Primetime has turned its studio into a giant playpen twice since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, bringing together the women widowed by the attacks and their newborns. Now, the babies are toddlers, growing taller, stronger and louder. And their mothers are changing too — finding new homes, new jobs, and for some, new husbands.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Primetime met with women who lost their husbands on Sept. 11 and gave birth to their children in the months afterward. They came together in New York in June 2002 for a photograph to commemorate what for them has been a harrowing year, the joy of their babies' births tempered by the sorrow of their loss.
Sixty-one women ended up participating, with two sets of twins making a total of 63 babies — roughly half of the babies known to have been born to Sept. 11 widows. The group turned the elegant conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden into happy chaos, the younger babies crying and gurgling.
Another year has gone by, and it's been another year of baby steps. On this second anniversary, a number of the mothers decided to remain private. Instead of joining the Primetime reunion, they sent home videos to show how much their babies have grown.
Grief Eased by Children, New Beginnings
The gathering of the babies and their mothers was a happy sight, but the loss that unites their mothers, of course, was not. The women said going through their pregnancies alone made their grieving even harder. A year later, their grief has been eased somewhat by their children.
When Primetime first met Jenna Jacobs, she was a portrait of anguish. Her son, Gabi, was born just six days after his father, Ari, died at the World Trade Center.
In the past year, Jenna has begun a new chapter in her life. "I have a new house, I have a new boyfriend. He has a daughter. Things are completely different for me than they were two years ago. But I am still me," she said.
Jenna Jacobs says she can't bear the phrase "moving on" because where she lives, she says, her love for Ari still lives too. "I still love him. I always will. You carry your experiences with you whatever they are … No matter what I do in this life, nothing can separate me from my husband."
Many of the women said the single hardest moment of the past year was coming home with their baby, to a home without a father, and then facing the prospect of raising their children alone.
Like Jacobs, however, several of the Sept. 11 widows have found new love, and are open to sharing their lives and children with new men. Still, Jacobs explains, the feelings for their late husbands will always be with them. Jacobs' boyfriend, understands, she said. "He lets me love my husband and expects me to and loves me because I do and expects things to just be different between the two relationships," she said.
In this past year of healing, Jacobs created a foundation, September Smiles, to help others in their recovery. Three other mothers widowed on Sept. 11 — Jill Gartenberg, Julie McMahon, and Kim Statkevicus — sit on the foundation's board of directors.
The oldest baby in the group was Farqad Chowdhury, who was born on Sept. 13. His father, Mohammad Chowdhury, was a physicist who had a master's degree from his native Bangladesh, but took a job as a waiter at the Windows on the World restaurant to provide for his family. Since his death, his widow, Baraheen Ashrafi, a devout Muslim from a traditional home who married him in a match arranged by their families, has learned to drive, as a first step to greater independence.
The family has now moved to Oklahoma and Braheen is now driving in a neighborhood car pool.
Tracy Woodall is another woman who has made incredible strides in battling grief over her husband's death. "I made a choice to live and be positive and optimistic again because that's who I am," she said. She and her daughter, Pierce, have moved back to Texas, where her family lives, and she is now pursuing a Ph.D., and working with orphans.
"The biggest news of all," Woodall said, "is that I decided to adopt a little girl from Russia. … My little girl will be arriving next spring, and Pierce will be about 2 years old. … I think that we have a lot of love to give, Pierce and I."