Even before the wooden double doors of St. Mary’s Hospital swung open and the new parents emerged into the London summer, babe in arms, it was clear whole chapters of the day-old’s life story were already written.
Hundreds of news photographers clicked off thousands of images of the soon-to-be-named George, just as they had of his father on the very same steps 31 years before. Networks broke into their regular programming to bring viewers to the scene. An immense crowd wrapped the newborn, his beaming mother and father in a blanket of cheers and applause and, later, as prescribed by custom, bells tolled and cannons fired to herald his arrival.
For any family, even the most royal, the birth of a child is a moment to celebrate not just new life, but new potential. It is an occasion of the greatest hopes, but also often understandable fears. A newborn offers the promise of all that is to come – and the trepidation of not knowing just what that will be.
When the new heir to the British throne was born Monday, three other babies were likely born somewhere in the world in the very same second, statistics show; 254 others within a minute; 360,000 others before the Earth had completed a single turn on its axis.
Few, if any, of course, are destined to become a monarch. But, as their parents know, all are endowed with a birthright of untold possibility.
And so we greet some of George’s far-flung peers, all born within hours of the young prince. Their stories begin here.
A reminder of dark times
ZAATARI, Jordan – Before they left Syria, six months ago, Ali and Walaa Shteiwi spent weeks sounding out friends and relatives on a name for the child Walaa carried.
They decided to call her Shymaa – a beautiful name, meaning good traits.
But now they live in the bleak world of a Jordanian refugee camp, fenced in amid tens of thousands of others. And when their baby was born Monday, they named her Taymaa – Arabic for a desert, huge and arid.
“This ugly desert was the only thing I could think of when I named my daughter so it would remain a stark reminder of the dark times we’re living,” said Ali, 39.
They are there because they fled the war between rebels and the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Ali has no job; the family depends on U.N. food donations.
Ali had to wait under the sun for six hours with his newborn on his hand to have her registered with the United Nations refugee agency. When an AP reporter arrived at the site, the baby was weak and the frustrated father was weeping. She was admitted briefly into a Moroccan field hospital, where a pediatrician said she was showing signs of dehydration.
“I wish I remained back home and lived under Bashar’s air strikes and destruction. But I feared for my wife’s life and that of my expected daughter. But here, my daughter will have no life. She will die in the heat. My little, poor thing …
“I fear for my daughter’s life. If we continue to live here for 10 or more years, what kind of a life will she grow up to see? There is oppression and humiliation here in this camp. We lived a good life and I’m satisfied with that. But God help this new generation of refugee children. They have nothing to live for, except wars. God help us.”
Said Walaa, 20: “My dream is to see my daughter play in front of me, to grow up and become a doctor, or a respectable miss. I want to see her as a bride, but certainly not in Zaatari. I want to tell her, ‘forgive me that I brought you here.
“When I saw her after her birth, it felt like I regained my life. I hope that the people who see how I live like now would not endure the same and would not taste the bitterness of my days. I wish that any woman refugee who thinks of getting pregnant not to do so and if she indeed does, not to live the life I am living.”
‘A citizen of the world’
MEXICO CITY – Malu Millet and husband Alejandro Galvan welcomed their third child into the world Monday in auspicious surroundings. Little Lucia Galvan Millet was born at Mexico City’s ABC Hospital, a private institution located among high rises in one of the metropolis’ most exclusive districts. At home, a jungle-themed nursery awaited.
Millet, 33, is an executive with Dutch consumer goods company Unilever. Galvan, 37, is an industrial engineer for a Mexican conglomerate. Both were educated in private schools and grew up speaking at least two languages.
They envision a similar childhood for Lucia, and have great dreams for her, but also very real concerns.
“My daughter will be a citizen of the world,” Alejandro said. “One day she will decide to go study abroad and maybe she will decide to live abroad. She could decide her calling in this life is to make ice cream but she doesn’t have to stay in Mexico for that, she can go to Holland if she wants. That’s the main difference I see with her upbringing. She will have so many more options, so much more information than what I had.”
“What I fear the most is the insecurity she will grow up in. I had a really beautiful childhood. I had a lot of freedom. I could play on the street with my friends. I could ride my bike around the block … There weren’t so many threats like now … In Mexico we have a lot of insecurity. There are drugs now. I was never offered drugs growing up. Maybe I was living a sheltered life but I was never in an environment where there were drugs. She surely will have the opportunity to try drugs and maybe she will try them. That’s why we will flood her with love and with values at home.”
Said Malu: “What worries me about the future is not being able to give her the tools and education opportunities I had growing up … For me going to university was a given. My mother was a teacher and growing up I saw her work outside the home and raise a family. Since I was in junior high school I wanted to work for a huger corporation, to have a family and I’m doing it now. I would like for Lucia to have the tools to be able to do whatever it is she wants to do.”
Praying for life
LAGOS, Nigeria – Naimot Alabi could not stop grinning as she cradled her fourth child.
“I just pray to God that he will live,” she said, rubbing a finger over the swaddled infant’s chapped upper lip.
