Upon the anniversary of the September 11th attacks in 2001, I thought I would share this story of two very different September 11ths in my life.
"Love and Joy from Fear and Terror"
The two days could not have been more different, but they are inextricably linked in my brain by one simple thing. The date...September 11th.
I would never have imagined the horror and fear of September 11, 2001 could possibly be replaced with such love and joy a year later, but because of the grace of God and the faith of two loving Christians, that is exactly what happened.
The first morning started off much like any other. My patient was in labor and even though her baby was early, things were going well. All the admission procedures were completed and my patient had settled back to watch TV as I had settled back watching the fetal monitor. In the quietness of the labor room we listened to the "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh" of the baby's heartbeat. Suddenly, breaking news reports flashed on the screen. We watched in horror, with the rest of the nation, as planes crashed first into the Twin Towers, then the Pentagon and then later as the Towers collapsed to the ground.
It was a struggle to keep my thoughts on the fetal tracing in front of me. More than anything I wanted to hear my husband's voice, which never failed to calm and reassure me. But my patient's labor was progressing far too rapidly to afford the luxury of a phone call. My thoughts were also flying to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where my son was stationed for School of Infantry with the USMC. Would they pull them out of training for deployment? Could he already be on a ship to who knows where?
I thought too, of my niece who worked in New York City and her brother who worked at a law firm near the White House. Were they safe? How would one possibly contact them in all this chaos to know? I thought of calling my sister to inquire about them but I knew my anxiety would only compound her own.
These thoughts were not those of the idle daydreamer, but intruded upon thoughts of turning on a baby warmer, setting out the prep for delivery, and preparing warm baby blankets. While my hands and feet moved rapidly to prepare for delivery, my mind moved lifting up prayers for my loved ones and for all those unknown to me whose lives had just been shattered by terror.
Then it was time for the baby's delivery. The joy and happiness which normally surrounds this event seemed so inappropriate with the images of horror so fresh in our minds, in fact, still showing on the television screen. I found I could not sing "Happy Birthday" to this little one, as I usually did, because I felt anything but happy.
There was an eerie silence in the room and as I placed this newborn baby on the warm blankets, I realized the mood of the room would not soon improve. His little body showed all the signs that he had to work too hard to fill those little lungs with air. His nostrils flared, his chest sunk deeply with each breath and the space between his ribs deepened dramatically. But the worst sign was the "singing".
Preterm babies tend to make a rhythmic, grunting sound when they are struggling to close the tiny air sacs in their lungs. This sound is emitted when they must use accessory muscles to close the sacs because not yet pliable due to a lack of a substance called surfactant. Labor and delivery and Nursery nurses euphemistically refer to this as "singing".
As I listened to this little boy grunt and watched his retractions without improvement, I quickly did his footprints, applied his identification bracelets, wrapped him up and after a quick kiss from Mom, took him to the Special Care Nursery, where he would stay for several days.
After I had returned to the mother and started her recovery period, she turned to me and said "I should feel so happy today, but I just feel so sad."
She had drawn out the last word until it alone expressed all of our attitudes. I tried to reassure her that her feelings were valid. Not only had she just witnessed the brutal murder of thousands of fellow citizens, but her newborn son had been whisked out of her presence with hardly a "hello". It had really been such a sad experience, and apart from those deliveries where there had been loss of life or severe anomalies, it was by far the saddest delivery I had ever witnessed. Never will I forget the events of that morning or the cheerless, quiet delivery or her grief stricken face afterward.
A year later I was amazed that we even had any cases scheduled for 9-11. Who would knowingly choose that date for the birth of their baby? What memories would always be associated with this child's birthday? And yet, here they were, pillows and suitcases in hand, ready and anxious to have their baby. They were not strangers to me either; they had been in my six week childbirth classes.
Their class had been my favorite in twenty-one years of childbirth education. It had been a big class with nine couples and the only one of that size still with all nine couples attending by the sixth class. These couples had so bonded with each other, and with me, that I think if I had let them, they would have continued to meet each Monday night long after the classes had finished. In that series of classes we all laughed together, we cried together and then laughed together again. It was by far the best series I had ever taught and the best group of couples I had ever had the pleasure to teach.
So when I saw Bob and Joan with their pillows and suitcases, I was thrilled to be a part of their special occasion. It was probably my first real smile of the day. As I got them admitted and Joan settled in bed, she told me that many of her family and friends had suggested she change the date of her induction from 9-11. Her response to them changed my outlook for the whole day.
She said, "I thought the best way to thwart the terrorists, is to bring love and joy and laughter to this date."
What a glorious thought! And what a glorious day! A beautiful, healthy baby girl was born and this time I sang "Happy Birthday" to little Gabriella with a heart full of joy.
Each September 11th, I remember those who were lost in that horrible tragedy and those brave firemen and policemen who died trying to save them, but I also remembered something else. I remembered two smiling, joyous faces and the daughter they loved, destined to bring joy and love out of fear and terror.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."