Confession #119: Birth Story, Reflections & Photos


Hunter being handed Jake for the first time.

I’ve never automatically loved someone. I guess as a newborn baby you “love” your parents, but as a baby you don’t know that.

As a wife and as an adoptive mama of two, I have “fallen in love” with each member of my family. But never have I loved someone, head over heals loved someone, simply after hearing their first cry for air.

It’s an exhilarating feeling- the rush of that kind of love. And last Wednesday at 7:42 pm I experienced it for the first time.

*   *   *   *   *

I had previously pulled an all-nighter. Anxious about just passing my due date and experiencing hours worth of inconsistent contractions, I nervously paced our house for most of the night. Thanks be to God my good friend Erin came over to keep me company and tried her best to call my nerves.

Believing no progress had been made, I was able to catch an hour of rest after the sun rose. The morning continued with our normal routine- sending the kids off to school, eating breakfast, and catching up on emails. At round 9:30 Erin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and my midwife, Sandi, came over around 10:00.

At that point I was already 4 centimeters dilated and over 50% effaced. Happy, but still not satisfied, Sandi sent me to my room with a few strategies to try to induce the labor process. (I’m keeping my blog PG rated so I’ll pass here on the details.) By 11:00 I was able to time my contractions. Active labor had begun.

At first things weren’t bad. I spent the first few hours sitting on my yoga ball, chatting with Hunter and Erin, listening to music, eating between contractions, and I even watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Looking back, those first few hours were bliss. A little uncomfortable, yes, but fairly easy and exciting.


Hunter helping me through the pain. He was my rock.

I lost all concept of time as the contractions picked up. But as they grew longer and closer together I started to develop rather intense lower back pain. I have pinched my sciatic nerve before on multiple occasions. From bending over to pick up a child to shaving my legs, it’s pathetic what has triggered such surges of pain. In my 2nd and early 3rd trimesters I experienced a lot of lower back pain as well. I survived many of days thanks to an abundant supply of disposable heating pads left behind from a medical missions team. All that to say, my lower back has always been rather sensitive. And labor, apparently, was not going to agree with it AT ALL.

With every contraction my lower back literally felt like it was breaking apart. I found it hard to concentrate on all my breathing and relaxation strategies because I was so distracted by the paralyzing pain swelling in my spine. Erin, Hunter, and Sandi all took turns massaging it the best they could. And as helpful as that was, nothing really helped.

I tried different positions- in the pool, in the chair, in the bed, and even on the toilet. Nothing would give me relief. I felt like a hopeless mess. With tears streaming down my face I remember sitting in the pool and telling everyone I couldn’t do this anymore. My back hurt too much and I didn’t believe I had what it took to survive. As the sun started setting (which is around 5:00 here in Haiti) I looked out the window and prayed to God that the end would soon be near.

At some point, I don’t know when, Sandi broke my water. From there my memory is a bit blurry. And although I fully intended on doing a water birth, by 7:00 I was so tired and the cold water in the pool just made my back muscles more tense. It took Hunter, Erin, Sandi, and Hope (a visiting nurse) to transition me to my bed. Hunter put two heating pads on my back (Why had I not thought of that sooner?) and he held me as I crumbled to my side.

I vaguely remember Hunter asking Sandi when I should start pushing. And I remember her saying that it would just come naturally when my body was ready. I don’t know if that was the permission I needed to hear or if I was just desperate, but a few minutes later the urge to push consumed me.


Our first look at Jake just a minute after giving birth.

By 7:42 pm Jake let out his first cry. True love. Sandi guided Erin, who is currently in midwifery school, to catch him. That wasn’t planned, but I love that is what God worked into the story. I mean, how many people can say a good friend delivered their baby in their home? Not many I imagine.

As Sandi placed Jake on my chest I looked over at Hunter. He was sobbing. Never have I seen him cry so much. A bit delirious, and quite frankly out of tears, I remember looking down at this new baby and thinking, “You are a real person. Like, no longer a moving being in my belly, but a real, live, person.” I held him close. I still have no idea what words I conjured up. I just remember being so in awe of the moment, constantly exchanging glances between Jake and Hunter, and thanking God for seeing me through the day.

