Before we knew it, the days had piled into weeks and the weeks into months, and the baby's Christmas due date was fast approaching.
I'd made preparations for the baby's arrival: two doulas (trained birth coaches) were poised to be by my side, and my mother flew out from Oregon.
In Afghanistan, Judah had prepared, too. The British civilians his team worked with volunteered their more reliable Internet connection and a private room in their compound so he could video chat during the delivery, and his chain of command was prepared to give him time off when I went into labor.
But the baby, a stubborn Kelber from the start, kept sending mixed signals. For nearly two weeks, I emailed Judah in the middle of the night: "I'm not sure, but something might be happening. Be ready just in case." And then: nothing.
Around 10 a.m. Dec. 29, after trying to convince myself all night long that it was still false labor, I got up and realized that labor was indeed afoot. I emailed Judah and told him he should get to his room for Skype.
My mom drove me to the hospital around noon, and we were sent to a triage room to wait. While contractions were coming faster, delivery didn't seem particularly imminent.
About 1 p.m., we moved into a labor and delivery room. Between contractions, the doulas and I fumbled with the laptop, trying to get on the hospital's wireless network so we could connect with Judah, to no avail.
"He could fix this if he were here," I remember thinking. "But if he were here, we wouldn't need Skype."
At 1:32 p.m., I emailed: "Doula is taking laptop to meet IT. No epi[dural] yet."
At 1:33 p.m., he replied: "How are you doing?"
I never responded.
One doula, Emily, was helping me to the bathroom when another contraction hit, and I suddenly realized I needed to push. Panic set in. I couldn't possibly be having this baby now, not without an epidural, not without my husband. Certainly not before we got the computer working.
The formerly almost empty delivery room was suddenly awash in controlled chaos. Emily was helping me back to the bed when my other doula, Lesley, returned with the laptop, now connected to Judah in Afghanistan. He looked on in confusion as, less than 10 minutes since my last email, the midwife declared that the baby was coming now. Right now.
We barely had a second to say hello when it was go time, and the team I'd gathered to support me — some close by, one far-flung — did just that. At 1:58 p.m., faster than any of us had anticipated, Aaron David Kelber was in my arms.
"Look what we did!" I exclaimed to Judah. He was crying, I was crying, the baby was crying — probably everyone else in the room was, too, but I only had eyes for those two.
We stayed online for a couple of hours, chatting as I snuggled with the baby. I barely remember anything besides looking back and forth between Judah's face on the screen and that of our most unlikely child, born under these most unlikely circumstances.
Eventually, Aaron had to go to the nursery for a checkup, and everyone cleared out, leaving me and Judah with a few minutes to ourselves, even 7,000 miles apart. It wasn't until this point, when I looked at the time stamps on our video call and earlier emails as we talked, that we realized how close we'd come to not being connected during the birth. We laughed that Aaron had waited just long enough for us to get online before making his arrival.
After we said our goodbyes, I moved to the recovery room and braced for the experience of solo-parenting not just one but two sons for the next couple of months.
Much of that time is a blur. I had help from family the first couple of weeks, allowing me to keep my head above water caring for a newborn and a 3-year-old who missed his dad and was getting used to being a big brother. There was so much to do that I didn't have much time to dwell on Judah's absence.
Except during those seemingly endless middle-of-the-night feedings. In those quiet moments, that familiar trickle of fear tried to push its way to the forefront, and sometimes it succeeded.