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Baby 2000 Race Starts to Heat Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whom will fate make the first child born in the year 2000?

Forget fate.

A Canadian company, which already has garnered the U.S. trademark for the phrase “Official Millennium Baby,” is drumming up $2 million in cash and prizes for the first North American baby of the new year. In New Zealand, a radio station is footing the bill for 100 couples April 9 at an Auckland hotel, where they will attempt--in private rooms, one hastens to add--to conceive a winning baby and will give hourly broadcasts on their progress.

A San Diego couple has mapped out their own conception date, with plans to fly to the international date line and undergo a caesarean section on an island that has no hospital. But first they have to promote themselves to some media outlet that will pick up the costs, and find a doctor willing to take such a medically risky step.

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The Baby 2000 procreation machine is warming up, with promoters, media and would-be parents vying to cash in on the worldwide lottery of birthing the first baby of the new year.

The time for parents to start maneuvering is now, or at least sometime between Wednesday and April 10.

According to fertility expert Dr. Edward Wallach of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the week of March 25 to April 1 is the optimum millennial conception time frame. His best bet: March 29. But Wallach cautions that only 5% of women give birth on their due date. Actual gestation time depends on many factors, and the window of opportunity extends about a week on either end.

The first babies of each new year typically generate a front-page story in the local newspaper and a few freebies for the parents. After all, the symbol of the new year is a diapered baby. But the notion of a millennium baby has marketers in a tizzy in time zones everywhere.

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“The baby millennia craze simply illustrates our fascination with round numbers, even if those numbers are totally arbitrary,” said Joachim Krueger, a Brown University social psychologist. Numbers ending with zeros help people create landmarks within time, he said. “It may be foolish, but it’s not unhealthy.”

On that score he gets an argument from some medical and religious figures, who see the creation of a life about to be reduced to a publicity stunt.

The impending millennium is “no reason to have a baby,” said Father Gregory Coiro, spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles. “It strikes me as beyond silly and, frankly, immoral.”

Medical ethicists condemn tampering with the birth process for nonmedical reasons--by significantly slowing it down, speeding it up or scheduling a caesarean section--as an unnecessarily risky practice. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines expressly forbid deliveries scheduled primarily for convenience.

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Nearly a decade ago, state medical officials revoked the license of an Anaheim doctor who timed a delivery in the first minute of New Year’s Day in order to swaddle the infant in a Christmas stocking, whisk her next door to Melodyland Christian Center and show off the first baby of 1990 before a nationally televised religious service.

And then there’s the question of fairness.

“Hopefully they’ll say the first baby doesn’t count if it doesn’t happen by nature,” said medical ethicist Kenneth Ryan, an obstetrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It ought to be left to chance.”

TV to Follow Couples’ Quest

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But such concerns are far from the minds of the promoters and media outlets that are promising fame or cash--or both--to jackpot babies and the couples who try to conceive them.

“Birth Race 2000,” produced by Yorkshire TV in England, will document the baby quest of 10 British couples aiming for a Jan. 1 delivery.

YTV kicks off its bluntly named “Nookie Night” on Wednesday with three shows designed to give couples the urge to participate: “A to Zed [Z] of Conception” (how-to techniques), “Animal Passions” (“Wild Kingdom” meets Dr. Ruth) and “On the Job” (clips of classic sitcom seduction scenes).

As the pregnancies progress, a trio of documentaries will check in on the 10 couples at the end of the first trimester in July and during last-minute preparations in December, then stake out hospitals on New Year’s Eve.

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Interest from advertising agencies, corporate sponsors and potential parents has been “phenomenal,” spokeswoman Melissa Carter said.

“The world is jumping on the bandwagon of the millennium baby,” she said.

Indeed, Britain’s National Fertility Assn. expects a 25% increase in births on New Year’s Day.

The New Zealand radio station is bringing in champagne and Casanova’s favored aphrodisiac, oysters, to aid and abet the 100 couples it is putting up at the hotel. During “breaks,” the couples will fill listeners in on their progress, while fertility experts opine on the most effective ways to produce offspring.

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“People will be doing it on that date anyway,” said on-air host Nicki Sunderland. “We’re just bringing them all together.”

Nigel and Briar Dunn will be one of the couples, in part because Nigel is crazy about anything 2000. “We figured: Why not go for the gold?” Briar said.

Another guest of the radio station is Narelle Davis. “I always wanted a baby born in 2000, but the first baby of the millennium will be historic,” she said. “I just thought: We’ve got to do this.”

Ditto for Duane and Susan Dimock, who will stop at nothing to produce Baby 2000--provided someone will come up with a pile of money that allows them to do it.

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The San Diego couple plans to conceive on April Fools’ Day, fly to the South Pacific island republic of Kiribati along the international date line--which means it’s the first inhabited place in the world to see in the new year--and have a caesarean section at 12:00:01 a.m. New Year’s Day. (A note to people with old atlases or globes: The date line was moved in 1997 to follow the eastern boundary of Kiribati.)

The Dimocks even have names for their baby picked out: Millie, short for millennium, if it’s a girl, and Otto, as in aught (zero), for a boy.

“There’s going to be somebody who is going to do it,” Duane Dimock said. “Why not us?”

Captain Cook’s Hotel, the only accommodations on Kiribati’s Christmas Island, already has sold out its 36 rooms for New Year’s but plans to build more rooms and put guests up in tents if necessary.

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“We would very much like to have the first baby of the millennium delivered at the hotel,” general manager Peter Edwards said. “Arrangements could be made, as long as we’ve got the room.”

But the Dimocks also would have to find a doctor willing to perform obstetrical surgery on the island, which has no hospital.

If they stay at home, they could compete for the $2 million in cash and prizes being lined up by Sam Paglia for the parents of the first baby born in North America next year.

Paglia, the Canadian owner of a graphics arts company, obtained the U.S. trademark for the term “Official Millennium Baby” more than a year ago, and now is approaching companies to underwrite prizes such as a minivan, an unlimited supply of diapers and a full college scholarship.

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“We’re probably going to cause a baby boom,” Paglia said.

With multiple time zones in North America, he is still struggling to figure out how his competition will pick the winner.

Not to be outdone, several companies are lining up for other “official” trademark names--Millennium Born, Baby Millennium, Millennium D.O.B. 2000--to crank out everything from infant togs to plush toys to soap-on-a-rope.

Irish companies are lining up to shower that country’s firstborn with prizes. Doctors there, not surprisingly, advise St. Patrick’s Day conceptions.

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“There’s no doubt that the country’s first baby of the millennium will win enormous celebrity status and probably won’t have to work a day in his or her life, except for celebrity appearances,” said Jim Finnegan, an Irish publicist.

Some prospective parents have been taking the opposite route, trying to time their babies’ births so they can’t possibly occur around New Year’s. Internet bulletin boards devoted to fertility issues have been buzzing with postings from would-be moms expressing fear of a massive Y2K power failure while they are on the delivery table.

Their timing issues are much easier to handle than those of couples aiming for the millennial prize. After all, only a single second separates the last baby of 1999 from the first of 2000.

“You’ll either get a tax break or end up on the ‘Today’ show,” said “Generations” author William Strauss, who writes about pivotal points in history.

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