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9/11, kids and why I may be lucky

Posted Oct 05 2010 12:42pm
The thought seemed so absurd that I was afraid to bring it up.

It went like this: I saw the roster of kids playing on my son's 8-year-old baseball tournament team, and I noticed that Jon was the youngest. By far. By three months. No other child was born after October 2001.

No November. No December. Just Jon in January.

Four of the 12 were in second grade. The Little League age cutoff was April 30, so every single child - except for Jon - was born within that short time frame, between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2001.

That's six months, the latter two being the months that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

I've wondered for a while if there was a connection. I witnessed first-hand the trauma people went through at the time, and in the moments and days and weeks that followed the attacks. I remember smelling the odor of ash, burnt rubble and flesh and thinking, God, this can't be good for me, or anybody.

Frankly, when I've raised the issue, I've gotten stares and some polite acknowledgments. "Oh, that's interesting, Tom....anyway, what else is new?"

But I still think about it, from time-to-time: What kind of impact did 9/11 have on pregnancies? Did it lead to more miscarriages? Did the trauma suffered by so many cause the premature birth rate to go up?

How was it that Jon was the only one born in 2002 who was able to play on that team?

Recent studies have shown that, perhaps, the idea isn't so ridiculous and, in fact, the impact on pregnancies could be a microcosm for the stress felt by the nation as a whole.

Indeed, the studies provide what may be the most stirring and profound evidence so far that so many, and perhaps the nation as a whole, suffered from a form of Post-Traumatic Syndrome when they learned of friends and family who died in the attacks, or watched people suffer on T.V.

Pregnant women were vulnerable because of the stress they felt that was conscious and unconscious. A study released in May said the stress felt by women after the terrorist attacks may have contributed to an increase in miscarriages of male fetuses in the United States.

The BMC Public Health journal said the male fetal death rate also increased in September 2001. Miscarriages jumped 12 percent that same month.

My wife felt the stress, too, but others seemed to feel it more. I remember people going up to my wife at the time and saying, "How do you feel about having a baby in a world like this?"

I remember thinking, please, don't say that to her. We plan on seeing this pregnancy through.

PTSD certainly can also take years to develop. We may never really know what kind of long-term impact 9/11 really has had on the nation for decades, after more studies researching the same or different things come out.

But these studies, at least, provide a start.

The authors of the BMC report, for instance, suggested that communal bereavement may have prompted an increase in miscarriages of boys, because male fetuses are believed to be more sensitive than females to stress hormones.

Just the other day, I heard Annie Murphy Paul talk about it on T.V., and I felt a little more validated.

She addressed it in her recently published book: Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives , where she talks about how "many our individual characteristics - our health, our intelligence, our temperaments - are influenced by the conditions we encountered before birth."

She looks at how people "gestated" during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II and how people are still feeling its consequences decades later; how household chemicals can harm a developing fetus; and how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks "passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb."

This isn't about me, of course. I don't care if I feel validated. I just hope there are people out there who don't forget what happened, and try to ignore the long-lasting impact that that day has had on this country.

I said in a previous article that I feel as though this nation has been in a collective funk since Sept. 11, 2001. My hope is that the more research that's done to look at how we think feel and act, the better we can handle ourselves in the future.

The studies also make me look at my son, and seeing him excel in school, sports and just about everything, and say, geez, I'm a lucky guy.
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