Mitchell and Kathleen VanHoffen. JILLIAN EMERSON PHOTO

BY JILLIAN EMERSON
Special to the VOICE

Twenty years ago, on March 7 1997, Kathleen Van Hoffen was told by her doctor that her contractions were still too far apart to come to the Welland County General Hospital. This was a mistake. When Kathleen and her husband Tim were finally on their way from their home in Fenwick to Welland, Kathleen told him he needed to pull over, the baby was coming now.

Tim pulled over onto the side of Webber Road, off Pelham Street, and frantically called 911 from his car cellphone.

“The 911 operator was trying to keep him calm saying, in a calming voice, ‘Is this your first baby?’ and he’s just like yelling ‘No, this is my fourth, now just tell me what to do,’” Kathleen recalled. “And as the police came running up they just seemed to stop like dominos bumping into each other.

“One of the officers was like, ‘I don’t have any kids,’ and another said, ‘Well, I only have one kid,’ and the others looked at Tim and they said, ‘Is this your first?’ and he said, ‘No, it’s my fourth,’ so they just shoved him in there and said, ‘You have way more experience than any of us do so you’re up.’”

Just a few moments later Tim successfully delivered his nine-pound, 14-ounce baby boy. But when Mitchell Liam VanHoffen was born at 5:20 AM he was not breathing.

Tim’s first reaction was to wrap the baby in a blanket because it was minus-12 out, but the doctors on the phone told him to clear out his mouth and nose first. Tim did as he was told, using his fingers to clear the airways, and his baby started to breathe.

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“At the time, we didn’t know what the sex of the baby was, and as this was happening I’m saying, ‘What is it, what is it, what is it?’ and Tim said, ‘It’s a boy, now shut up!,’” said Kathleen.

It was a dramatic birth, but once the couple and their new baby boy arrived at the hospital, Mitchell was deemed healthy by doctors, and everyone finally breathed a sigh of relief.

“I remember later calling a friend of ours from church,” recalled Kathleen. “He was a car detailer and he had read the story of Mitchell’s birth already, and before I asked he just said, ‘Get a new car, I’m not touching it.’”

This was not their only unusual birth. Devon VanHoffen, their third son, was born in the middle of a snowstorm. The VanHoffen’s were forced to call an ambulance because there was so much snow they couldn’t get out of their driveway.

On the way to get the couple, the ambulance drove off the road due to slippery conditions caused by the storm. This caused a cascade of rescue crews to help not only the ambulance, but the VanHoffens as well. However, for that birth they made it to the hospital on time, perhaps that’s because Devon’s birth was a lot longer than Mitchell’s, which only lasted an hour and a half.

These two incredible births, and the two normal births as well, all happened after Kathleen’s first pregnancy resulted in an ectopic pregnancy and caused one of her fallopian tubes to burst. After that she was told it would be very unlikely for her to have any other children. Then just two months later Kathleen found out they were in fact pregnant again with ther first-born son, Brad.

The day Mitchell was born may have been his first exciting day but the excitement didn’t end there.

When Mitchell was in grade six he took part in his Christian school’s Mike’s Miracle Soccer Invitational. Different Christian schools in the area sent kids to a soccer tournament day, where they are put on teams with members from different schools. This is where Mitchell met Natalie Dykstra.

“When we drove home together I kidded him about that cute girl on his team, and he kept talking about how good a soccer player she was and that she was cute,” said Kathleen. The interesting part comes three years later when Natalie Dykstra’s school, Beacon High, was closed due to low enrollment rates, and Beacon joined with Mitchell’s school, Smithville Christian High School, and the two met once again in grade nine. The two started dating when they were both in grade 12 and they have been together for over two years now, said Kathleen. “I just think this is a cute story.”

The year before Mitchell and Natalie started dating, Mitchell looked at his mom and said he wanted her to send him somewhere warm to go to school so that he could play golf year-round, playing season-by-season at the Peninsula Lakes Golf Club as part of the Niagara Juniors Tour.

At the time, Kathleen rolled her eyes and said “whatever,” but Mitchell persisted and the family found an affordable program where they could send him as an exchange student to Jacksonville, Florida for a year.

When Mitchell first brought up the subject to his mother it was early August. If he had waited any longer to ask he would have missed the mid-August start time of Florida schools and wouldn’t have been able to take his journey to a warmer climate.

After his high school graduation Mitchell was enrolled in Brock University’s Business Communications program for a year. It was during this time that Kathleen and Tim decided to move to Grimsby so that Tim and their second oldest son, Trevor, could open a sporting goods store, Up the Nipissing, in Ancaster. Between shifts working as a landscaper, Mitchell also helps at the family-run store.

In the 20 years since that cold March night, Tim and Kathleen have watched all four of their sons grow into men, each one eventually leaving the house. “I hate it,” said Kathleen, “I didn’t like it at all.”

As her children started to leave, Kathleen decided it was time for a switch of careers. Since her own children were now men and didn’t need her help with homework and Bible study any more, she opened a nanny business so she could share her love and wisdom with other families in the area. She also offers pet-sitting, homework supervision and swimming supervision.

Kathleen is also a photographer. She mainly takes wedding photos. Kathleen and her husband Tim are also advocates for a community in Africa, allowing them to help even more families who live on the other side of the world. Their third son, Devon, is currently spending his fourth year in a row in Africa volunteering at Hands at Work.

When the VanHoffens were living in Fenwick, they were living close to Kathleen’s family, who owned some greenhouses where the VanHoffens would bring their children to help around the property.

Family is a very important thing to Kathleen, who keeps ties to her family and her church, Bethany Christian Reformed Church in Fenwick, and together the family goes to the church together each week.

Twenty years after Mitchell VanHoffen’s dramatic entrance into the world his story is still a great conversation starter, one that the VanHoffens willingly tell to anyone who asks them, “Are you the family who gave birth to the baby on the side of the road?”