My Empty Arms are Full: The Birth Story of Joshua


As I’m sure many of you have seen, Joshua Hunt Baraka Kelley was born October 25, 2014 at 2:45pm at Tenwek Hospital. His life began on Saturday, but his story began over a year ago.

My 4 boys...and Hannah's picture.

My 4 boys…and Hannah’s picture.

About 5 months after we lost Hannah’s earthly presence in our family, God started prodding Aaron and I to start to enlarge our family. Before we moved to Kenya, in the preparation and planning phase of the process, Aaron and I agreed that our family was not complete but that we’d most likely wait to have Baby #5 when we returned to the States. We decided that I’d use birth control to make that decision ‘final’ and easily maintained. Of course, we hold obedience to God as our top priority, so we kept our hearts open to His leading even while making this decision.

Then, six weeks after landing in Kenya, our baby girl died. My arms were empty. We were determined to obey God’s leading to return to serve the remainder of our term at Tenwek and to praise God through it all. But, oh, how my arms ached! At the same time, though, I couldn’t imagine having another baby. I was riding an emotional roller coaster. I leaned heavily on God, and He proved Himself faithful. After MUCH prayer, both individually and jointly, Aaron and I decided to stop birth control and try to conceive.

This decision was hard for many reasons. First, our hearts were still very broken and raw. We did not want this decision to be based on emotions or selfishness or anything unholy. This is why we spent weeks and weeks in prayer. We needed to be confident that it was God’s leading we were obeying, and not our deceitful hearts. Second, having a baby in Kenya is a pretty big deal for us Americans. We’re used to plush hospitals, room service, routine wellness checks, etc. We expect sterile exam rooms. We enjoy frequent trips to Target (or your department store of choice) to get everything for pregnancy and delivery and baby. I knew none of that would be happening here in rural Kenya. And third, I knew it was especially risky for me to have a baby in Kenya. I’ve delivered early every time: Noah at 36 weeks, Jacob at 35 weeks, Levi at 37 weeks, and Hannah at 34 weeks. I was super anxious about how early Baby #5 would arrive and what medical support was available if we needed it. I, in no way, wanted to jeopardize the life of a child, especially with the wounds of loosing Hannah so fresh. I could not bear the thought of even appearing to be careless or reckless. Quite the opposite! I needed to be 100% confident that we were walking in obedience.

Here is a picture of the maternity ward. It’s one big room with 3 beds, allowing 3 women to labor and deliver at the same time. Curtains can be drawn to provide “privacy.”

The delivery room, where 3 beds are separated by curtains. Again, this is where the real women deliver babies. :)

This is where the real women deliver babies. 🙂

This is one 'room' in the OB ward...where real women deliver babies!

This is one of the delivery beds…It’s where we brought Joshua for oxygen.

With our hearts and minds in clear obedience to God’s leading, we just trusted God would provide Baby #5 in His perfect time. It took months, but we finally conceived in February. We were delighted but the fear raged again. Did we make the right decision? Who would deliver? Was it really wise to deliver at Tenwek or should we look into other hospitals in Nairobi? Should we consider going back to the States? Would this be a girl or a boy???

After many, many attempts to answer the last question, we finally discovered that we were having a boy. I was quite disappointed but I quickly accepted the reality of being a mom of 4 boys. My head knew that having a boy would help reduce the comparisons to Hannah and would feel less like we were trying to replace Hannah with another child. My heart, however, grieved the loss of pink and sparkles, sweetness and spunkiness all over again.

Our precious boy.

Our precious boy.

We quickly decided on the name Joshua Hunt, but we searched a little for the right Swahili name. (We were in language school when the ultrasound was done.) We finally agreed on Baraka, which means blessing.