*   *   *   *   *


Nalandson and Dalencia meeting their new brother. This was a priceless moment.

All this happened a week ago, which is crazy. It seems like forever and like yesterday all at the same time. Things have been going well. I am taking a bit longer than I’d like to recover. A UTI and a slow-to-recover back can do that to you. But I’m coming around.

My parents arrived over the weekend and that has been a huge help. Honestly, I’m not sure how our family would have survived the past few days otherwise. Cooking us meals, entertaining Nalandson and Dalencia, and helping Hunter and I navigate through our first few weeks with Jake has been a blessing.

*   *   *   *   *


Trying to figure each other out the morning after.

I’ve tried reflecting a lot these past few days on my previous hesitancies towards pregnancy, my fear of all things baby, and on my decision to deliver naturally in Haiti. One natural birth abroad and one week of parenting a newborn down, here is what I now think…

Pregnancy- I once told my mom I didn’t want an alien growing inside my body and that is why I didn’t want to get pregnant. She laughed, but I was totally being honest. Sharing my body with someone for nine months and allowing them to take so much from me really freaked me out. Having to watch my body change for the benefit of another- I’ll admit was a selfish thought- but it just never seemed enticing.

I know women who love being pregnant- say they would be pregnant all the time if they could. Now, God blessed me with such an easy pregnancy. Really, other than some lovely hormonal acne and back pain here and there I had zero complications. I didn’t gain a whole lot of weight and my migraines practically disappeared for nine months straight. But I don’t think I LOVED being pregnant.

I think there are few reasons for this. Not being surrounded by friends and family through the exciting stages of the process made me feel someone alone as my body changed and time grew near. And Hunter, bless him, didn’t always notice. And being pregnant, in our situation down here, really disabled me. I spent more time at home over the past nine months than I like to admit. Without personal transportation and trying to avoid public transportation (Because let’s face it, a white pregnant woman on a tap-tap full of people with no personal boundaries is just not ideal.) I just couldn’t go anywhere. And so for most of my pregnancy I felt alone and isolated.

On the other hand, I no longer have the fears towards pregnancy like I once did. It honestly was a beautiful thing. Creating a life with Hunter and then being responsible for growing and nurturing it was exhilarating. And all my fears about alien babies and the sharing of my body completely disappeared once I found out I was pregnant. I was still nervous for the unknown, but never fearful.

Babies- I’ve never been one to want to hold someone else’s baby. No offence, your babies are super cute and I have spent my life admiring them from a far. But I have always felt a little awkward around babies. Maybe just because I didn’t know what to do with them. But then Jake entered my arms and now I can’t seem to get enough of him. He’s so tiny. So cute. Currently so squirmy. And he’s mine.

I still have no idea what I am doing with him. Baby books aside, Hunter and I are simply learning as we go. And ladies, let me just be honest, watching your man love on and bond with your baby is kinda the greatest thing in the world.

Birth- Even before getting pregnant I made the decision that I would give birth in Haiti. To me, this was non-negotiable. I wasn’t going to break up our family. I would only do this if it could include Nalandson and Dalencia.

That decision also meant I needed to do it naturally. So I began doing my research and the more I watched, read, and discovered, the more passionate I became about that as well.

Even though I was completely confident in my two decisions I was still completely terrified of birth up till the very end. But that fear had nothing to do with Haiti and nothing to do with being natural. There was just no way to prep me for what was coming- what contractions would be like, how I would feel emotionally, what energy pushing a baby out would take. I read books, watched countless documentaries and YouTube videos (Ya’ll there are some scary things out there on YouTube about birth.), and listened to my friends’ personal stories. And although it was all  helpful, no two births are alike. Pregnancy could be semi predicted, but birth was the big unknown.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my birth story. The pain was intense, yes, but what came from the pain was worth it. And I am not just talking about Jake, but also the experience, the memories, and the strength and confidence it gave me.

