TEMPEST TALES: Marblehead has new ‘true native’

August Valentine Barker entered the world on a stormy night at home in historic Marblehead, cementing his status as a true native Marbleheader.

Emily Sottile and Alex Barker stand outside their Front Street home, the historic Three Cod Tavern, where their new son,  August, made his grand entrance. COURTESY PHOTOS

The 7.5-pound, 19.5-inch baby boy was born at 9:36 a.m. on Aug. 18 to Emily Valentine Sottile and Alexander James Barker at the 300-year-old site that once housed the town’s original Three Cod Tavern. Due to the closure of Mary Alley Hospital in the 1960s, most babies born to Marblehead families do not meet the strictest definition of being a town native.

“He gets a special status by being born here,” said father Alex Barker. “He’s going to be one of the few kids in his first-grade classroom, high school class, that can claim (to be) true ’Headers.”

Barker and Sottile said they chose a home birth for their first child after watching the 2008 documentary “The Business of Being Born,” which examines the medicalization of childbirth in America.

“It just seemed like the gentlest way for the baby to be born,” Sottile said. “I loved the idea of bringing him into the world in the comfort of his home.”

She was in labor through the night of Aug. 17 and into the morning, when a strong storm rolled in off Massachusetts Bay. Contractions intensified as lightning flashed outside.

“It was like an updraft thunderstorm — a real tempest,” Barker recalled. “We thought about naming (him) Tempest.”

August Valentine Barker, a ‘True ‘Header” born amidst a violent storm in August.

They decided on August, meaning “magnificent,” with a middle name of Valentine, a family moniker on the baby’s maternal side.

Midwife Ann Whitman of Gloucester and assistant midwife Naomi Daborn Lanson calmly guided the couple through the birth. Alexander’s brother and Sottile’s cousin were the first to meet baby August after his arrival.

“It was really a special thing for us,” said Sottile.

Sottile took daily walks along the harbor and felt embraced by the small seaside community.

“The whole neighborhood has been… saying congratulations,” she said. “It makes you feel kind of connected.”

The home birth allows August to share a special bond with his mother and father. His mother was born at home, while his father was born at now-closed Lynn Hospital to Marblehead parents.

“I don’t consider myself a ‘true Marbleheader,’ although some say I am,” Barker said with a chuckle. “It’s kind of funny but true.”

When August is old enough, his parents look forward to telling him that he was born in a Front Street house that “has some history” as the former Three Cod Tavern. Barker said the experience has instilled in them a deeper connection to the coastal town they now call home.

So far, the happy baby with fuzzy brown hair and slate blue eyes has drawn smiles from strangers as his parents push him around Marblehead in a stroller.

“Everybody seems to kind of be drawn to us right now,” Sottile said.

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