THERE WILL BE roughly 25 invited guests at a wedding I’m attending this weekend-mostly family and close friends. Yet of that small group, five are expectant mothers. That’s almost half of the women in attendance, and nearly all of those within child-bearing age. That doesn’t even include my cousin’s wife, who’s too far along in her pregnancy to make the trip. Three of the pregnancies come from my immediate family: My two older sisters are both expecting, as is my wife, who is due with our first child in January.
There’s a baby boom underway, and if the anecdotal evidence gleaned from news reports across the country is any indication, it’s not confined to my family.
Doctors in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere all report the same trend-a sudden spike in the number of children being born, starting in June, roughly nine months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
This is good news not just for obstetricians and the diaper industry, but for the nation as a whole. It suggests a reordered sense of priorities, with a greater emphasis on the things that matter most. It’s a hopeful sign that while "everything" didn’t change with 9/11, as many had hoped, some things did, at least for a time any way, and American culture and society will be richer for it.
"This was kind of a wake-up call for people," Dr. Paul Kastell, a New York obstetrician and professor at Long Island College Hospital, recently told the Associated Press. "They saw the towers burning. And when they got home they said, ‘You know, it’s never going to be the right time. We should start now.’ " Suddenly the bigger house, the better car, the next vacation didn’t seem to matter so much any more. At a moment when the nation was filled with a newfound sense of generosity, millions of couples acted generously by welcoming a new child into their homes and lives.
Until more demographic information becomes available, there will be no way to know for sure just how much birthrates have increased, if at all, and there are those who doubt any connection to 9/11. Officials in Pittsburgh, for example, say that their baby count is pretty much on par with last year. Then there are others who claim that childbirths always increase in the summer (the fruits of long winters, perhaps), or that the purported uptake in births began in May, indicating pre-9/11 conceptions.
The bulk of the evidence, however, seems to go against the skeptics. Most reports suggest a 20 to 25 percent increase in the number of babies that will be delivered over the next several months. Moreover, it’s typical for a spate of childbirths to follow a disaster of any kind. The March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology reports that after Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina in 1989, birth, marriage, and divorce rates briefly spiked. Whether for good or for ill, the near brush with death prompts many to make the sort of serious, life-altering decisions that they had otherwise been postponing.
The motivations are not always sound, or even healthy. Last October, the L.A. Times reported that many New Yorkers’ response to Sept. 11 was a profound sense of loneliness and vulnerability, which they sought to relieve through casual sex. "I just wanted random sex," one woman told the paper. "I wanted a man’s arms around me. … I wanted to feel protected." Some fraction of the Sept. 11 babies will, no doubt, have fathers they will never know. Others will never be born at all. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the New York branch of Planned Parenthood offered free abortions to the city’s grief-stricken women.
That’s another potential response to tragedy: giving up procreation altogether due to a despairing belief that a world of death and terror is no place for a child. But the early numbers indicate that the pessimists are a small minority, vastly outnumbered by those whose response to a dark world is to bring in more light.
Having faced an enemy with no regard for human life, many more Americans seem to have gained a heightened appreciation for its innate value. Children, who modern society too often regards as a burden-a drain on money, fun, or spare time-are instead viewed as the signs of hope and the tiny miracles they are. Last December, USA Today Weekend Magazine ran a story on a different type of 9/11 baby -the little ones born on that infamous day, reminders that goodness can abound even in the worst of times.
Over the next few months, there will be many more such reminders. I will see five of them this weekend.