Postcard from New York

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The Independent Culture
OCTOBER SURPRISE: New Yorkers famously possess a sixth sense for sussing out what other New Yorkers are up to and following suit - rather like an unrehearsed singer in a choir who lustily joins in with the chorus half a beat behind, pretending he knew the song all along.

Sometimes, however, this zeal for imitation backfires in unexpected ways. Over the past few weeks, the most secret habits of hundreds, even thousands, of private citizens have been made public. You'd think they'd be ashamed, but they even seem proud of what is, after all, the blatant unoriginality of having succumbed to the most prevalent trend of 1996: bearing babies that were conceived during the blizzards of January and February.

Not since the blackout of 1965, when the number of new babies jumped by 50 per cent, has there been a greater one-month jump in the birth rate in this city. In 1996, thankfully, the jump in New York City has only been 10-15 per cent (data are still coming in) presumably because, even though fearsome snowstorms had shut down offices, restaurants, cinemas, bars, cafes and galleries, televisions were still working, so Manhattanites were left some diversion besides each other. Everybody was doing it. Madonna is only one of thousands of East Coast trendies who lately find themselves nursing the results of an addiction they gave in to early this year, falling victim to the double whammy of peer pressure and bad weather. Now, they beam into their bassinets, tickle young toes, and lurch about busy thoroughfares ostentatiously waggling their snugglies at the unlucky New Yorkers who weren't in on January's longest-kept secret.

"My feet are killing me," sighs Carol DiCosmo, assistant Nurse Manager at the Beth Israel Medical Center's labour and delivery suite. DiCosmo has been kept running from ward to ward for going on two months. "We had every bed filled this week, and we were like crazy, we had 130 deliveries in the second week of October. And I have a sneaking suspicion, call it nursing intuition, more is coming." Nurse DiCosmo's only consolation is that there are some cities even quicker to jump on trends than New York City. In Grand Fork, North Dakota, for instance, where last winter was even worse than New York, the birth rate jump is 40 per cent. But to make matters worse, another nurse on the floor is out of commission. She and her husband both worked 24-hour shifts during the blizzard, and when it ended, they were so relieved to find they had some time alone that-well, baby Colin was born last week.