It was on one of the most lifeless days deep into January, the kind where the ground looks calloused and cracked, the plants threadbare, and the world drained of color, that I found out there was a little life hibernating inside of me. It was my first pregnancy and it was very, very unexpected.
At the time, one of my friends tried to talk me through the news, to put the pregnancy into perspective. She told me that though the world ebbs and flows, when it comes to matters of life and death, it never spills a drop. This child poured into my life with a purpose; it was meant to be. The sentiment is beautiful, but in the midst of my fear, it was lost on me.
Four months of morning sickness, two failed glucose tests, 33 pounds and 18 doctor’s appointments later, my son, Connor, was born – two weeks early. It was 3:42 a.m. on September 11, 2008.
I worried about a lot of things when I was pregnant – what car seat was safest, what bottles were best, blue or green for the nursery – but my son having to share a birthday with an act of terror was not one of them. And at 3:42 a.m. on September 11, 2008 I still wasn’t worried about it. Instead, I sat cocooned in my hospital room with my doughy-skinned baby – we were in our own world. All I could see was the way Connor’s wrinkles perfectly folded around his knees, the way his bottom lip puckered under in the most adorable of ways, the way his skin felt softer than cashmere. Everything seemed right. And his arrival into my life seemed neither early or late, it felt like he arrived right on time.
That feeling started to change once I started texting, emailing and calling friends and family. My baby’s birth date began to outshine his weight and height and apple-red lips. When I actually had to start saying 9/11 and “our son has arrived” in the same sentence it punctured a hole in the secluded, beautiful moment in the delivery room. It opened the door and let some of the most terrible parts of the world in. And when a family friend said, “He isn’t the first person to be born on a day when something bad happened,” my heart was swallowed with sadness. It felt like the larger-than-life date of September 11 would always be larger than, well, Connor’s life. I signed his birth certificate and grimaced thinking that too many undeserving people had death certificates with the same moniker. It felt wrong. The separation of life and death felt blurred, unrecognizable and tangled together.
As my hormones subsided, new parenting worries eased, and the date of his arrival seemed to be overshadowed by the new memories we were building. I began to think about the tragedy of the day less and less. And then a few months later, we moved to New York City.
I had to share Connor’s birthday with a round of new friends, moms, acquaintances and on forms in a place where the date was so sensitive and hallowed. It was never comfortable. The cruel irony of it was never missed. Eyes remained wide, jaws remained slightly ajar and lips would remain still unsure of what to say. I felt like I was pricking to life the worst feelings and memories in all of us.
At an appointment with a new pediatrician the doctor looked over my paperwork and apologized to me, half under her breath, but not because she kept me in the waiting room for nearly an hour. She was sorry that my son had to be born on that day. My knees buckled, and all of the emotions I had sat lodged in a giant-sized ball in my throat. I began to wonder: How will I explain this to my son?
I must admit, I contemplated lying. I had been in labor for nearly 24 hours. I could easily have moved Connor’s time of birth to minutes before midnight. It’s embarrassing. And shameful. And wrong. And not the kind of example I want to set as a mom.
I grappled with the answer in the middle of the night. I tried to find the right words on my morning subway commute. I desperately wanted to have a moment of clarity while I thought about it as I cooked dinner. But the truth is, there is no easy answer.
There is no way to write away what happened on a day that barters with our most common sensibilities about the humanity of our world. But I will teach my son that in our darkest moments there is always light. There is always hope. And he is both for me. One day, maybe he’ll be that for others as well.
Connor will know about the day he was born beyond what it means for our family. I will teach him to understand that it means different things to different people. I will tell him he was born on a day when heroes were made. I will remind him of the words that I was told while pregnant – when it comes to matters of life and death, it never spills a drop.