Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School history teacher Mark Motsinger did not expect the type of education he received when attending the Conference on Illinois History in Springfield Oct. 12. He found himself on a team of midwives in a hall at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.
Ja’mai Martha Commer’s debut Friday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center was an unexpected but howling success.
Latreece Sykes, who was attending a training session for Sangamon County election judges at the convention center with her mother, sister and longtime friend, gave birth to Ja’mai, a 4-pound, 12-ounce baby girl at about 9 a.m. in the south corridor of the center’s lower level, right by the elevator doors.
“She beat the ambulance,” Sykes said later, resting much more comfortably at Memorial Medical Center, her baby in her arms.
Ja’mai is thought to be the first baby ever born at the PCCC. At least that’s what a plaque that will go up in the corridor is going to say, according to general manager Brian Oaks.
Ja’mai, who wasn’t due until Oct. 25, had plenty of help in entering the world.
Martha Commer, her aunt, took off her shirt and used it to wrap the newborn, who had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The impromptu band of midwives, which included two unrelated women at the training session in the VIP Room and another who happened to take a restroom break from the Conference on Illinois History next door, took care of that.
The one in the restroom was Motsinger. He and Harrisburg native and author Gillum Ferguson were attending the Conference on Illinois History.
Motsinger said prior to entering the restroom he saw two women in the hall. One was in seated in a chair and the other woman was patting her on the back and telling her to breath. Motsinger entered the restroom.
“Then I heard this screaming,” Motsinger said Tuesday night, prior to the Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School Wall of Fame ceremony.
Motsinger went back into the hall and Sykes on the floor obviously in labor.
“There was about this much of the baby’s head coming out,” he said.
Motsinger approached to assist and the woman who had been coaxing Sykes asked him to call for help.
The group pitched in and Ja’mai entered the world.
They were going to use someone’s shoestring to tie off the umbilical cord until Bill McLean, who was helping set up for a banquet in another room, offered the blue string from his hoodie sweatshirt.
“I want it back,” he said with a straight face.
Page 2 of 2 - Jennifer Jones and Marge Starling were in the judge’s training session when Sykes got up from her chair in front. She was having a contraction.
Her mother, Jacqueline Lane, was in back and noticed her daughter was bent over.
Sykes went to the bathroom and Jones followed.
“She had another contraction, and we got her out here and onto a chair,” Jones said.
When Sykes’ water broke, the women got her onto the floor and the baby’s head already was starting to show.
“I’ve had three myself,” Jones said. “But I’ve never had to do this. I just kind of went with my mothering instincts. I just had to catch the baby.”
Starling had worked in an obstetrics-gynecology unit for 12 years and lent her expertise.
Jone VanWinkle was taking a break from the history conference and was pushed into service, too.
“They needed blankets, and I just took a tablecloth off a table and gave it to them,” she said.
“She cried on her own,” said Kathy Baxter, who is Ja’mai’s godmother and also was attending the election school.
Latreece doesn’t remember much about her 17-inch-long daughter’s birth beyond her own water breaking.
“I passed out,” she said. “But I want to thank everybody for what they did. I really appreciate it.”
Ja’mai, her mom and older sister, 7-year-old Tyra, also are getting some gifts for their efforts.
The Ansar Shrine quickly donated free circus tickets to the baby and her family for the next 10 years, and the PCCC is giving them tickets to any Disney event it hosts for the next five years.
Capitol Radio Group is chipping in with tickets to its KidsFest for five years.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, hosts for the history conference, gave Latreece a pink hat and small T-shirt, both of which say “Future President,” from the museum gift shop.
“It won’t fit her now, but she’ll grow into it,” said spokesman Dave Blanchette. “It is the least we could do.”