Where were you 20 years ago today?
My story may surprise you, and I truly hope it will inspire you too.
Some of you weren’t born yet and some of you were young children. You may or may not have a memory of the tragedy and fear that was felt by people in the US and around the world on September 11 2001. Others, like me, know exactly where they stood the moment they heard the tragic news.
Right now, you may be feeling fear and sadness as the world continues to face human tragedy and challenges. Please get a cup of tea or your favorite drink, get comfortable, take 3 deep breaths, practice self-care and nurturing as you read on and I share with you my feelings and reflections from 20 years ago.
It’s hard to believe 20 years have gone by and yet for those who lost loved ones, partners, family, who don’t have a parent today, my heart aches as I can’t imagine the loss you have felt every day.
My story actually begins a few days prior to September 11th. I was flying home from Atlanta after the first CDC meeting on maternal mortality. I was feeling optimistic that we were finally being heard about the inequities, the racial disparities, and the over-medicalization of birth too often causing more harm than good.
I arrived at the airport and having been a flight attendant, I often like to be the last one onto the plane. It was still a time of payphones so I found one that gave me a good view of the gate so I could watch everyone board and give my husband a call before hopping on. I noticed two men that were also hanging toward the back and watching the gate. I can’t even describe why, but I felt the most horrible energy I’ve ever felt in my life coming from them. I even said to my husband there’s this really horrible angry energy coming from these two men. Jimi said, “if you don’t feel safe don’t get on the plane”. Recognizing this was pre-911, I somehow felt that this was their energy and I would be fine and I got on board.
As I was the last to board, behind the two men, I saw one sit in business class and the other went to coach. As I walked behind them finding my seat a flight attendant asked me if I would change to sit with an 11-year-old boy who was flying alone. I was happy to keep him company. My seat was on the aisle directly across the aisle from one of these men. I was glad to be in the seat to protect this child from this negative energy during the short flight. I talked a lot with the boy trying to protect him from the horrible energy from the man across the aisle staring at me. The man never spoke. As we were approaching Newark Airport we had a wonderful view of the New York City Skyline. I pointed out the Twin Towers, (that was the last time I saw the world trade centers) as I gave the boy a quick tour of of New York City and the harbor with the Statue of Liberty shining bright, as it was his first time there.
We safely landed and the flight attendant escorted the boy to meet his aunt, and I ran into my husband’s arms. Not being able to explain why I felt such negative energy, I was surprised I was so emotional. I had never felt anything to that extreme before. I was relieved to be home safe and away from the two men and prayed the boy was safe too enjoying time with his Aunt.
Feeling safe, life went on as normal. I fell asleep in our bed until the middle of the night when my husband shook me to wake me up as I was crying hysterically in my sleep. I remember that I was having a terrible nightmare of a huge disaster.
The next day the dream haunted me, I tried to put it off as that negative energy was affecting me, but the next night it happened again, I vividly saw burning buildings collapse and many many people dying.
The next morning of Sept 11th, I was in my home office and my mother called and told us to put on the television. My husband gasped with the scene, calling me to come see. I couldn’t come look as I had already seen it in my dreams…
I know that seems unbelievable. I still don’t understand it. This was not something that happened to me on a regular occurrence, and I don’t know why, but I suspect the men I flew with had something to do with the events that day.
I lit candles, prayed, cried, wanting to do all I could to support those in the buildings and later those that lost loved ones. In my state of shock, I thought of donating blood, food, offering shelter, and care and it was only a few days later that I realized the gift I could give was to coordinate a Doula program for all the people that were pregnant and widowed. I had coordinated community Doula programs before and I knew the amount of red tape, months, and months of paperwork to convince people to collaborate, but I knew it was worth a try.
A few phone calls and within 48 hours we had a hotline with the NJ March of Dimes support. The Maternity Center Association, later called Childbirth Connection offering their support and soon the New York and New Jersey Department of Health and so many others. Doulas, Nurses, Midwives, Doctors, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, Massage therapists – every type of provider and modality began volunteering to offer care to pregnant or postpartum grieving families or to offer care to the caregivers so we could truly support each other in this daunting time. We came together supporting each other as we supported those who were pregnant and grieving.
I have so many precious memories from this time of all that people offered. Phyllis Klaus, one of my DONA mentors and friends, offered to come to NJ and offer a workshop for those of us that would provide care. She led us in our own healing ceremony and gave us tools to support the widows in birth and parenting. One night while the ashes were still smoldering we went together with my son Nicholas to “ground zero” to pray, to offer our condolences in this giant maze of photos and alters created for all who lost their lives.
I have thought the Angels wore
Halo’s and wings of white
But now I find they wear hard hats
And black coats with yellow stripes
And Angels in my mind, wore long
Flowing gowns of white
But now I see dark pants and shirts
And badges shining bright
And Angels always floated with
Bare feet above the ground
Not True! For they wear steel toed boots
And go where deaths is found
Not all Angels have smooth hands
That look like porcelain
Some Angels have torn gloves
And cuts and burns upon their skin
And while I thought all Angels
Glowed from heaven’s light
I see Angel cutting steel
His torch is shining bright
And while these earthly Angels
Pass buckets of debris
The Angels up in heaven look down on bended knee
So while the smoke continued to rise into the sky
I watched the rescue workers weep
I’ve seen the angels cry
It was a special time to be together and honor all the lives lost. The late Sheila Kitzinger responded to my requests for information by adapting information she had written for her out of print book “Women’s experience of Sex”. She created a pamphlet for us on “Grief and Our Bodies”. People from around the world shared their knowledge and wisdom to guide us to care for ourselves and to care for others.
I remember the first birth I attended after, as the baby was born and the grieving mother looked down and saw her husband‘s eyes looking back from her child. The tears we all cried knowing he may be gone but never forgotten and living on in his child who now today is almost 20 years old, I wonder what those years have been like. And for the many other children who were born without a parent from 9-11. Still today too many people are being born without parents due to war, violence, and a pandemic.
Today is clearly a day to remember, I am sending my heartfelt love and prayers to all the children and families I was honored to help coordinate and serve in 2001-2002.
There were so many lessons learned from that time. Researchers came together to support the families to learn about and enhance bonding in times of grief, to look at stress and grief in pregnancy and postpartum. I had the honor of serving as project director for the Maternity Center Association’s November 14, 2002, forum entitled “Trauma, Loss, and Communal Grieving: The Experiences of Pregnant Women, New Mothers, and Maternity Care Providers After 9/11.” along with Maureen Corry, Carol Sakala and many others from the Maternity Center Association. (read the entire article).
Trauma, Loss and Communal Grieving pdf can be found here.
We learned so much including how to quickly put the red tape aside to coordinate and collaborate honoring each other in our multidisciplinary roles so we can best serve our community.
I hope these are lessons we can continue to remember today, reach out to a neighbor, to a friend as we are in unprecedented times, let’s never forget. Let’s come together with more love and compassion as that is what helps us heal and continue on.
Where were you on 9/11/01 – share your story and tag us on @OrgasmicBirth