Happiness, sadness, anger, and guilt are the 4 words I would use to describe my birthday, let me repeat that last word again though, GUILT. When it comes to having a 9/11 birthday I have a lot of guilt, and it weighs on me like a ton of bricks.
September is generally a very happy month for me, I love life and I’m blessed to be alive and well, but I have not been okay this last week. So here I am 17 years later, still emotional, still feeling guilty, still peeling back the layers of emotion and trying to process them. Last year hit me hard, this year has been even worse. It has been 17 years and I DO NOT HAVE CLOSURE.
Growing up I always loved my birthday, it was the one day that was mine, it was just about celebrating me and my birth, it was that one special day all to myself. I could be loved, spoiled, and happy. Then on my 24th birthday it was taken away and suddenly it was a bad terrible day. Every year I have pushed my emotions to the side for many reasons.
The last few days I’ve been depressed, I haven’t gone a single day without crying. 9/11 is never going to go away, people suffered and died… I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it completely, but I do need to find some way to heal. I’ve been struggling so hard this week, Brian is trying to help me with my emotions. He says I need to write this as part of the healing process, I actually don’t want to write this because it hurts too much, but I’m willing to do anything to heal my heart. I’ve actually written this post a few times, I’ve even put it in the trash. Today I’ve pulled it out of the trash, determined to write this, my eyes are full with tears, I’m struggling to breath… but I’m going to get through this.
Let’s first address why in 17 years I haven’t dealt with my feelings… my daughter Haley. So you don’t get confused I’ll give you the speed version… I had my first, a son, Corey when I was 17 years old, and married Brian a month before I turned 22. Haley is my middle child and I had plans for a 3rd child in the future, but Ashley was a happy early surprise. I’ve been blessed with 2 surprise babies, but I struggled for well over a year to get pregnant with Haley. I prayed for her a lot, I would close my eyes and I could almost see her face, she was a happy little girl with curly hair and blue eyes like mine, and then it happened. I became pregnant and I was ecstatic later to find out she was a girl.
Haley was due October 4th, but late in the evening on September 10th my back started hurting, and then sure enough a bit after midnight contractions started and we went to the hospital. The doctor said I was far enough into my pregnancy that he wouldn’t stop labor, and my son was born around 36 weeks too and he was just fine. I still remember the nurse putting the hospital ID bracelet around my wrist and verifying my information, “Laura Salter” she said, “9/11…. well Happy Birthday.. and a baby on your birthday too!” I was so excited, it was my day, and I was having my baby girl, and it would be her day too, we would share it forever.
Then it happened. I was in the final stages of labor and everything was a blur. I knew something bad had happened. Family was distracted, doctors and nurses were distracted, I was in pain, I was confused, what was happening. The news was on while I was in labor, finally in the last few minutes the doctor said let’s turn this off. At nearly the exact minute flight 93 crashed into the ground Haley was born. Suddenly I didn’t care about what was happening on TV. The day was just about me and my daughter.
I had walked into the hospital at 23 years old and left at 24 with a newborn baby and a national tragedy on my birthday. Suddenly my special day and my baby’s was full of suffering and death. It was an evil day, I read articles, I watched the news… but I had to shut it out, it was too hard to process. I wanted to take my 2 kids, run away from it all and hide.
Of course over the years I was haunted by it, but my way of dealing with it was pushing it aside and not think too much about it. It was just too sad. The anniversary of 9/11 was everywhere, but it was Haley’s first birthday. Having her was a wonderful distraction, on Haley’s 2nd birthday I was pregnant with Ashley. I focused on my kids and life, when I did think about 9/11 I tried to instantly change the subject in my mind. Not that I didn’t care, it was simply unbearable to think about.
I have never written something so painful as this post. It is still raw, and it hurts me that this happened, it is a burden I carry. I feel guilty for wanting to have my day back, I feel guilty for wishing my daughter had a normal birthday. It’s not my fault, but I feel embarrassed and ashamed of my birthday.
I want to celebrate, am I allowed? Yes, I am but then the guilt kicks in. Am I judged when I celebrate on such a terrible day? I still cringe when I hand over my drivers license and people see my date of birth, I’m embarrassed for anyone to tell the restaurant staff it’s my birthday.
I am ANGRY when my daughter is forced to watch videos of the World Trade Center burning and crashing down on her birthday at school. I am SADDENED when every year a friend of hers sobs at school because her Dad died in the 9/11 attack. I am physically SICK when I realize all who died and even sicker when I realize the people who knew death was about to come.
I must move on, heal and find closure, but it’s incredibly hard. I will never forget for a second how cruel humans can be towards each other and I will never forget those who died, but I must give myself permission to feel happy on this day. If Haley and I can’t enjoy our birthday and the simple gift of being alive then the terrorists have even more power.
As part of my healing and moving forward we’ve decided to volunteer or do random acts of kindness on 9/11 to honor those who died & the hero’s who tried to save. Not just me, but my daughter and I need to find a way to honor those each year so we can celebrate without the burden. This year we are bringing cupcakes to the firemen at the local fire station. We can all do something wonderful today in honor of the victims, big or small and I encourage you to do so too.
Today I will put on my favorite outfit, smile, eat cake, and open presents. I will allow myself and my daughter to be happy, but behind those smiles we know and we haven’t forgotten.
If there is one thing we can learn from 9/11 it’s to have love and tolerance for everyone. Who cares about religion, politics, race, or sexual orientation. We all share this planet together and that should be enough to bond us and overlook our differences. The world would be so boring if we were all the same.
The first time I visited the National September 11th Memorial in New York it was under construction, but a couple of years ago we did visit over Christmas and we took the girls. Haley was there and it was a lot to take in, it’s a hard day for all people not just Americans, and it’s a hard birthday.
Perhaps I feel even more vulnerable having just returned from New York last week, I thought about it then, but I couldn’t go to the memorial. I wish I could have, but it was hurting me too much, with my emotions coming to term I would of been a hysterical mess. I asked my sister who was also in New York to take the above photos of the memorial. It really is beautiful.
I believe God gave me my daughter early to help ease my pain. Trying to cope while pregnant, without her on my birthday would have been unbearable. She was my comfort.
My baby girl Haley spent the first 14 months of her life pretty much bald, but when her hair did grow it was curly, just like I envisioned.
Happy 17th Birthday Haley, you were my best birthday gift ever. I’m so proud of all your accomplishments and I know how hard you have worked to achieve your goals. You are such a strong women and I know you’ll continue to do great things. XOXO
This blog post was just written from my perspective, but I know a tremendous amount of people have suffered and been affected. Many people died but focusing on all the beautiful souls that were born that day, like my daughter gives me some comfort.
Let’s spread love and make the world a better place.