All three of Alabi’s other children have died and even in a country where UNICEF reports one in seven perish before turning 5, the 36-year-old mother’s case is out of the ordinary.
Alabi gave birth by cesarean section about 4 p.m. Monday at Lagos Island Maternity Hospital in the Nigerian capital of 20 million, with husband Abdul Rasheed Alabi by her side. In the 1990s, Island Maternity saw 100 births a day and many newborns were lost.
But as the government has built more hospitals with maternity wards, the number of births here has declined to about 300 a month and for the past two years they have arrived to 24-hour electricity, provided by a private company using diesel generators.
“I want a better life for him,” Alabi said of her son, who, by Yoruba tradition, will not be named until his eighth day. “But firstly he must have a good education, which is difficult in Nigeria if you do not have the means to pay a private school.”
“At government schools, the teachers are so many times going on strike … And then there is the danger from the cults: When they clash, students sometimes get killed. The government should do away with this cultism because I fear for my child.”
“I wish I had a better home to take him to,” she says. “Where we live there are so many vendors and churches and they all make a noise, every day, whether it’s morning or night. I worry he won’t sleep … “The very first thing I bought him is a mosquito net because everyone gets malaria from the open canals (drains) which are very smelly (and where mosquitoes breed). I had malaria when I was three months’ pregnant.
“I need a job so I can buy him toys … I was fired at the end of December when they cut back staff at the fast-food place where I worked – a cashier. But I preferred being my own boss. Maybe I’ll go back to trading. I was buying cloth from Benin. But I hated the customs officials, always going through your things for contraband … and then they demand sex or some small thing (money) to let you go through.”
Her husband spoke, though, of more near-term concerns.
“Let’s pray for electricity when we take him home. I have already brought in lots of water, the water we have to get from a tap that is three blocks away from our house.”
Born in a rosy haven
BEIJING – The daughter of Liang Chen and Fan Lina was born in sprawling Tiantan Hospital, where patients lay on cots or mats in the hallway while they wait for care. Public toilets – despite janitors’ best efforts – still reek. The secluded maternal ward, however, is a rosy haven, its walls painted pink and young nurses dressed in the same color.
Qianqian will have a loving family, but not a large one. China’s generation of only children – thanks to the country’s family planning policy – has grown up and is having only children of their own who are born into unprecedented wealth. Liang and Fan were only children; their daughter almost certainly will not have a brother or sister.
And so her grandparents (retired factory workers) and parents (entrepreneurs who run an event-planning business) will lavish their single heir with attention and material goods.
“I think her life will be better than ours because there is more money,” said mother Fan, 31.
“As for her future, I think I am more in agreement with the Western belief that a child should have a happy childhood and not be deprived of his or her childhood … The Chinese tradition is to raise a girl without deprivation, and we will exhaust all our resources to support her. We will not scrimp financially on her. After all, everything we work hard for belongs to her …
“We will raise her in a positive manner. How to put it, chaotic things have happened in Beijing, and we hope our child will have an upbeat attitude toward life.”
Liang said he hopes his daughter “will grow up healthy, and I won’t put too much pressure on her. Our parents wanted us to complete school and have a job that can support ourselves. It is as simple as that, and we have the same wish for our offspring. She will study music. As for school, I will let her study at her own pace, but music is a must. It will teach her how to persevere …
“When she grows up, she will go wherever she wants to go for college, as long as we have the ability.
“It will be all right if she can proudly say she is a Chinese citizen by the time she goes abroad.”
A lesson in patience
WATERBURY, Conn. – Many times in recent months, Tori Iacoviello says, she has been racked by fits of worry. But when her son, Antonio David Vernovai Jr., was born at 8:12 p.m. Monday at Waterbury’s own St. Mary’s Hospital, she felt almost as if the world around her and its many concerns had vanished.
“He’s a very calm baby and he calms me. It’s only been a couple of days, but he’s teaching me patience and I’m not a very patient person,” she said.
Iacoviello, 20, is a single mother in a city that was once a center for manufacturing brass and clocks, but is now plagued by deteriorated housing and 10.8 percent unemployment. She also lives less than a 30-minute drive from the Newtown, Conn., school where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults in December.
“I worry about even putting my kid in elementary school, never mind going to high school,” she said. “It’s just a worry ... seeing it on the news and then I’m pregnant through all of this and thinking: ‘Is this really what my son is coming into? …
“I just want him to be happy. I want him happy whatever his choices are … and for him to know that I’ve always loved him from the moment he was born and nothing will ever change that. I want him to go far in life …
“I definitely want some grandkids … and a nice wife that can cook and clean and a good job for him that he enjoys, even if it’s a garbage man, if you’re happy, do it. Everything that he does, I just want him to be sure of it and if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
Iacoviello worked alongside her stepmother cleaning other’s people homes through much of her pregnancy and plans to return to that job in a few months before going to school next year. Originally, she had planned to train to become a dental hygienist, but she’s reconsidering that plan.
“Honestly, I kind of changed my mind, but haven’t settled yet. I kind of, after this experience, want to become a midwife,” she said. “It would be amazing to deliver other people’s babies and give them what Dr. Cohen has given me.”