A Jennings County couple had expected a quiet New Year’s Eve — watching the ball drop at midnight on television at their Butlerville home before going to bed.

But there was more in store for Mitch and Kaitlin Harrell in the next few hours, as they would become parents of the first baby born in Bartholomew County in the new year.

Laken Irene Harrell arrived at 4:38 a.m. Monday, just hours after the couple made a hurried drive from their home northeast of Vernon in freezing conditions to Columbus Regional Hospital, where a surgical team assembled to deliver her by cesarean section.

The delivery originally had been scheduled for Tuesday at the Columbus hospital, with Kaitlin’s actual due date Jan. 9. Although the couple did have a bag packed for a trip to the hospital, they weren’t expecting to load it into the car as early as New Year’s Day.

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Laken weighed in at a healthy 8 pounds, 12 ounces, and has been quietly cuddling with her mother and father since her arrival. On Tuesday, she met big brother Ezekiel, who will turn 2 in February, at the hospital.

“It took New Year’s to an entirely new level,” Kaitlin Harrell said.

The couple laughs about it now, but when Kaitlin’s contractions started early on New Year’s Day, they knew a 40-minute car ride to Columbus was ahead. When they began their trip at 2 a.m. Jan. 1, contractions were two to three minutes apart, Kaitlin said.

“I wasn’t really paying too much attention,” she said.

She doesn’t remember much about the car ride other than Mitch remaining calm and focused on the drive to the hospital. After a short wait for an anesthesiologist, the surgery began. Other than a little bit of a cry upon delivery, Laken has been quiet and calm since her delivery, her father said.

“This one is a cuddler,” he said as he held Laken, who occasionally opened her eyes but mainly slept peacefully in her father’s arms.

Mitch Harrell, who is pastor of Zenas Baptist Church, a small country church in Butlerville, and Kaitlin, music teacher at North Vernon Elementary, have been receiving congratulations from church members and school families who have learned of Laken’s arrival.

They have been married 6 1/2 years after meeting at a church function during the Ripley County Fair.

Kaitlin’s parents, Tom and Donna Hughes of Osgood, visited on Monday, and Mitch’s parents, Marvin and Patty Harrell, of Holton, were at the hospital Tuesday as Ezekiel met his little sister for the first time.

Laken is the first girl to be born on both sides of the family in several generations, making her arrival particularly special.

Her name comes from the couple’s love of water and that Mitch proposed to Kaitlin at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, they said. Her middle name Irene is a family name, taken from Laken’s great-grandmothers on both sides of the family.

“Baby,” Ezekiel said over and over as he approached Laken and pulled back her blanket in the hospital room, then wandered off and then wandered back, smiling at his sister.

“I think he has a new favorite word,” his mother said.

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“It took New Year’s to an entirely new level.”

— Kaitlin Harrell, mother of first baby for 2018 born at Columbus Regional Hospital

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.