So, at this point, one of the million questions was answered. That still left a lot more to contemplate. Praise God that He sent an OB/GYN to language school with us. Angela and her husband moved from the States to Limuru to learn Swahili with us. At the end of the 2 months, they, along with their two girls, moved to Tenwek. She was a huge resource of both information and comfort. We became great friends as she took care of me, her favorite (and only) patient.

Aunt Angela (the OB) and me.

Aunt Angela (the OB) and me.

Fast forward about a month, we are all back at Tenwek and I’m 30 weeks pregnant. We are approaching the weeks when I tend to go into preterm labor, so all the people who might be involved in the labor and delivery started to get really nervous. We held a meeting of the minds and decided that I should go on modified bedrest. I was already taking progesterone shots. Then, at 32 weeks, I received a round of steroid shots to help with Joshua’s lung development. These plans, with the help of many prayers both here and from afar, worked. I did not go into preterm labor!

Saturday morning, October 25, began much like any other lazy Saturday here at Tenwek. I woke up praising God for making it to 37 weeks! I think the entire compound released a sigh of relief that morning. Although there are never any guarantees, we all knew that the odds of having a healthy baby boy were definitely in our favor. Very quickly that morning, I started having contractions. I showered and got myself presentable. (You don’t want to look any worse for those labor pictures than you have to!) Then, once the contractions became more regular, I called Angela so that she could prepare herself and the delivery room, wherever that might be. Two hours later, the OB operating room was ready for me, and I had made Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkin Fudge and washed all the dishes.

Chocolate PB Pumpkin Fudge

It was 1:00pm when we finally ventured up to the hospital. Angela and her husband drove us up the hill in their borrowed vehicle. (Thanks, Chupps! I bet you didn’t know your car would be my chariot to the hospital!) I did walk from the staff entrance to the maternity ward. Along the way, we walked up the same steps where I had my “shadow of the valley of death” experience when Hannah was in the ICU. This was the first time I’ve walked up those stairs since March 13, 2013. God is truly the God of Peace, for I just took a deep breath and He provided the strength and courage to climb those stairs.

I had visited the OB ward before, but I was seeing the OB OR for the first time. It was a little overwhelming. The bed seemed way too small and a little too stiff. The floor didn’t seem clean enough. The equipment, although we wouldn’t be using most of it, looked extremely out-of-date. The heart rate monitor didn’t work, so Angela and Aaron had to search for a replacement. We had no contraction monitor. I didn’t receive an IV. I just made myself as comfortable as possible in my gingham gown and less-than-ideal surroundings. At 2:45pm, Joshua was born!

This is my brave face as I take in my delivery room.

This is my brave face as I take in my delivery room.

The working heart rate monitor.

The working heart rate monitor.

He's here!

He’s here!

He went from 8cm and high in my belly to ON my belly so quickly that all the fluid wasn’t squeezed out of his lungs. We took him to a warmer and gave him a little oxygen to help his lungs drain.

Getting a little oxygen.

Getting a little oxygen.

Once we were satisfied with his progress, we moved to a private room where I cleaned myself up and the pediatrician measured Joshua. The nurses do not bathe the babies, they didn’t check on me, and there was no baby bed on wheels stocked with diapers, etc. We decided it was best to just get home.

The private room had 2 beds and a toilet but not much else. These fine ladies were my nurses.

The private room had 2 beds and a toilet but not much else. These fine ladies were my nurses.

So, by 5:00pm, we were loading up in the car and heading home. The OB and her husband drove us home. There were no car seat checks. We don’t even use a car seat most of the time! No lactation consultant came to check on Joshua’s latch. Joshua wasn’t circumcised. Circumcision is a ritual performed at adolescence here in Kenya. No, there weren’t many perks to staying in the hospital any longer, so we just went home.

Going home in the Chupp mobile!

Going home in the Chupp mobile!

Now, over a week later, things are going quite well. Both the OB and pediatrician live a stone’s throw away. Both have made house calls to make sure Joshua and I are healthy. We are blessed beyond measure.

Joshua's first Halloween!

