Brittany and Brian O’Connell had been down this path before, but not at warp speed.
Eighteen months earlier, the Browns Valley couple had welcomed their first child, Paul. By Tuesday’s predawn hours, they were preparing for Brittany to add a daughter to their family in a week’s time — until the baby suddenly stopped waiting.
Brian immediately called 911, and a little more than 10 minutes later an ambulance crew arrived at the O’Connell home — only to find the baby already on Brittany’s shoulder, two minutes old.
What was supposed to be a planned trip to a Vallejo hospital had turned into a sudden express delivery of the O’Connells’ second child, Grace Elizabeth O’Connell.
“It’s been an eventful few hours,” the 33-year-old mortgage consultant said Wednesday afternoon, an hour after his wife’s return home from a night at Queen of the Valley Medical Center. “We’re doing well, mom and baby are doing well, and I’m definitely feeling blessed.”
For months Brian and Brittany, 28, had marked a time and place on their calendar: Feb. 11, destination Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Vallejo, where Paul had entered the world in July 2012.
A few contractions had hit Brittany on Saturday as she and her husband went out to dinner that evening. But the contractions died down by the end of the meal, and she returned home expecting to face a week of upset stomach and general soreness.
“It didn’t occur to me that it could be labor, because it didn’t feel like labor,” she would say later. “It just felt like I needed to stay in bed.”
Starting at 4 on Tuesday morning — hours before a scheduled doctor’s appointment — a slight feeling of unwellness began to wake Brittany repeatedly. By 5:45 a.m., his own sleep disrupted, Brian gave up trying and walked over to his son’s room to help him start the day.
“I was changing my son and putting his pants on when I heard a commotion in back,” he said. “I could tell something was up, and she called me and said, ‘I need you to get in here right now.’”
“Brian called us, told us Brittany felt like pushing, and I said, ‘OK, we’ll be right there — hang up and call 911,’ and he did,” recalled Twyla Stewart, the mother of Brittany O’Connell.
Ready or not, the family’s newest member was arriving. After getting a 911 dispatcher on the phone, Brian quickly laid towels on the easy chair where his wife was sitting, the only preparation possible as the seconds ticked away.
“Brian brought our son into the room, and I was sitting in the chair and Paul just had this very upset, concerned look,” Brittany recalled on Thursday. “He didn’t understand why his mother was yelling and in pain. He was sort of standing there and starting to cry. ... I was holding his hand saying ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ and he stood there as this happened.”
“It was an adventure,” said Brian. “My son’s crying on the right of me, and my wife’s holding his hand trying to comfort him, and I’m trying to listen to the wife and the operator at the same time.
“And five minutes later, the baby was out.”
Minutes later but still belatedly, an American Medical Response ambulance pulled up beside the couple’s home. Trailing behind the emergency medical technicians through the front door were Brittany’s parents Twyla and Gary Stewart, who immediately glimpsed their new granddaughter on Brittany’s chest: 20 inches long and an ounce shy of 8 pounds.
“My jaw just about hit the floor!” Stewart said, laughing. “We walked in and everyone was calm. No one was crying or upset; they did look a little shell-shocked.”
“My son had this look of, ‘What is this and what is happening?’ I’m curious what he was thinking, but I guess we’ll never know,” Brittany said later, laughing.
Despite helping in the hurried but successful delivery, Brian O’Connell, a day later, was quick to deflect praise.
“It was a fun experience to look back on,” he said. “I’m super proud of my wife; she did all the hard work and I get part of the credit, which seems kind of odd.”
In the midst of such excitement and joy, the father still took a minute to think of one young Napa girl’s life snuffed out shortly before his daughter’s had begun: that of 3-year-old Kayleigh Slusher, whose death last week led to murder charges against her mother and boyfriend.
“I feel extremely blessed that God blessed us this way,” he said. “Especially with the tragic events around here lately — we feel blessed that we can hold our precious baby and know all is well.”