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Duluth family thankful for neighbors, responders for help with unexpected home birth

Neighbor Pam Syring (from left), son Gavin Jakubek, 3, daughter Natalia Jakubek, 5 days, mother Heather Painter and father Justin Jakubek in the family’s kitchen where Natalia was born with the help of her father and Syring. (Steve Kuchera /

Natalia’s parents joke that their newborn’s future “timeout” spot has been preordained. It’s right there, and they point to a spot on the tile floor under a corner of the kitchen table.

Because that’s where Natalia was born a week ago.

Five days after the improbable birth, Heather Painter and Justin Jakubek were still in awe over what transpired in their cozy home in Gary-New Duluth. They told their story Monday in rapid-fire staccato with accompaniment from next-door neighbor Pam Syring, who became an early-morning midwife of sorts on April 16.

The contractions were coming two minutes apart, and Painter knew that time was short. It was just after 4 a.m.

“Oh boy, this is getting real. This is happening,” she said, recalling her thoughts.

She had been told that her second baby might come quicker than her first. Gavin was a 13-minute labor three years ago. Natalia was six days overdue. Painter wondered what could be quicker than 13 minutes.

“Evidently a kitchen floor birth is quick,” she said with a laugh.

By 4:30 she rousted Jakubek to put their hospital trip plan in motion.

Syring was called to look after Gavin. She ended up doing a whole lot more.

The neighbor helped Painter get her pants and shoes on, but Syring saw sure signs that there would be no trip to the hospital.

Jakubek was still thinking he could get Painter into the truck and make it.

But everything changed once Painter neared the back door off the kitchen.

She’s not waiting

She was having the baby right there as she shed her shoes and pulled down her pants.

“She’s coming right now,” Painter remembered. “It happened so fast. I was in shock.”

Syring said she thought of every cliché in the book while figuring out how to help. Boil water? She laughed.

She was worried about Painter, who she thought was cold because she was shaking so much. It turned out it was adrenaline, Painter said. Syring gathered some towels.

“I saw her on the floor and knew it was time to call 911,” Jakubek said, abandoning any hopes of a hospital birth. They didn’t want to have a baby on the side of a road.

A neighbor across the alley had come home from his night shift and was summoned to take care of Gavin.

“My body said it’s time to have this baby,” Painter said. A couple of pushes and “I remember screaming, ‘Pull her out, pull her out.’ ”

She said she remembers feeling every part of Natalie. Despite the pain, she said the sensation was incredibly moving in retrospect. The baby was 6 pounds, 11.5 ounces.

“I toweled her off and she went ‘wahhh,’ ” Syring said of the newborn.

It was 4:52 a.m. Everything — the waking contractions to the scramble through the house to the birth — happened in 47 minutes.

“I woke up at 4:30 and 20 minutes later I had a baby to hold,” said Jakubek, who still tears up thinking about the experience. “It definitely touched the heart. But you don’t want to do it again.”

The couple has appreciated the Syrings the past seven years in the neighborhood and they have always been tight with them. Now it’s at a new level, they said.

“We have the best neighbors,” Painter said.

Syring has talked about moving to a smaller house that is easier to get around in as she and her husband, Steve, get older.

Painter said she’d get them a lift chair to go up and down the stairs, just so they don’t leave.

“Then you can be our neighbors forever and ever.”

Grateful professionals

Peggy Keur was still emotional this week about the four-minute 911 call. She calmed Jakubek, who “did really well. It’s important for me to have people know things are OK. I think he believed me.”

She said Jakubek was typically a bit frantic at the start, and she was happy to ease his fears.

“It took him one moment and then he settled down,” Keur said. She told him to tell the new mom that everyone was doing OK.

“I wanted to tell them congratulations, but I knew I would fall apart on the phone,” Keur said.

She’s been taking emergency calls for 21 years and “this is my first baby,” she said, choking up. “We don’t get a lot of happy things."

“I’m a mom. My kids are all grown. I just wanted to say congratulations.”

Jakubek said he remembers little of the 911 call, save for the calm Keur provided. Don’t grab the head. Don’t cut the umbilical cord. Keur was prepared, using one of the situation cards on hand to dole out advice. She took her time, compared to most 911 calls, and relied on co-workers to cover for her. This was a special call, she said.

Jakubek was happy to have the support.

“I was on the phone with her while catching the baby,” he said with a grin.

When firefighters arrived, they let the father cut the umbilical cord where they had just checked for Natalia’s pulse. Then Mom and baby were tucked together and covered in a foil-like wrap to keep warm on the way to the hospital.

“I felt like a baked potato,” Painter said.

The couple praised the professionalism of the Gary fire crew, which moved the kitchen chairs into the dining room and shoved the table into a corner to make room.

“Everything just fell together,” Jakubek said.

“I remember holding a firefighter’s hand,” Painter said. “He kept calling me ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie.’ He was very nice, like a father.”

The firefighters were grateful to be part of a successful birth, calling Natalia the pinkest baby they had ever seen.

“The baby looked terrific,” Capt. Phil Rogers said. He arrived with Kevin Haney and Damon Laurion to get mother and baby ready for the paramedics. By training, they knew to suction the baby’s nose and mouth and keep her on her mother’s stomach.

“They did all the hard work,” Rogers said, referring to Painter, Jakubek and Syring. It was his first birth. He said he wished they’d gotten there sooner, but “it just came too fast.”

Back at home

Natalia was healthy, but she needed to stay in the hospital until Friday to make sure she hadn’t picked up any germs from the impromptu birthing spot. The parents were told she probably wouldn’t, since the baby was accustomed to anything her mother had encountered during the pregnancy.

“It’s our germs,” Painter said. “Not the ones you find at the hospital.”

Jakubek said his great-grandfather built their house, and the Natalia miracle makes it all that more homey.

Gavin is thrilled to have a baby sister, saying he likes to hold her, kiss her, hug her and love her. On the first night she was home, Gavin rose from bed when he heard her cry downstairs.

“I’m coming down,” Jakubek recalled him saying. It warmed the father to know his son was already looking out for baby sister Natalia.

The family sat in their living room Monday, Gavin on Syring’s lap.

“I love you guys,” Painter said easily. “I appreciate you so much.”

“I just feel blessed to be a part of it,” Syring said. “It was a blessed thing.”

There was a happy pause and then general agreement that the birth was the “coolest thing” any of them had ever experienced.

“No one can take it away from us,” Painter said. “That’s our bonding moment. I wouldn’t change it.”

And Painter laughed again as she held Natalia in the kitchen over the now historic location of the birth. The baby has been sleeping through the night and has to be woken to eat.

And someday, when she’s bad, her parents know exactly where to send her.

“I like the idea of this for a timeout,” Painter said. “The kitchen floor is her spot.”