Motherhood from Ground Zero

12 years ago today, our nation was rocked by the devastating events of 9/11. Below is an old essay I wrote to mark the 10-year anniversary of the day that forever changed the world. It was originally published in the Marin IJ.


I was three months pregnant with my only child on 9/11. When the day’s tragic events began to unfold that morning in New York, I was on the opposite coast, finishing a pre-work jog in San Diego. As I trotted around the glass-smooth, sapphire bay listening to the radio on my Walkman, my head was filled with plans for decorating my baby’s nursery.

Then a man’s somber voice eclipsed the U2 song I’d been singing along to. He sputtered words I couldn’t comprehend. Something about a plane slamming into the World Trade Center, another one careening into the Pentagon.

Like the rest of our country, in the following days and weeks, I marveled at the courage and selflessness many victims of 9/11 showed in their final moments of life. But as a soon-to-be mom, I was drawn to the stories of a special group of still-living victims: the pregnant women who lost their husbands in the terrorist attacks.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how, before that day, we’d been leading parallel lives.  I imagined them, like me, going about their daily business feeling special because of the babies growing inside their bellies. Fantasizing about the kind of people their children would become, the kind of families they’d raise with their husbands. And then, in an instant, their dreams were snatched from them in an unimaginably horrific way. Being pregnant was the only thing we had in common.

A year later, I saw some of the 9/11 mothers on a TV special. I watched them show-off their beautiful babies while cradling my own perfect newborn in my arms. As I listened to them talk about raising their babies as widows and single moms, I was in awe of their grace and strength. The way they were rebuilding their lives from the rubble of tragedy.

A few years later, when she was five, my daughter was diagnosed with a potentially deadly mental illness. I wouldn’t dare try to equate my experience with what the 9/11 moms have suffered. But as I struggled to accept her illness and let go of the expectations of what I’d imagined her childhood–and my motherhood–would be, it felt like a bomb had ripped apart my world.

Since then, there have been many times I’ve succumbed to self-pity, doubted that I can be the kind of mother she needs, and been overwhelmed by anxiety for her future. When I’m feeling especially sorry for myself, I try to remember the 9/11 moms. They epitomize, for me, what it means to be a mother. To find strength you never knew you had. To push through pain, fear and disappointment–even when you’re at Ground Zero–for the love of your child.



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