I was in downtown Atlanta at Piedmont Hospital in the maternity ward. I was 32 and had just had my first baby — a beautiful boy named Jackson. Jack had jaundice and even though everyone kept telling me he’d be all right I was convinced this was much more serious. He was born on September 8th and I had been discharged on the 10th but they wouldn’t let Jackson leave because his bilirubin levels were too high. I refused to go home because I couldn’t leave my baby’s side, so we paid hundreds of dollars out of pocket so I could stay in my room.
The next morning — September 11, 2001 — I was in the hospital nursery. It was just before 9am. Jackson was sleeping under the bili lights and I was hovering over him while waiting to hear back from the pediatrician on whether Jack’s latest test results would allow us to take him home. My husband walked into the nursery with such an odd look on his face and pronounced that one of the Twin Towers in New York City had been attacked. I’ll never forget thinking for a split second that this was a very weird joke. Why would he say that? Where would he come up with such a ridiculous thing? I soon realized he wasn’t kidding. In a handful of minutes the entire hospital was filled with a palpable thrum, a buzzing hum of collective nerves, confusion and fear bordering on panic. Televisions in every waiting area were tuned to the unfolding news with clutches of people gathered round, wide-eyed. There was word other planes were missing, maybe near Philadelphia, maybe elsewhere.
As I stood there in the nursery with rumors flying and rushes of movement blurring past, all I could think of was the East Coast: New York, possibly Philly. Boston was somehow involved. I logically progressed to Atlanta. We were downtown, in the heart of the city. We had to get out of there. I started pressing the nurses as phones began ringing urgently and the pace of activity throughout the hospital ramped up. I needed an answer. We needed to leave. I was going to take Jackson home no matter what.
I ran back to my room to find my husband staring at the television. Another plane had gone into the second World Trade Center tower. I’d had a terrible delivery and was so exhausted and already anxious about the jaundice. Watching such terrible things happen in front of me on the TV felt like hallucinations. This couldn’t be reality. I had just brought my precious baby into the world, but not this world. This world couldn’t exist. By the time a plane hit the Pentagon I was hysterically insistent that we needed to get released from the hospital. I hobbled back and forth between my room and the nursery, hounding and threatening the nurses and getting updates from my husband who kept tabs on the news from the TV in our room. The minute we got the go ahead, we were racing to get out of the door.
I remember being large and round, browsing leisurely through Baby Gap looking for the perfect newborn onesie, blanket and knit cap for all the going home photographs we planned to take. On September 11, 2001, the day we took our son home from the hospital, he never wore that outfit. There was no time to worry about all that. Instead we quickly stuffed all of our things in bags and wrapped him up in his hospital-issued onesie and hospital-issued blanket and flew down the highway to get to our home in the outer suburbs of Atlanta. To our cocoon, where I hoped we’d be safe.
Recently my family moved into a new house, and in packing up our things I found that little onesie, the shirt I had lovingly picked out that my baby never wore. I hold it in my hands and it takes me back to that day. The tragic irony of that little outfit, in thick, soft, light blue cotton with little planes doing loop-de-loops in the air, still gets me. Planes.
Every time my son’s birthday comes around on September 8th I’m filled with joy at the gift and blessing that is my Jack, but there’s always a small part of me that also feels a pocket of dread, the dread that September 11th is almost here and I will be reminded once again of all the families and friends who lost beautiful loved ones, and of the terror I experienced that day as a brand new mom in an upside down world.
Photo credit: onesie – Katherine Stone; 9/11 – © Akhilesh Sharma – Fotolia.com