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BIRTH OF A NOTION
WHOSE BRIGHT IDEA WAS THIS? GETTING MARRIED OR HAVING A BABY ON DEC. 31 CAN BE A HECTIC PROPOSITION

First comes love.

Then comes marriage.

Then comes baby in the baby carriage.

That is, unless you're talking about Dec. 31 of this year, when all three may converge.

With 12 weeks to go, dozens of men and women are preparing to greet 2000 by ringing not just New Year's bells but wedding bells, too -- and maybe some toy rattles while they're at it.

The countdown for millennium weddings and (possible) births is under way.

And many women planning them say they're starting to get, in one mother-to-be's words, "pretty jumpy. Unless that's the baby. I can't tell anymore."

Vows, champagne and partying until dawn

All across the world, New Year's Eve 2000 weddings have required enormous planning and extra attention to detail, wedding caterers and planners explain, because that night stands to be crazy to begin with.

Women wanting to marry at Disney World, for example, found the place booked by 1993.

Both the Savoy Hotel in London and the Space Needle in Seattle have been booked for weddings since 1995.

In Las Vegas, the wedding capital of the world, every officiant who can perform weddings must will probablybe on duty that night. One manager told the Associated Press earlier this summer that even the drive-though chapels have been getting calls from couples wanting to reserve a time -- which they cannot -- to ensure their vows are taken at the magical hour.

In Buffalo, brides-to-be have been thinking ahead, too.

Perhaps the ultimate downtown "get" for a wedding reception -- the Golden Ballroom at the Statler Hotel -- has been booked for over a year, says Darlene Schrantz, banquet manager for Samuel's Grande Manor, which exclusively caters the room.

How did Shelly Lis, formerly of North Tonawanda and now working in Georgia, get the enormous ballroom on such an important night downtown?

By asking for it way back in July 1998, and promising Statler Hotel officials -- who were debating using the room for a massive New Year's Eve party -- that she and her fiance, Orchard Park native Jeffery Hoerner, could provide at least 250 guests.

"That's not going to be a problem," laughs Lis, who last week counted nearly 350 people planning to attend the 6:30 p.m. cocktail hour and reception, following the couple's 2 p.m. nuptials at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Church in Depew.

A problem, no. Expensive? Gotta be. But just how costly, no one is saying. "We do plan on a balloon drop and champagne for everyone at midnight," Lis says. "It's going to be a huge deal."

Similarly, the two largest ballrooms at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew were also spoken for last year by brides who snapped up the facility's "Diamonds and Champagne" party package, which charges about $40 per person for food, drink, hats and noisemakers.

"The other two are taken up by a birthday party and our traditional New Year's Eve party, so we'll have around 800 people here," says sales manager Carol Zimmer.

But many local couples planning to say "I do" on New Year's Eve have opted -- by force or by choice -- for a less formal affair, one they had to design themselves.

Deanna Kubick and Jason Blodzinski will wed on New Year's Eve afternoon at SS. Peter and Paul Church in the Village of Hamburg -- "at either 2 or 5 p.m., that's still being worked out," she acknowledges -- and then head for an all-night reception at Warren's restaurant in Tonawanda.

The idea of taking their vows right at the stroke of midnight -- and the new century -- intrigued them only briefly.

"I wanted the party to start earlier and last longer, plus I didn't want him to see me in my dress before we had the ceremony," she says.

Samantha Corbrand and her fiance, Richard Knitch, also wanted to do something "out of the ordinary" when they married, she says. But they felt the opposite way about the vows:

They did want to recite them precisely at the stroke of midnight 2000, and have been working doggedly for months to make sure that happens.

The result? A slightly backward wedding.

The reception will come first, at 10:30 at the Quaker Room in Orchard Park. Then, as midnight approaches, Corbrand, wearing a handmade "antique-ish looking" dress and attended by four friends in 1920s-style flapper dresses, will join Knitch in taking their vows.

"If we wind up with a few extra minutes to spare, we'll just kill time with champagne," she laughs.

As soon as they are man and wife, she says, more champagne corks will fly, food will be served "and we'll party till around 4."

Maria Velez and Richard Taber of Cheektowaga got engaged last New Year's Eve, and "simultaneously agreed that bringing in the new millennium would be the coolest way to mark our anniversary and celebrate our new beginning," she wrote in a letter to The News, explaining her wedding plans.

