Homebirth was not the plan

    JJ Shirley gives birth to her third son

    JJ Shirley gives birth to her third son

    What do you get when you mix contractions, a snow storm, and stomach virus? A Philly couple found out.

    It had been a hectic few weeks. JJ Shirley was in the homestretch of pregnancy with her third child, and she and her husband Raphael Cunniff had just moved into a new house. Shirley had been through giving birth twice before without complications, so she was taking a relaxed approach to things this time around. “I didn’t have newborn diapers, I just wasn’t quite ready,” she recalled.

    A stomach flu, and a snow storm

    A few days before her third son, Declan, was born, Shirley and her two older sons, Xavier and Shane, had had a terrible stomach flu and fever. “Then on a Sunday, I started early labor, but it was mild and manageable.” Since Shirley had been in labor for many hours with her other sons, she figured she still had time. And, she had lots of help around the house. “My mom was here, my mother-in-law, Cathy, and my best friend, Diane.” Then it started snowing, and, Shirley’s husband started to feel very ill.

    “Around 7:00, we were eating dinner, and I was so sick I couldn’t finish my food. I had the shakes, and was in and out of the bathroom,” Cunniff recalled. “I certainly couldn’t have gone anywhere.”

    Shirley watched the Oscars, and when she went upstairs to bed, she discovered her husband in the grips of terrible fever chills. At the same time, her contractions were becoming more intense. She thought about calling the birthing center where she had had both of her sons, but figured Cunniff couldn’t go anywhere. “So, I went to bed, and I half slept through contractions for an hour or so,” she said. Then she got sick to her stomach, and knew she was in the late stages of labor.

    The baby is coming right now!

    Cunniff was still in very bad shape. “I could get up without shaking, but I felt horrible, and I thought, ‘It’s snowing, I’m so ill, JJ, just don’t be in labor,'” he said laughing. Shirley and Cunniff started to walk down the stairs, and at the bottom of the staircase, Shirley’s water broke. Her mother-in-law Cathy was trying to calm her down and told Cunniff to call 9-1-1.

    “So I go to the kitchen, because it’s far too loud where we were, and start calling 9-1-1,” said Cunniff. “I said ‘we’re having a baby here, I think. Probably right now, and they said, ‘Okay.'” As Cunniff walked back to the staircase, he could hear that the baby was about to be born.

    “JJ is screaming ‘the baby is coming NOW!’ And my mom is behind her sort of acting like a birthing stool, saying, ‘No no no…you don’t need to push!’ And JJ is screaming, ‘The baby is coming now, take off my pants!'” Cunniff and the couple’s moms struggled to get Shirley’s pajama pants off, and as soon as the pants were off, Cunniff could see the baby’s head crowning. “So I was like, ‘Wow, we’re having this baby right now.'”

    Shirley said she and her husband had recently completed a refersher course on birthing, and he remembered to check the umbilical chord to make sure it was not wrapped around the baby’s head. “Two more pushes and he was born, right into Raphael’s feverish hands,” she said.

    Waiting for the ambulance

    The group anxiously waited for the ambulance, which arrived about a minute after Declan was born. “There were some hairly moments there,” said Cunniff. “It seemed like Declan wasn’t breathing, he didn’t cry. The ambulance arrived, and we’re screaming, ‘Move faster, baby is not breathing right!'” Declan was fine, though.

    “He eventually cried and started breathing, it was probably just a few seconds, but it seemd a lot longer,” said Shirley.

    Shirley said the female paramedic asked her to get up and get to the ambulance, but she told her that the placenta hadn’t come out yet. “She asked me, ‘Are you going to reach in and get it?’ I had presence of mind to say, ‘It gets born,’ and then right there, it was born, and the paramdeic jumped back in surprise and shock.”

    Cunniff said his wife walked unsteadily out of the house, wrapped in a white blanket, holding their baby. “The doors  [of the ambulance] opened, and JJ walked out into the snow, dripping blood, it was like a scene from The Shining.”

    The couple and Declan spent a few days in the hospital—everybody was fine. Both their mothers became ill with the same stomach flu in the hours after Declan’s birth, but recovered quickly. Contractors removed the blood stains from giving birth from the staircase.

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