ABU DHABI // Wrapped snugly in white cotton blankets and surrounded by half-a-dozen cooing relatives, Mariam Alshamsi made her way into the world less than 15 minutes into the new year.
One of 10 babies delivered yesterday morning at Corniche Hospital in the capital, Mariam made first-time parents out of 32-year-old Hamad Alshamsi and his wife, Fatema Al Khateri.
Although there has been no authoritative announcement of which newborn was the first of 2012, Mariam might well be the front-runner.
Mrs Al Khateri, a 32-year-old who was one of 11 children in her family, said it was hard to believe she is now a mother herself.
"This was our first baby, and [although] she was expected to come quite early, she came later," said Mr Alshamsi, an engineer from Ras Al Khaimah.
There is no way to describe the feeling of becoming a parent for the first time, said the Abu Dhabi resident.
"It feels strange. I don't know what I'm feeling. Now, I have a reason to work harder."
Mariam, who was born weighing 3.3kilograms, is the third grandchild to be born into her father's family, but only the first grandchild on her mother's side.
Two rooms away, another young Emirati couple was celebrating the birth of their first child - the last child to be delivered at the hospital in 2011.
Lying peacefully next to his mother's bed and swathed in blue, Mohammed Eissa Al Mazrouei was born at 10.20pm on Saturday, weighing a healthy 2.5kg.
Two-thousand and eleven was a special year, said 20-year-old Amna, Mohammed's mother.
"I got married in the first month of the year, and I had the baby in the last month of the year."
The little one was named after his grandfather on his dad's side, and the family intends to do "something special" to celebrate, the Zayed University student said.
Both families are expected to leave the hospital in a few days, said Pamela Bartridge, a nursing supervisor.
"The births were all normal deliveries and were very good," she said.
There were 7,845 deliveries at Corniche Hospital last year.
In Dubai, Al Anoud Jassem Ahmad was the first baby of 2012 at Al Wasl Hospital, at 12.34am. Weighing in at a healthy 2.9kg, the little one gave a pleasant surprise to her parents, who were shopping and dining at Global Village when her mum went into labour.
"One minute we were having dinner, and the next minute the ambulance and medical team was surrounding us," said Sofia bin Taibi, Al Anoud's mother. "It wasn't only the fireworks that went off at midnight."
This is the fourth child and third daughter for the mother, who is from Umm Al Qaiwain. She said she could not be happier for her daughter's perfect timing.
"January 1st is definitely an exciting day. We'll tell her everyone is celebrating for you every year," she said. "I can't wait to see her as a beautiful bride."
With her nine-year-old brother Saeed Jassem Ahmad and her father, Jassem Ahmad in the room, little Al Anoud was greeted with the warmth and love of her family.
And although Saeed was excited about his sister's arrival, he secretly yearned for a younger brother.
"I told my mum we need another boy," he said. "Someone who can help me around the house."
Could another son be in the pipeline for the family?
"Only God knows," Ms bin Taibi said.
Across the hall in another ward, Khuloud Janahi gave birth to her first child, Aeysha, at 3.08am.
At first, the timing and date did not strike Ms Janahi, who was expecting her child to arrive two weeks later on January 15.
"It didn't matter to me at the moment, I just wanted to finish," said the mother, 23. "But now that I think about it, it is a wonderful day for her to arrive. Her birthday will be greeted with excitement every year."
Meanwhile, Umm Khuloud was glowing at the arrival of her first grandchild.
"It's truly a blessing," she said.
Dr Alaa Nasser, a specialist registrar at the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the hospital, said they deliver on average between 500 to 550 babies a month, and a majority of them come from Emirati families. As of 12.35pm yesterday, a little over halfway into the first day of the new year, the hospital had delivered 10 babies - well on its way to its daily average. This meant no New Year's Day break for the hospital staff.
"Deliveries don't take a holiday," Dr Nasser said, "so we have to work regular 12-hour shifts."