It’s the most wonderful time of the year — but what about if you’re nearing your due date? December can be chaotic enough for parents with school commitments, shopping, and family gatherings, but many moms also give birth around Christmas each year. For those families — and the medical professionals working holiday shifts to assist in their deliveries — Christmas becomes magical in an entirely new way.
We talked to mothers who knew they would be missing Christmas to give birth, those with unexpected early surprises, and a few of the doctors and nurses that keep things running smoothly during the merriest of seasons.
Christmas just moved up a few days for a big sister.
When Lia Milgram found out she was due December 30th and would need a repeat c-section, she suspected that delivering before Christmas was a strong possibility. Milgram got to pick her delivery date, and chose the 23rd in hopes of being discharged on Christmas — which is just what happened. “I knew I didn’t want to be in the hospital after Christmas,” she says. With a three-year-old already at home, Milgram says they celebrated “Christmas Eve” on the 21st and woke up the next day to a faux Christmas morning for her older child.
Milgram, who lives in Fairfax, Virginia was also concerned with maximizing maternity leave — a common American problem. The week after Christmas was already a paid week off at her job, so she wanted to be home and taking advantage of that time. “We got discharged right at 48 hours post-op, and went home to have Christmas dinner with both kids there.” And while Milgram says nurses are “incredible human beings” to begin with, she was amazed at how cheery they were as they asked about her traditions and discussed their own. The best part was having that quiet week between Christmas and New Years with their newly expanded family of four. “My husband is a big fan of Seinfeld, so the Festivus jokes abound,” she laughs.
Wondering whether Santa or a baby would show up first.
Due on January 6, Sara Wodarczyk and her husband Jason thought they had a better chance at a New Year’s Eve baby than a Christmas one, but their son arrived exactly on Christmas Day in 2012. “We expected to be just spending the holiday as usual, with family, before the baby was born.” Instead their plans changed in an instant, though they wouldn’t change a thing. “We were given Christmas hats for our baby boy, and our families came to visit us in the hospital and brought our oldest son to meet his new brother.”
The hardest part of the whole ordeal, says Wodarczyk, was going into labor in the quiet hours between Christmas Eve and that magical morning her older son was expecting.
“We had to leave our oldest son, who has autism, at home.” As a mom stressing over orchestrating holiday magic for her child, she worried. In retrospect, though, their memories of that year are positive. They did not know the sex of their second baby, so were surprised with another son. “The best part was all the attention we got for our Christmas baby, and we loved the surprise of not knowing the sex and then telling everyone.” Her fondest memory of that year? “Our two boys meeting for the first time.”
Their holiday baby made it onto the evening news.
Due in late December of 1982, Donna Renales-Dobbs expected a Christmas baby — but her daughter Saundra came early, on December 14th. It turns out, she says, that December 15th was the first day the hospital began wrapping babies like presents for their discharge that season. “We knew nothing of this tradition,” says Renales-Dobbs, “And we were pleasantly surprised. It turned out that it was such a big deal that the first baby discharged on that day made the news.”
Baby Saundra was featured on all three local TV networks, a claim to fame that the family has treasured for the last four decades. “It was quite exciting except I didn't feel like I looked my best,” remembers Renales-Dobbs. “But you know, it was not about me.”
Renales-Dobbs has a picture of herself with her new daughter next to a Christmas tree that year, and she recalls stringing the popcorn on the tiny tree with a needle by hand. “We were pretty poor. We couldn't afford many decorations.” They chose that small tree so it would look full despite their lack of resources. “It was perfect. We didn't feel poor; just looking back now, I can see it.”
Swaddled in a Christmas stocking
Deb Whitewood and her wife Susan knew to expect a chaotic Christmas the year their daughter Abbey was born, and they got just what they expected. Deb was due December 23, 1996, and that’s exactly when their baby showed up. Deb says her timely delivery didn’t cancel Christmas at all — in fact, it created some special memories. Born at St. Clair Hospital in nearby Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the Catholic-founded facility was in full Christmas mode by the time Abbey made her arrival.
Moms and baby were discharged on Christmas Eve, and even managed to attend a church service, says Deb. “When we were discharged, they brought Abbey to me tucked in a large red Christmas stocking.” That stocking is still the first to go up every year in the Whitewood house, even though Abbey is an adult now. The Whitewoods say their church family supported them during their chaotic December by bringing food and visiting. “My in-laws came in on the 27th and stayed through the new year, and my mother-in-law, Jean, did most of the cooking while she was here.”
The couple has worked hard to make sure Abbey’s birthday is celebrated fully despite its proximity to Christmas. “Her birthday presents were never wrapped in Christmas paper,” say Deb, and they made sure that extended family celebrated her birthday specifically also. “It was fairly easy with my family because both of my siblings were born in December,” laughs Deb. “So they knew the pain.”
The challenge of an extended holiday hospital stay.
For some moms, a Christmastime hospital stay happened because their baby had to be in the NICU. Having a child in the hospital is one of the most difficult things a parent can experience, but it can be extra tough over the holidays, when the sense that everyone outside is celebrating can make the wards feel even more isolated. Many families also had also set the holidays as a deadline for when they hoped to be home; when they miss it, the disappointment feels heavy. Thankfully the caring staff at these neonatal intensive care units made it not only bearable, but special.
While most moms who spend Christmas in the hospital deliver right around the big day, Terra Scaldes delivered her daughter on November 18, 2021 at St. David’s Hospital. Originally due December 23, Scaldes had complications from diabetes and delivered five weeks early. Having already had a preemie in 2015, Scales had an idea of what they were facing. “I didn’t expect to be in the hospital myself during the holidays, but I had emotionally prepared myself for my daughter not to be home yet,” she says.
