America, the baby arrived.
Annie and Rob had decided to wait until the birth to learn the sex of their second child, and Annie wanted to hear it from Rob.
"Almost as soon as the baby was delivered, I kind of came to my senses," she said. "I opened my eyes and I said, 'Don't tell me if it's a boy or a girl! I want Rob to do that!
"And then it seemed like it was quiet forever. It seemed like Rob leaned over me in slow motion and said, 'We ... have ... a ... boy!' "
Matthias David Henry weighed in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces, stretched out to 20 inches and had "lots of blond hair," mom said.
"It was all pretty crazy," dad Rob Henry said. "But it all turned out well."
A happy ride
In its 37 years of operation, the Drayton ambulance service had never before helped bring a baby into the world, Kalka said.
It was more fun, "happier," he said, than many of the calls they get.
"It was pretty exhilarating. We had five people back there, plus the couple. I have three kids of my own, and I've been in the delivery room, but I didn't have to do anything then.
"By the time the paramedics got there, birth was imminent, and they said there was no time for drugs. So they had the baby naturally, which is how she wanted it. She was ready to backtrack a little and asked for drugs, but she got her first wish -- the natural birth."
Annie Henry has nothing but praise for the ambulance crews.
"They were fantastic," she said. "They were very good about listening to me when I didn't want to do what they said" about breathing techniques or how she positioned herself when it came time to push.
"I wanted it dark, but of course they had to have lights in the ambulance, so I kept my eyes closed. The first time I saw a lot of the people was when we met later. But that night their voices were nice and calm. They didn't say anything to scare me.
"If I had to do it again, I would pick the same team. They were great."
Some time after Matthias' freeway arrival, the Henrys brought him back to Drayton.
"They wanted to meet everybody," a still giddy Kalka said. "Annie had us write out what all we did, and they made a videotape and took a big group picture by the ambulance.
"And we all got to hold the baby."