* * * * *


5 days old.

Jake has only been around for a week and he has already been such a blessing for our family. Nalandson and Dalencia, as predicted, are the best big brother and sister. Dalencia, especially, has taken on a very motherly role around the house. Our lives have now become that much busier, but we will learn to manage in time.

The teens at Emmaus House are precious. Most were too scared at first to touch him, but I didn’t really give any of them the option. A newborn baby in the arms is good medicine for anyone’s soul. So far, Jake has taken a particular liking to Manno, which was completely unpredicted, but I am tending to think God has something up his sleeve with that one. We’ll see.

*   *   *   *   *

Before I go, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us as we prepared for Baby Jake. We were so overwhelmed and grateful for you prayers, words of encouragement, and gifts.

A special THANK YOU to Sandi who took time out of her crazy, busy schedule to come to Haiti to help us deliver Jake. Your wisdom and guidance was priceless.

A very special THANK YOU to Erin who not only gave me the confidence I needed to embark on this whole journey to begin with, but also guided me through so much of it. Thank you for staying up all night with me for never leaving my side. You are going to make a rockin’ midwife.

And lastly, THANK YOU to everyone at Emmaus House who has been so patient with me during my pregnancy. Thank you for caring for me so much and for being my family away from home. I love each of you dearly.

*   *   *   *   *

So welcome to the world Baby Jake. You are loved.

~ Jillian

Oh yeah…almost forgot these adorable shots. I like to look at them and try to create their captions. What do you think they are saying to each other?

Baby Jake Photos-1693

The Kittrell kids all together. What do you think made Baby Jake cry?


Baby Jake Photos-1698


My favorite!

My favorite!


Confession #117: From Skeptic to Leader


A guest post:

It’s important that you understand my place with Emmaus House. I am a bit of a follower.  Thanks to a TED Talk I recently saw about creating movements, I was described as a “first follower”.  Basically, I’m the one who does a lot of work but the “lone nut” receives the credit.  Tanya Pirtle, visionary & Emmaus House Board member, pulled me in and I was mildly involved during Emmaus House’s infancy.  I had known the youth from the Cap-Haitien Children’s Home when I was a part of a short-term mission trip in 2011.  It was a positive experience for me and it fundamentally changed me.  I fell in love with the younger kids.  I mean, who doesn’t?  The teens were withdrawn, if they came out it was to sit around and fix each other’s hair. They made communicating with them difficult for many reasons.  They didn’t appear grateful, they stayed in their rooms, and overall were just plain lazy. I had to put forth all of the effort and in return felt disrespected. My interaction with them was unsavory.

So when Tanya approached me about this new adventure, I wasn’t completely on-board.  Which is where I feel like a lot of you might be. Not all of you, but a skeptic doesn’t really understand the need for Emmaus House.  Emmaus House is for the 18+ year old that has aged out of the orphanage system.  That right there stops you.  You think, “Duh. They’re 18.  They need to get a job, be out of their own and support themselves.”  It’s what I did. It’s what is expected of them. This is ridiculous!”  If you’ve experienced their behavior like I did, you probably didn’t fall all over yourself to help them either.

We expect more of them because that is what we expect of ourselves. What we don’t put together, which should be obvious, is that they aren’t us.  They’re not Americans.  They’re Haitian; an entirely different culture. Their economy is not up to our standards. Their education system is warped. Most importantly, they are in an orphanage because they lack what I believe is the only thing we should feel entitled to- parents.  They are hurt.

The Emmaus House youth were not 100% on board at the beginning. They were scared of the change and didn’t understand accountability, hard work, what a family looks like, and they didn’t know much about God. I had the opportunity to get to know these kids from a different perspective from people that love them. Over time, I was asked to join the Board. I was hesitant because I knew how much time and work it would take away from my family.  Tanya had a trip planned for Haiti and with two weeks before she was leaving I decided that I wanted to go to connect with the Emmaus House kids, physically see Emmaus House, meet our Haitian staff, learn more about Haiti, and experience Haiti.

