Outside the bedroom windows, a frigid wind howled through the snow-covered streets of the Olney, Md., neighborhood. It was late afternoon on Saturday, and the blizzard was intensifying. So were Jenny Krueger's contractions.
Krueger, a 33-year-old veterinarian, and her husband, 36-year-old high school teacher Josh Kinnetz, had been eyeing the forecast warily for days. Historic Winter Storm Jonas was due to arrive in the Washington area on Friday. Their son was due to arrive on Thursday. It was a bit close for comfort.
After the uneventful birth of their daughter at a local hospital three years ago, Krueger and Kinnetz — following another healthy, low-risk pregnancy — had recently decided to have their second child delivered at home. So the couple asked their midwives how the weather might change the game plan.
"They told us, 'Well, we've never missed a birth because of a storm; we always find a way to get there,' " said Krueger.
Well, until now: The midwives also acknowledged that, given the severity of the forecast, they couldn't be sure they'd be able to get to Krueger's and Kinnetz's home if Krueger went into labor. But maybe the baby wouldn't be born during the blizzard, anyway. "They said, 'Start talking to your baby, tell him he needs to stay in there,' " Krueger recalled. "I think we all had a little bit of denial. We thought we'd get through the storm, it wouldn't be a problem."
It was the day before the first snowflakes fell, and the midwives were calm (they're midwives, after all). Krueger (disclosure: She's a former high-school classmate) was calm, too — she's pragmatic by nature, sometimes a little too unworried, her husband says. But Kinnetz, faced with the possibility that his wife would go into labor without medical help readily available, was somewhat less serene. A slew of scenarios went through his mind: What if something went wrong? What if the roads were totally impassible? What if they lost power? A home birth was one thing, but a home birth without lights and heat and professional support was another matter entirely.
But his anxiety gave way to denial, too, he said. On Thursday, he posted a status update to Facebook — "Leave it up to my son to wait and be born during an epic D.C. blizzard" — mostly as a joke. It wouldn't actually happen.
Then it did. Around 3 p.m. on Saturday, as the winds began to pick up and the snowdrifts piled higher, Krueger's water broke. Soon after, the contractions began.
She hoped that it was a false alarm; she'd had Braxton-Hicks contractions ("false" contractions that sometimes occur late in a pregnancy) before, and they'd always subsided quickly. She settled on the living room couch with her iPhone, timing the contractions as they went from 15 minutes apart, to 10 minutes, to eight.
Kinnetz, meanwhile, sat wide-eyed across from her.
"He was watching me like, 'Oh, no,' " Krueger said. "I could feel the anxiety building — this was real, this was not going away."
Kinnetz asked whether they should try to get to a hospital; maybe they could still make it in time. But the midwives, who had checked in throughout the afternoon, weren't worried, and neither was Krueger. They called her mother, who lives nearby and tried to come over, escorted by a neighbor with 4-wheel drive. But the vehicle couldn't get close enough to the house, Krueger said, so they had to turn back.
The couple — and their 3-year-old daughter, Arabella — were on their own. But as darkness fell and Krueger's labor escalated, the pair grew calm and focused. The midwives were on the phone, coaching as best they could. Emergency medics were aware of the couple's situation and knew to expect a possible call if something went awry. Kinnetz concentrated on heating the water in Krueger's birthing tub and supporting her back as she pushed. Arabella happily divided her attention between the unusual scene unfolding in her parents' bedroom and the Disney movie "Tangled" on TV.
Once everything was underway, Kinnetz was too preoccupied to be anxious. "I had no time to worry," he said. "It wound up being easier to just be in the moment."
Mercifully, the process unfolded without much drama — but as the hours ticked by, Krueger began to fear that the labor had gone on too long and she wouldn't be able to keep going.
"It got to a point where I was like, I don't know if I can do this," she said. "I thought, we're going to have to call 911 and it's going to take them forever to get here."
Less than 10 minutes later — shortly before midnight — she lifted her healthy, 7 pound, 10 ounce son from the water and held him to her chest as he wailed. Arabella announced his arrival: "She looked up and said, 'Oh, my baby brother came out!' " Krueger said. " 'He's here!' "
Despite the unexpected circumstances, the family said the experience was overwhelmingly positive: "It was intimate and peaceful," Kinnetz said. After the birth, they cherished their first moments as a family of four, cuddling together in bed as they admired the newest addition.
In case you're wondering: No, they didn't name him Jonas.
Krueger and Kinnetz hope that their son, Bodhi, will get a kick out of his blizzard birth story someday.
"We're both into winter sports," Krueger said with a laugh. "We feel sure he'll like skiing and snowboarding."