When Carmen and Mike Matthews married on May 1, 2010, they immediately began trying to have a family. Things didn’t go quite as planned, however, so the couple decided to begin fertility medications. Carmen took these medicines for more than a year until she discovered she was pregnant in early February.
Little did she know what was in store. During a very early ultrasound at just a few weeks gestation, doctors discovered three heartbeats. The next week, there were five little hearts beating on the ultrasound screen.
“I didn’t cry,” says Carmen. “I was just in shock, in a daze. I didn’t know what to do with myself all that day.”
The doctors informed the Matthews of their options, which included selective reduction, a procedure to remove some of the fetuses to give the others more of a chance at survival.
“I knew that this was the doctor’s job, to give me the option, to tell me the risks,” says Carmen.
Having already suffered two miscarriages while on fertility medications, Carmen and her husband were decisive on their babies’ fate.
“We knew that selective reduction wasn’t an option for us,” Carmen says. “These babies were in God’s hands. It was up to Him if they survived.”
Because of the nature of their pregnancy, the Matthews were secretive at first. There was a chance that all or some of the babies would not survive, so they did not tell many people at first.
What they did do is contact fellow parents of high-order multiples. They were told about Dr. John Elliot, a perinatologist (high-risk obstetrician) in California, and Mike began doing research. The couple contacted him and had a two-hour conversation that first night. The doctor gave them statistics and a plan to make the pregnancy a success. He gave them hope to go forward.
“I knew we had to go see him, but I didn’t know how we could make it work,” says Carmen. “In the end we knew if we had problems with the pregnancy or the health of our children we would always question our decision not to go.”
At 18 weeks pregnant, Carmen moved to California. Her father came with her, but Mike had to remain behind. But at her first appointment, Dr. Elliot told Carmen he was moving his practice to Arizona. Carmen and her father moved again, following him to his new practice.
At 20 weeks, Carmen didn’t feel right. She called Dr. Elliot’s office and was told to come in.
“I didn’t want to be a nuisance to the office by calling, but I knew something wasn’t right,” she says.
Carmen’s hunch was right — she was in pre-term labor. She was hospitalized and underwent a procedure to stitch her cervix shut. Afterward she was put on immediate bed rest.
Carmen was worried, but she trusted Dr. Elliot.
“The national average for multiple births is 28 weeks,” says Carmen. “His is 33. He had faith in himself and in me. He gave me hope.”
The couple stood firm in their faith and the knowledge that they were being prayed for.
“We said a lot of prayers and had a lot of people praying for us,” Carmen says. “From my parents’ church to my friends in Raleigh, we were on prayer lists. People we didn’t even know prayed for us. It was amazing.”
Carmen’s pregnancy held steady until 28 weeks, when she was hospitalized for decreased blood flow to baby D. At this point she was also dealing with gestational diabetes and toxemia — pregnancy-induced hypertension.
“I was on steroids to develop the babies’ lungs, but the steroids made my blood sugar shoot up,” she says. “I was on oral medications to stop labor and an insulin drip to control my blood sugar.”
Through all of this, Dr. Elliott was confident he could get the babies to 33 weeks. Carmen was doubtful — she hadn’t dared hope for more than 28 weeks. She prayed he was right.
The last six weeks of her pregnancy were a challenge.
“My back hurt so badly,” says Carmen. “My abdomen hurt. It was difficult to move or to lift my legs.”
The separation from her husband was another challenge she had to face.
“It was very hard,” says Carmen. “He was able to fly back and forth, but it was hard. My dad was with me, so at least I wasn’t alone. But I wanted my husband and my mom.”
When Carmen’s pregnancy hit the 34-week mark it was time for a big birthday party — times five! The babies entered the world on September 6 via C-section at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona. Lorna Brenn weighed 4 lbs. 3oz.; Layton Cooper, 4 lbs. 13 oz.; Carleigh Sue, 3 lbs. 10 oz.; Eason John, 3 lbs. 12 oz.; and Rucker Mitchell, 2 lbs. 2 oz.
The Matthews had rented an apartment in Mesa to care for the babies as they left the NICU. Carmen’s mom and dad were with her the whole time, with Mike flying back and forth when he could.
“We took turns going back and forth from the apartment to the NICU to see and care for the babies who were either home or still hospitalized,” says Carmen.
The Matthews still had the problem of getting the babies back to North Carolina. All of the babies had been released from the hospital except Rucker, who was still in the NICU.
“We didn’t know how we would get them back,” says Carmen. “So we prayed.”
Their prayers were answered when a company called Angel MedFlight donated their services. On October 10, the Matthews Miracles came home in a Learjet equipped with nurses and medical equipment for Rucker. The Matthews family landed safely at Wilmington International Airport, where friends and family waited to meet them. Rucker was hospitalized for another three weeks at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
Getting the house ready for five babies was yet another challenge.
“We didn’t buy anything before I went to Arizona,” says Carmen. “We didn’t know if we would be bringing any babies home. So we waited. As I got further along, we began to gather things. So many people have given me car seats and cribs and things. It’s been great.”
These days, life is a jumble and a blur of feedings, bathing and dressing.
“It’s chaos most of the time,” says Carmen. “The living room is cluttered with swings and bouncy chairs. I’m always doing laundry. Bath time is an assembly line with one undressing, one washing, one diapering, one applying lotion and one dressing and preparing for the next feeding.”
Amazingly, the babies are healthy except for a little reflux.
“They are on a four-hour feeding schedule right now, and we are doing three different kinds of formula,” says Carmen. “Rucker needs one with higher calorie content, the girls need milk based, and the other boys need soy. So each night Mike and I make formula up for the next 24 hours.”
Family and friends have stepped in to help care for the babies, especially since Carmen has already gone back to work.
“We have somebody who is with them all night, who does the night feedings,” Carmen says. “My in-laws are here Sunday through Thursday. My mom is here on the weekends. Friends come by to do a feeding or love on the babies.”
In the end, the Matthews story comes down to love. It is about prayer and belief and holding tight to the things that you know to be true.
“We want the babies to know, above all, how much they were wanted,” says Carmen. “How much they are loved. And how much we thank God for them.”