Her daughter, Scarlett, was in the NICU for nearly four weeks — and for most of that time she was the only baby there. Scales says the majority of the staff were exceptional caregivers and she grew close to each of them. “They did adorable things like dressing Scarlett up in little outfits. She was a turkey at one point, a snowman, an elf, and a reindeer.” One nurse learned Scales was missing Christmas music, so she always changed the playlist when she came on shift.
As for extended family, distance and pandemic-related concerns meant they couldn’t be nearby to help. Scarlett’s father took over group-text duties. “He really took on the role of providing information, which was fantastic, because I was exhausted and did not want to have multiple conversations constantly,” laughs Scales.
“Being in the hospital for any reason is never fun, I think most people can agree with that. But there’s something a little more melancholy about being there during the holiday season,” says Scales. She felt she was missing out on many things and struggled to feel hopeful at times. Seeing how everyone stepped up to care for Scarlett helped her find joy. “And there’s this adorable tiny little thing that makes you so happy, and covering that with the magic of the Christmas spirit just kind of mutes anything that might be a little bit negative about the experience.”
Sometimes grief and joy sit right next to each other.
Delivering December 4, 2018, Jenna Fletcher knew to expect a complicated Christmas that year. Her twin pregnancy had sadly ended at 32 weeks gestation with the loss of one of her sons, and she found herself spending that Christmas season in the NICU with her other son. The staff, she says, made it not only bearable but unexpectedly cheery. “The NICU threw a holiday party for the families and had Santa come in so we could get photos with him.” They allowed siblings in for the event, so that’s the first time her 4-year-old daughter got to meet her new baby brother.
That holiday party was also the first time Fletcher was allowed to dress her son, so she chose a tiny elf outfit for his first big event. When her daughter was able to visit again on Christmas day, the staff decked the baby out in a festive onesie and swaddled him in a stocking.
Fletcher says all the touches made a truly difficult year bearable. “We were still doing Christmas and Santa for our daughter, but it was so stressful trying to keep up the appearance of holiday spirit and magic for her while juggling my grief and NICU life.” She and her husband stayed up until 5 a.m. on Christmas morning trying to pull Christmas together for their daughter after spending so much time at the NICU. “We were totally overcompensating, we built this crazy dollhouse that had an 87 page instruction manual, and put tons of pressure on ourselves to make her Christmas special,” Fletcher says. “It was the epitome of grief and sadness existing next to joy.”
Working overtime during the most wonderful time of the year.
None of these special moments would have happened if not for hardworking labor and delivery staff across the country, who take time away from their own families to deliver and care for Christmas babies each year.
“We always try to make it special!” says Cooper, a labor and delivery nurse for 14 years who has worked in several hospitals. She says potlucks for the staff and cookie exchanges make the work hours more cheery, and notes that she personally chooses to wear stretchy pants so she can fully enjoy the shared treats.
Those who get tasked with working the holiday rarely complain about it, either. Staff are committed to safety, so they show up. “There isn’t a lot of animosity, because you have to have enough staff on hand to do a c-section even if there are no patients.” While it can be difficult to be away from their own families on Christmas, Cooper says focusing on the families at the hospital makes it bearable.
As for the babies? They get festive outfits at most of the hospitals Cooper has worked at. “I loved dressing babies up and taking them back to their parents. Just so much fun,” she says. For the most part, families are happy, adds Cooper. “We try to early discharge when they have kids at home,” so they can enjoy at least part of the magic, too.
“Once we had a mom who was on bedrest for complications, and the doctors allowed her to go home on Christmas day for a few hours to see her other kids.” Cooper notes this is not the norm. “She had to promise to come back.”
Babies don’t care what time of year it is.
Christmas shifts are part of what an OB signs up for, says Dr. Enid Y. Rivera-Chiauzzi, an Ob-GYN in Rochester, Minnesota, since babies pay no attention to what day they’re born on. This year I’ll be working Christmas Eve and Christmas day, so I’ll have lots of fun Christmas babies.” The unit is always festive, she says — headbands with reindeer antlers abound and then there’s that shared food in the breakroom.
The holidays tend to bring out the crafty side in at least one member of the delivery team. “It always seems like there’s some nurse who got into knitting and there will be hats for all the Christmas babies, so we gift those to the families,” says Rivera-Chiauzzi. Her unit has also set up a photo backdrop so patients can still get that holiday photo.
The families who are surprised by a Christmas delivery are the ones who struggle the most, says Rivera-Chiauzzi. “They’re in a state of shock and overwhelm,” she says, “ They’ve left home unexpectedly and they require a lot of love.” She says overall, the hospital staff work hard to make it as joyous as possible for anyone coming through those doors around Christmas. “We try to create that family experience for the staff and our patients,” she says; adding that she herself is a Christmastime baby — born on December 28th.
Celebrating the magic of a new baby.
For two of the last five years, Nicole Revels, a nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina, has been on baby duty on Christmas day. At the North Carolina hospital where she works, staff rotate each year so that no one is missing every Christmas. “It can be hard working on Christmas because you so badly want to be able to spend that time with your family and loved ones,” she says. “But it always helps to remind yourself that this is such a special day for these families welcoming their new baby into the world and it’s such a gift to be able to be a part of that.”
Each year the nurses order Christmas shirts to wear around the labor and delivery unit. When visitors step off the elevator, they are greeted with a tree covered in pink and blue ornaments, and miniature pink and blue Christmas trees surround the nurse’s station. Parents, says Revels, seem appreciative and are often excited about the prospect of a Christmas baby. She describes the vibe as fun and magical. “While it’s hard, it’s also a blessing — and if I have to work on Christmas, there’s nothing else I would rather be doing.”