Upon arriving at the house I was floored by the youth coming to me, someone they didn’t really know, and greeting me.  It wasn’t just a quick “Hi” and a small wave. They gave me a solid handshake, looked me in the eye, asked me my name, asked me about my trip, and asked me about my family.  That was just day one!  That right there, has me impressed.  This was a complete turn-around.  On their own, they were studying, doing chores, cooking, and doing laundry.  There was no complaining.  They were smiling, laughing, and overall appeared happy to be there. The girls baked with me.  We made donuts one day, and cookies another.  I got them to loosen up around me and talk with me.  The boys walked with me and talked with me.  They shared some of their struggles and the shared their dreams too.  I know there’s more inside, but I could tell they weren’t as guarded as they were.  They knew I cared.

They’ve been living as a family with Jonathan and Vivian as their house parents.  It was a struggle to get used to, but they are grateful to be together and have learned to function as a family.  They didn’t get that at the orphanage.  They had no one to guide them on this personal level their now accustomed to.  They are slowly healing from the trauma they’ve experienced.  They are growing.  They have the opportunity for a bright future and they know it.  They are gaining confidence and experience. They are different.

I’m thankful that I was a “follower” to a “lone nut” because my labor and investment in Emmaus House has been returned three times over.  It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for Emmaus House and the youth that have been a part of it.  Haiti will be blessed by them and I can’t imagine what beautiful fruit they will bear!

~ Susan Bryner

Confession #116: What They Have to Say

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Want to learn more about Emmaus House? Who better to hear from than Jonathan and our youth? Check out what they are saying about the program and how they need you to get involved.

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Confession #115: I am Terrified

Jillians Maternity Photo-0777

Today I am confessing something that has nothing to do with being a missionary in Haiti but about being a woman. So all you men out there who read my blog, I apologize in advance. 3 weeks and 1 day. According to my What to Expect app that is my official countdown until Benjamin “Jake” […]

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Confession #114: Maybe It Is Because I Still Stink (short story by Papouch)


The creativity of our teens never ceases to amaze me. From drawing to sewing, jewelry making to photography, singing to writing, many of them are discovering some sort of outlet to express their feelings artistically. And I love, so love, when they let me share. Today, I am sharing a short story by Papouch. As I […]

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Confession #113: Conversations in a Car


Back when Hunter and I were dating we used to spend countless hours a week in his hand-me-down navy blue Tahoe (complete with a box phone). Now before you get the wrong idea (seriously, get your mind out of the gutter) let me explain. We went to a Christian college- one where boys and girls […]

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Confession #112: When The Righteous Cry Out


Today I want to ask you for a favor: I need your prayers. I know I ask for that often- prayers for Baby Jake, for our adoption, for our wisdom and strength, for our finances, and for our teens at Emmaus House. We, like many of you, have witnessed the power behind the prayers of […]

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Confession #111: Back to School and a House That is Not My Own


On September 8th the new school year officially began in Haiti. Well, at least President Martelly said it did. Normally when school is in session, the morning and afternoon streets are filled with kids in their brightly colored uniforms. Second hand school buses crowd all other transportation. And the school buildings are packed full of […]

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Confession #110: Hunter’s Missionary Confession

Going-To-The-Beach-With-Friends-Rat-Island (21 of 31)

This week I finished watching the 5th and final season of Breaking Bad on Netflix. It was a sad moment for me to say the least. I have been enjoying the show for a couple months now, quietly witnessing the life and struggles of main character, Walter White. If you are not familiar with the show, Walter, […]

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Confession #109: I Want To Be A Part Of The Change: Jetro’s Personal Essay


My name is Jetro Compère. I am 19 years old and currently in Rheto at College Christ Roi. I was born and raised in Cap Haitien, Haiti. My interests include reading, studying languages, and social studies. I really enjoy learning more about different societies around the world and taking what I learn from their examples […]

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