They, too, will have a somewhat backward affair, starting their reception at the Grange Building at the Erie County Fair Grounds at 10 p.m., and then taking a break at midnight, "if we can time it correctly," to exchange vows.

"We figured, if any of the Y2K hype was true and the world was coming to a halt, what better way to have everyone you love in one place?"

Hmmm.

Maybe by adding one more person -- albeit a very tiny one -- to that list of loved ones?

'We've never gotten so many calls'

Who wants to be in a labor and delivery room on Dec. 31 screaming "Push!" instead of "Happy New Year!"?

A lot of couples, apparently. So many, in fact, that inquiries have been coming into Mercy Hospital virtually non-stop regarding reservations for its six new Jacuzzi-equipped suites.

They can't be reserved, says Mary Ann Murphy, the hospital's director of maternal/child nursing. But that hasn't stopped women from asking.

"We've had a ton of women doing that. I've never had so many calls about one thing. It sounds like we are going to be very, very busy that night."

Sharon Goodison, director of women's services for Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff hospitals, and Lou Ann Brown, director of maternal and neonatal services at Children's Hospital, agree.

With the huge number of couples who have tried to conceive a New Year's infant, the hospital's renovations, and the consolidation of Buffalo General's birthing facility with the one at Children's, both hospitals anticipate a full night of deliveries.

Why?

First, many couples who did try to conceive a millennium child and did get pregnant may not have wound up with a Dec. 31 due date -- but that doesn't mean they won't deliver on New Year's Eve.

"Nine out of 10 times, women (deliver) two weeks before or two weeks after their due dates," explains Murphy.

Secondly, some women long ago scheduled C-section deliveries for Dec. 31, which, if medically sound, obstetricians are only too happy to do, "because it gets the baby out and doc home in time to be with his family," as one nurse put it.

Thirdly, many women did conceive and did hit the magical due date; one of the area's largest medical providers, the Promedicus Group, has six women due between New Year's Eve and Jan. 1.

Cindy Clohessy of Blasdell may be among the patients on Mercy's fourth-floor labor-and-delivery wing, having discovered in May that she was five weeks pregnant -- with daughter No. 2 -- and due on New Year's Eve.

"We weren't even trying, so this was a total 'oops,' " she says, reflecting on the number of couples who took part in various radio station "conception contests" in April, trying desperately to win purportedly thousands of dollars in prizes.

"We wouldn't have gone out to a party anyway, so now I'm really psyched about this."

So is Leslie Okun of East Amherst -- now that she has gotten over the shock of it.

"We got it on the first try!" says Okun, of her and her husband's attempts earlier this spring to get their family under way. "I went in for the sonogram and they said: 'Hey, you weren't trying for one of those New Year's Eve babies, were you? Guess when you're due?' "

Bill Rupp is also "very excited" that his firstborn, a boy, is due New Year's Eve.

In fact, were he not already organizing the enormous "Kootsie Ball 2000," one of Buffalo's oldest and best-known New Year's Eve bashes, he and his wife, Holly, would be even more psyched, he jokes.

"We think it's a win-win situation," Rupp says. "But we're probably going to have to hook up with a few cell phones that night if things get down to the wire."

And no, they weren't trying to conceive, either. "It just happened. It is pretty miraculous, if you think about it."

To the medical community it is, if not miraculous, then at the very least "unusual," says Pam Platek, OB/GYN supervisor for Promedicus.

What hospitals typically see is a huge number of births in September -- nine months after, ahem, the Christmas/New Year's Eve celebrating.

That they prepare for, she says.

And a wild New Year's Eve they'll prepare for, too -- whether it's due to babies or possible Y2K-related troubles or both.

Backup generators, extra blankets, food, medical supplies and a full staff will be on hand at all Kaleida Health hospitals -- that's Children's, Buffalo General, Millard Fillmore/Gates Circle, Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff -- to handle all emergencies, officials say, including births, anticipated or not.

Similarly, all the Catholic Health System hospitals -- Kenmore Mercy, Mercy, Our Lady of Victory, St. Joseph and Sisters -- are also "double and triplebacked up" to be ready for everything from blackouts to a crowded maternity wing, says Murphy.

"New Year's Eve births are always very special to us," she says.

"This year, I'm sure they'll be even more special. We're ready."

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