Joshua’s first Halloween!

Praises and Prayer Requests:

1. Praise God for a healthy baby boy! Please pray for his continued health. His bilirubim levels have been borderline, so pray that they return and stay at a normal level. I have been sick with a head cold since delivering Joshua, so please pray that he does not get the cold.

2. Praise God for a happy family! The boys have adjusted so well, and they are so very proud of their baby brother. Please pray for them as they bring up questions and concerns about Joshua and Hannah. Pray that Aaron and I have wisdom in our answers and clarity in our assessments of their well-being.

3. Praise God for a supportive community! My OB not only took excellent care of me throughout my pregnancy and delivery but she also took over my Algebra I classes so that I could enjoy a little maternity leave. And she is only one example of how this Tenwek community has rallied around us during this exciting but sometimes stressful time of transition.

4. Praise God for His perfect time! Aaron leaves for the States on Thursday. He will be in Georgia for about a week and a half for an Ebola preparedness training. Please pray for him as he suffers jet lag. Pray for me and the boys who are staying at Tenwek. I’m a little nervous, but I’m sure we’ll all survive. I’m just glad that Aaron got to meet Joshua and be with us for almost 2 weeks before leaving.

5. Praise God for the Tenwek MK school! Please pray for Julie Sanders, a teacher who is in the process of raising money to teach some of our MKs. Pray for her preparations and her fundraising. Pray for us moms as we try to discern what is best for our children. Pray for the children who will be involved in transition once Julie arrives and takes over some of the classes.

6. Praise God for YOU! I am so grateful for all your prayers and support! Thank you for praying us through this pregnancy!

Our prayer for Joshua is based on this Scripture. It will serve as his life verse until he’s able to choose one for himself.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:1-9 NIV


11 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your birth story — beautiful baby!

    I have had all 6 of my babies as homebirths, and most of my friends do so too, so completely understood with the “we might as well head home” if you are basically doing the same things for yourself in hospital that you would be at home 🙂

    Congrats to all of you on Joshua’s arrival!!

  2. Congratulations again and again! What a precious baby boy!! Praise God that you and Joshua had a healthy delivery! Enjoy these precious newborn days♡

    Our youngest daughter and Hannah share a birthday and now our youngest boys are so close together. Our baby Ivan was born on August 31 this year. It has been fun to read your journal entries while also pregnant. 😉
    Congrats again! Praying for you!!

  3. Just so thankful for all the ways God has sustained you, and your family, in Kenya!!!
    I have a friend in Nakuru, from Washington, who has opened a small orphans home, she has
    eleven girls at present. I wish you guys could meet, before you go home!!

  4. I am so thankful for the many blessings God has provided for you. I am so thankful that I get to peak into what God is doing in your life. I will be praying for this transition for you, Aaron, and all the boys. Keep the pictures coming. 🙂

  5. Steph, you inspire me! I’m so happy for you and Aaron. I’m grateful that I can still hear from you and feel like I’m with you. I think of you often. Hugs to you and your boys!

  6. I have a special bond with Joshua since we both have 10/25 birthdays! I have a few years head start on him — like 73! 🙂 He is a blessing and ever so cute!

  7. What a beautiful testimony of both your walk of faith and your birth experience.!! You look so calm and in control. I personally think you delivered in one of the best hospitals in the world, because of the amazing people that work there. 🙂

    God bless your family!!


  8. Congrats again Steph. Joshua is just so beautiful. Well actually all of your’s and Aarons children are beautiful. I look forward to meeting him. Thank you so much for sharing the story of Joshua’s arrival and how delivery in Tenwek is compared to the states. God is so good to you for giving you the strength to climb the stairs. He stood by you when you needed Him most. How cool. Love and best wishes to you, Aaron, and the boys. Prayers for Aaron as he has safe travels back to the states and that God continues to watch over you and the boys while he is away. Miss you lots, Lisa

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