WOOLARD DELACRUZ
Phelan M. Ebenhack  /  AP
Allan Woolard and his girlfriend, Edie De la Cruz, look at their newborn baby Michael at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla., July 1. The couple says their child was conceived last year when three hurricanes hit the Orlando area.
updated 7/7/2005 5:47:51 PM ET 2005-07-07T21:47:51

Allan Woolard and his girlfriend, Edie de la Cruz, woke early the morning after Hurricane Jeanne whacked their neighborhood. They wanted to see the damage, and there was plenty: trees, roofs, porches, power lines — all wet, all on the ground.

Their house, miraculously, was untouched. Still, Orlando’s roads were flooded, and the electricity and phones were out. To pass some time, they broke out the water bottles and crackers, and started a puzzle.

When they finished it, they played bingo. When they finished that, they talked — and talked, and talked, until dusk thankfully fell. Allan lit some candles. Edie fidgeted. She was feeling a little bored. So was Allan.

They traded looks.

And ...

Nine months after all those rounds of bingo, Allan and Edie are enjoying their first baby — a 6-pound, 2-ounce boy, whom they named Michael. Like many Florida couples during the hurricane blitz of 2004, they did more than take refuge in the closet.

'It really was romantic'
“It really was romantic,” Edie, a 39-year-old medical technologist, recalled recently, hours after her son was born. “We’d just gone through a traumatic storm, and we’d helped each other through it, and — well, it gave us a real feeling of closeness.”

Says Allan, a 41-year-old forklift operator: “Our power was out for three days. What else were we going to do?”

Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne brought much heartache to Floridians in 2004. Families were split up, careers interrupted, marriages postponed; businesses, schools, post offices and hospitals shut down for weeks, even months.

Some Floridians, however, say there has been a blessed aftershock this summer: a bumper baby crop, the “hurricane baby boom” of 2005.

Hospitals across central Florida are reporting double-digit spikes in births, a phenomenon many obstetricians, nurses and parents attribute to three hurricanes that crisscrossed the region in August and September.

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In Orlando, which was slapped by Charley, Frances and Jeanne, deliveries at Winter Park Memorial were up 26 percent from May 20 to June 7, compared with the same period in 2004.

The Florida Hospital in Orlando saw a 24 percent spike in May; Central Florida Regional, in nearby Sanford, and Health Central, in the neighboring city of Ocoee, reported similar increases.

And in Daytona Beach, deliveries shot up 25 percent at the Halifax Medical Center in late May, and 21 percent for the month of June, according to Kate Holcomb, a hospital spokeswoman.

Halifax, it turns out, was ready; enrollment in its birthing classes had risen 50 percent by early May, and so, expeditiously, noted Holcomb, “we had ordered a few extra diapers.”

Stuck in the dark
There have been reports of similar surges in deliveries after other disruptions, such as blizzards and New York City blackouts. Demographers are careful to note that science has yet to prove the relationship between such things and birth rates. There are many variables — say, managed care’s impact on hospital populations, or seasonal fluctuations in sperm count.

Dr. Ashley Hill, an obstetrician at Florida Hospital’s maternity ward, is quite aware that there is no reasonable way to study such a phenomenon, no academic way to quantify it. Still, he says, “most people around here seem to think there’s something to it.”

“Think about it: men and their wives, stuck in the dark, with burned-out batteries and mattresses,” Hill said.

Lisa Defrin, a 26-year-old hair stylist, gave birth to her daughter in May. Tori was conceived on Aug. 16, three days after Charley knocked out the Defrins’ electricity. “My wife always says we got our baby by hurricane, not by stork,” says Paul Defrin, 32.

Later, when the couple spotted other expecting mothers with their husbands, “We’d say, ’Oh, yeah — they lost power ... they lost power ... they lost power ...,”’ Lisa recalls.

Hours after Charley hit, Erin Weesner and her husband, John Paul, had also gone through their batteries and candles, had worn out the Scrabble board, and had popped open a couple of beers when ...

“I was thinking,” says Erin, 29, a landscape architect, “if we were going to have any fun, it might as well be then. We were without power, and it was hot in the house, and only going to get hotter.”

The result? Madison, their first baby.

Plenty of stories to tell
Robin Kraich, a spokeswoman for Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women, isn’t convinced there’s a baby boom underway in Florida — not yet. Her hospital, she says, saw a 1 percent decrease in births in May, relative to 2004.

However, she adds that the hospital has yet to tabulate data for June and July — precisely the months most hospitals in central Florida are expecting even higher delivery numbers.

If the hurricanes of ’04 have not triggered an across-the-board population increase, at least they have produced some colorful stories. Hill, the obstetrician, recalls a favorite, told by one of his female patients:

Two years ago, her husband bought a gas-powered generator, in case of a power outage. When she saw the generator, she scolded her husband — told him to return it and get his money back.

The husband, however, refused. He felt guilty about returning the generator, and it sat in the garage for a year, much to his wife’s chagrin.

Then, last August, Charley arrived.

For five muggy, scorching, summer days, electricity in Orlando was a luxury. Naturally, it was next to impossible to find a generator anywhere in Orlando, at any price.

But thanks to her husband, the woman and her family were the envy of the neighborhood, running a portable air conditioner, the DVD player, the computer, the ice maker, the TV and microwave.

What did this story have to do with hurricane babies?

“For a whole week,” Hill explains, “that husband got everything he asked for. And nine months later — well, I got the call.”

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