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Elberta baby born above a bar becomes a local legend

Gretchen Carr
Red Pine Radio
Frederik Stig-Nielsen and his wife Betsy Mas hold their baby, Francisca, who was born in an apartment above the Cabbage Shed in Elberta, Michigan.

Frederik Stig-Nielsen and his wife Betsy Mas had their first child in their apartment above the Cabbage Shed, a popular restaurant and tavern in Elberta. 

When they found out they were expecting, they decided their goal was to have a home birth with a midwife, because Betsy was not comfortable in the hospital setting.   

“I did just know it was not a good mental place for me. In my opinion our mind and body are so tied, so if you are not in a good mental place your body is not going to be in a good place either," explained Betsy.

When they were contemplating a home birth, they learned that many of their friends were having their babies at home. In the last decade, an average of six babies have been born each year in Benzie County, where Betsy and Frederick live. 

Around the time of Betsy’s due date, the midwife came to the apartment and approved her for home birth. Soon after she left, the unexpected occured.

“And then I kid you not, she left. Thirty minutes after she left, my water broke," Betsy said.

Betsy called her midwife and she told her to get some rest and prepare for labor. In early morning hours, as the full moon light shone through the apartment windows, Betsy’s contractions began.  

By noon, when the midwife and her assistants arrived, temperatures were hovering near 90 degrees. There was no air conditioning, and the only circulation came from the occasional lake breeze. 

“I remember it was really hot that day and I remembered telling Frederick, should we shut the windows because people are downstairs? But it was way too hot to make that decision, so we just had the windows open," Betsy said.

In the living room of their apartment, Betsy labored with the assistance of the midwife and Frederick.

As the labor progressed, they started playing records to help them focus and relax. As Betsy was in the final stage of labor, her baby's head emerged, and the voice of Aretha Franklin ushered in the new life.

“So it was Eleanor Rigby actually, by Aretha Franklin. Yes, and all the midwives were grooving, and I was screaming," recalls Betsy.

That was around 5 p.m. — happy hour time. Cory Bissell and his friends were enjoying cocktails on the deck below. He described the sounds he heard from the window above him.

“And all of a sudden I hear a kind of  a scream or a screech and we all kinda looked around and I said, ‘Was that a baby rabbit? Did you hear that?’ It just sounded very high pitched and intense. We looked around and we didn’t think anything of it and then Marilyn, who is  our regular waitress here, came, set down our drinks, clasps her hands and said, ‘It is such an exciting day. A miracle is happening upstairs,’” Bissell said.

While Cory was enjoying his cocktail and wondering what he heard, Betsy was upstairs, enduring the final stages of labor.

"I remember being in the throws of pushing for two hours at that point. It was during the ring of fire, and if you are familiar with that term, that is when the baby's head is actually coming through. It's an insanely painful feeling and it did scare me a bit, and I remember one of the midwives… she made eye contact with me and she said, ‘This is a safe feeling! This is a safe feeling!’ And when I heard that, I thought, Ok! I can do this,” Betsy said.

Freddy remembered the moment he first saw his baby daughter.

"And when she came out, there was that moment of, does she have all the limbs? And I'm looking at the midwife, and it's a newborn baby and you don't really know what you're looking for, and of course she starts screaming immediately, so that's a good sign. And then she just put her on Betsy's chest, and Betsy was sitting in my lap and just sat there bawling. I never cried like that in my life, and it was great and it felt great, and I was just like, ‘You're here! Welcome!’” Frederik said.

They named the baby girl Francisca. 

For the patrons and staff of the Cabbage Shed, the tale of Francisca’s birth is legendary. Beth Roetler, the restaurant owner, gets a lot of questions about Francisca, also known as the Cabbage Shed baby.  "So now she has all these people checking in on her to see when she's going to take her first steps."

While she hasn’t taken any steps yet, Francisca is enjoying plenty of milk and long naps.  

Coordinator of Operations and Engagement, Gretchen Carr joined the IPR staff in 2019. With her background in the performing arts, education, history, arts administration, and communications, she works to keep the daily operations at IPR running smoothly. A native of Traverse City, Michigan, she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Western Michigan University and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. Gretchen is also a multimedia artist focusing on film, writing, soundscape, and radio story.