For Immediate Release January 01, 2020

By: Selene San Felice

Everyone's always hungover on James Hotaling's birthday. And he can't even legally drink.

Hotaling, 20-years-old today, is a New Year's baby — one of the 11 on average born on Jan. 1 each year in Anne Arundel County. Whether they feel special or not, their births are celebrated as symbols of hope cemented in newspaper history.

The Capital has been celebrating New Year's babies for decades. The paper ran a contest in the 1950s and 1960s with sponsors offering prizes of cribs, blankets, laundry services and other goodies for the lucky first baby born in the new year.

The first such infant The Capital reported on appears to be Mary Margaret French, born at Arundel General (now known as Anne Arundel Medical Center) in the early hours of 1945. She died a few months ago, but a few other babies of New Years' past told us their feelings about sharing a birthday with the world.

Fred Rose, father of Anne Arundel's first baby of 1980, Adam Rose, recalled quietly calling out from work to spend the first days of the year at the hospital in Annapolis.

"I had actually called in sick so I could stay in the hospital with her (Adam's mother), and there we were on the front of the newspaper," the elder Rose said.

"Nobody expected him to be on the cover of the Gazette. Nobody expected him to be No. 1. He's always been our No. 1."

Where are they now?

With a new decade comes the end of an era for America Ujueta, the first baby born at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in 2010.

Jan. 1 will be the last of many New Year's days spent celebrating her birthday at Chuck-E-Cheese. From now on, she wants to stay at home with her family, this year especially because of their new 4-month-old Labrador retriever puppy, Rocky.

Laura Smallwood also loves celebrating at home. Anne Arundel's first baby of 1990, she lives in Harwood with her 12-year-old son.

Smallwood's family celebrates with card games, beer pong and watching the Times Square ball drop on television.

As a child, she shared the same excitement America experiences when she watches the Times Square ball drop at midnight from her Glen Burnie home.

"I feel famous because everybody's celebrating my birthday," Ujueta said.
Sophia Keefer feels differently. She was the first baby of 2010 at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.

"I knew (it wasn't a special birthday) when the ball dropped and no one came to me, except my mom," Sophia said. "They all said 'Happy New Year,' not 'Happy Birthday.'"

She may not feel special, but Sophia cherishes a prize she got for being the first baby of the year. She still sleeps with her "lovey," a pink blanket bunny given to the Keefers in a gift basket from an Annapolis boutique.

Her parents, Jennifer and Jason Keefer, got AAMC's "royal treatment" for having the first baby of the decade, which included a limo ride back to their Davidsonville home.

The Annapolis hospital still provides the royal treatment for special occasions but recently stopped announcing the first babies of the year due to privacy concerns.

James Hotaling's parents, Jack and Cheryl, also got the hospital's royal treatment for having the first baby of the millennium.

But Jack Hotaling was supposed to be at another hospital that night. As part of the tech team at Washington Hospital Center, Hotaling's job was to help prepare for the possible computer apocalypse of Y2k.

The world didn't end, and instead the Hotalings enjoyed a limo ride home, dinner catered from a local restaurant and gifts from the hospital including a $2,000 savings bond from Annapolis Bank.

This year, James Hotaling may be back in a hospital, and probably won't get royal treatment. He's the operations manager for environmental services for a hospital in North Carolina.

"Maybe I'll go see another New Year's baby," he said.

Special Delivery

New Year's babies have been celebrated since Ancient Greece, when the first baby (using the Athenian calendar) was paraded around town in a basket, believed to be the reborn god Dionysius, according to

BWMC's tradition is a little newer — they began celebrating their first babies of the year when their delivery unit first opened in 2009.

On New Year's Eve, the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift becomes a race.

Nurse Sharon Evans said nurses will call their friends at competing hospitals to see how far along their patients are.

Evans has worked every New Year's Eve since the hospital's delivery unit opened. She's seen parents come straight from their New Year's Eve parties in sequins, minks and heels, and gotten each changed into hospital gowns to deliver 18 New Year's babies.

"It's an entirely different environment," Evans said. "It's a joy no matter what time, but this is more special than everything."

Evans and other nurses at the Glen Burnie hospital absorb themselves in making a diaper cake for the first baby. Still in the holiday giving spirit, the unit usually donates or spends their own money on gift cards and presents for the lucky family.

"It's an honor to be the first baby of the year. It's a sincere congratulations from our heart — and babies love things," Evans said.

This year's presents include crocheted pink, blue, yellow and turquoise blankets and beanies to give the first babies of the year, made by a woman named Martha Johnson in memory of her stepmother who was treated for cancer at BWMC.

Evans and Kendra Ellison, director of women's and children's services at BWMC, recalled one year they didn't think they had a chance at delivering Maryland's first baby of the year because the patients they had weren't progressing fast enough to give birth just after midnight.

"We were ready to accept defeat," Ellison said.

But 20 minutes before midnight, a woman walked into the hospital complaining of discomfort. Her baby became the first of the year.

Lynette Crook has been a delivery nurse at AAMC for 26 years, helping to deliver their average of 15 babies a day. The hospital is the second busiest in the state for the number of births annually.

After 10 years of New Year's Eve shifts, Crook doesn't see the holiday as much different than any other shift.

"We try to keep the night kind of light-hearted and if at midnight we're not catching a baby, we take the time to say 'Happy New Year' to each other," Crook said.

She does remember the buzz around the hospital when one of her former coworkers gave birth to the first baby of the year in 2007.

"That was pretty exciting for us to have one of our own be the first one," Crook said.

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