At an Anchorage homeless shelter, an unexpected birth

The life story of a baby boy named Kahleel began one morning in January at The Salvation Army's McKinnell House, a homeless shelter for families on the edge of downtown Anchorage.

Behind the closed door of Room 14, David Dumpson, 24, and Hannah Johnson, 22, were starting to stir. It was just before 7 a.m. They'd been at the shelter six weeks with their 2-year-old son Kohen. The night before, neither could sleep.

"We were up all night just talking and talking and talking," she said.

There was plenty to discuss. They had a baby coming in March. They wanted to be prepared. They hoped to get into low-income housing. They needed a car. And work. And child care. So many details. The crib. The clothes. The car seat.

The two met through Facebook and mutual friends in 2014. Dumpson, who graduated from East High School, was just out of the Army at the time. Johnson, who went to Bartlett, was living in Eagle River, working at Cold Stone Creamery.

"The day we met was the day we never wanted to leave each other," she said.

After a year or so, Kohen came. Then they moved to Sacramento and tried to make a go at being on their own. Dumpson went to school and Johnson worked at a laundromat and a security company. And then she found out she was pregnant again.


She bought prenatal vitamins and saw a doctor a few times, she said. It seemed best to move back home. She wanted to have her baby at the Alaska Native Medical Center, she said. Getting back took most of what they had, and there wasn't much left over for a deposit on a place. The shelter was a way into low-income housing.

"You know how when you come back you usually stay with family?" Johnson said. "Both of our families have nine kids. There is like no room in our houses."

And so they found themselves in a room at McKinnell, getting Kohen ready for breakfast the morning of Jan. 24. Johnson felt a contraction grip her belly.

"I didn't really think too much of it. She was still insisting that we go to breakfast," Dumpson said.

Johnson thought it was false labor, but the contractions kept up. Dumpson drew a bath and Johnson got in to ease the pain. Maybe this was it, but probably not. They kept expecting things to slow down.

"It was like every five minutes, then every three minutes, then every one minute," Johnson said.

Johnson called her mother in Eagle River. They needed a ride to the hospital, she said. She got dressed. Then she turned to face Dumpson. There was a gush. Water on the floor.

"We both looked up at each other and we were like 'Oh, crap,'" she said.

They called Johnson's mother again. She told them to call 911. Johnson dialed and held the phone to her ear. Anchorage Fire Department dispatcher Tia Kempton's voice came through steadily. Get on the bed, she told Johnson. The contractions were relentless. Breathe with me, Kempton said. Now: Ask David if he can see the head.

"The whole time I'm getting everything ready," Dumpson said, " … waiting for our transportation to the hospital."

But this was a shift of gears. He got on the bed with her. He looked. The baby's head was crowning.

This is what he thought but didn't say: "I'm going to have to deliver this baby. I'm going to have to deliver this baby. I'm going to have to deliver this baby."

This is what he did: he stayed totally calm, just like he'd learned from his military first-aid training. They were going to do this, he told Johnson.

"I was just trying to make sure I kept calm as possible," he said. "I wanted to make sure she wasn't seeing any kind of state of panic."

Wait: Where was little Kohen? There he was, quiet, at the end of the bed. It hadn't been long, 20 minutes, maybe 30, since they were just headed to breakfast.

"He does this face with his little eyebrows; he looks confused and concerned at the same time," Johnson said.

Get towels, Kempton said. Dumpson got towels. A huge contraction. A scream. Johnson threw the phone and screamed again. The baby's head wasn't in the right position. He couldn't move any farther.


"There was blood all over my hands. I had to pivot the baby's head, rotate it," Dumpson said.

Kempton called back.

"It was pretty much all screaming," she said.

Push, she said into Johnson's ear. More screaming.

"All right, baby, we got to push," Dumpson said.

"Push!" Kempton and Dumpson yelled together.

One push. Two. Three.



Dumpson held his son in his hands. Kempton told them to stay put. The paramedics were at the door.

"I felt blessed, so grateful," Dumpson said. "My son was OK."

They weren't quite ready, but there he was: 5 pounds, 13 ounces, somehow almost full term because of a miscalculation with his due date.

They named him Kahleel. They'd read somewhere one of the name's meanings was "wealth," Johnson said. They didn't have everything they needed for him yet, but still, she said, he made them feel rich.

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage-based Julia O'Malley is a former ADN reporter, columnist and editor. She received a James Beard national food writing award in 2018, and a collection of her work, "The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska," was published in 2019. She's currently writer in residence at the Anchorage Museum.