IOWA DERECHO 2020

This baby was born in a Cedar Rapids basement just hours after the storm

A home birth, pandemic and severe storm combine for special moment

CEDAR RAPIDS — The day after a devastating derecho swept across Iowa, destroying trees, homes and property, Dee Chestnut was giving birth to a daughter in her basement in the Vernon Heights neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids.

Chestnut had been in Iowa City for a 40-week pregnancy checkup Monday when she got a frantic call from her husband, Corey, as the storm blew across Iowa around 12:30 p.m. The electrical box on the side of their 100-year-old house was on fire and water was pouring in.

The call disconnected, and Dee Chestnut was unable to get hold of her husband until 4 p.m.

“No matter what, I was going home,” she said. “I was worried about my other children.”

She drove home from Iowa City to find her family safe — and then her contractions started.

The Chestnuts were 20 weeks pregnant in March when the coronavirus became a pandemic. Wanting to avoid potential COVID-19 exposure at a hospital, Dee reached out to Empress Birth Services, a midwife service that does home births.

“It’s 2020,” she said. “You better have a backup plan.”

She was worried about a midwife’s comfort with delivering a baby in the middle of a blackout. But the midwives told her they have been delivering babies in the Amish community, which doesn’t have electricity, for more than 20 years.

Chestnut’s midwife spent the night in her car, parked nearby, so Chestnut could get hold of her and also to avoid close contact with the family as much as possible because of the coronavirus. She came into the house when Chestnut’s labor intensified.

Chestnut planned on giving birth in a small swimming pool, which the Chestnuts set up Monday night in their basement, filling it with water they first boiled on their gas stove.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

There were so many things Chestnut wanted to have during her home birth — music, a diffuser — but without electricity, she quickly realized those things that had felt necessary were a luxury.

Chestnut’s water broke around 7 a.m. Tuesday, when she was on a walk with her family to survey the storm wreckage.

“I was screaming, but there were chain saws so no one could hear it,” Chestnut said. “The trees were breathtaking. I was in awe during this moment of catastrophe.”

An hour later, Chestnut delivered her baby — a daughter named Maple — into her own hands at 8 a.m. Her oldest daughter, Magnolia, 5, cut the umbilical cord.

“Whenever I hold my baby sister, she stops crying,” Magnolia said. “I love my baby sister.”

The home birth was a special experience for the family, Corey Chestnut said.

When their middle daughter, Willow, 2, was born, Magnolia spent only an hour with her in Willow’s first two days. A home birth, a pandemic and a severe storm gave the family a special time together, he said.

He also explained that he and his wife didn’t start out planning to give their children tree-themed names. But they liked the name Magnolia for daughter No. 1. Then it made sense to name their second daughter Willow.

“At that point, I could tell people we were growing a forest,” Corey Chestnut said. And then came Maple.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

He said that while the Chestnuts’ home and garage have “severe” storm damage, “priorities are different for us than they are for anyone else. We do have damage, but the focus is inside the house.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.