April 7, 2002
Born Out of Disaster
By TARA BAHRAMPOUR
New York, Sept. 11-18: Bridges are closed. Ferries are docked. Employers are telling people to stay home. What's a couple to do? According to some New York childbirth professionals, couples did what came naturally, leading to a spike in births anticipated in late May and early June, around nine months after the World Trade Center attacks. ''After that happened, people either said, 'The hell with birth control -- life is too short,' or 'Life is stressful,''' Yael Fuchs, a Brooklyn obstetrician, says, ''and one of the things people do under stress is have sex.'' Fuchs has 25 patients due this June, instead of her usual 15 to 20.
At the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center in Manhattan, women signed up for prenatal care last fall in record numbers. The center closed its May list in January, months earlier than usual. Administrators at Long Island College Hospital say they expect up to 20 percent more deliveries than usual in May and June. Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn reports an increase of around 8 percent. New York Methodist and Mount Sinai Hospitals report no change, but Douglas Moss, an obstetrician affiliated with Mount Sinai, says his practice is up by a third for that time, and Lynn Friedman, another obstetrician affiliated with Mount Sinai, says her practice is up by 10 percent. Two other New York obstetricians, however, say a peak in conceptions came after an initial dip in September.
Doctors and nurses still exchange stories of past baby boomlets after citywide blackouts, blizzards and earthquakes. Some demographers dismiss such anecdotes as urban legend. But Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and author of ''Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong,'' says in this case she expects a rise in births based on people's reported behavior after Sept. 11. ''There was a lot of 'Live now and pay the consequences later,''' she says, adding that during times of crisis, ''people want to embrace life. They want to prove to themselves that they're still alive.'' Pat Troy, the executive director of Elizabeth Seton, agrees, attributing the apparent trend to ''people wanting to have a continuity of things ending and things beginning. And for people with a more mystical bent, there were a lot who felt that those souls had nowhere to go.''
Even if this spike in the birthrate turns out to be urban legend, the legend serves a purpose, according to Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at Northwestern University. ''The story itself expresses a kind of wish we have for something productive and meaningful to come out of an event that undoes our world,'' he says.
Meanwhile, at least one New Yorker saw a link between increased fertility and the power of suggestion. On Sept. 10, Alexandra Conley's husband flew on United Airlines from Newark to San Francisco, two flights before the one that crashed near Pittsburgh. After detours through Los Angeles and Las Vegas, he finally made it home on Sept. 16. ''We had been trying for a long time,'' Conley says of their efforts to have a baby. ''I had read about how births go up after natural disasters and during war. I said, 'This is it.' I just got a feeling.'' Conley is expecting her first child June 17.