The women who gathered with their babies for a photo session in New York this summer looked just like any other group of new mothers.
But as they chatted, their small talk told a different story: "What did your husband do?" ... "His mom called me right away"... "They found a lot of Frank, right?" ... "I think the hardest part is going to be explaining it to my kids."
The women all lost their husbands on Sept. 11 and gave birth to their children in the months afterward. Primetime had met many of the women in the course of the year, and wanted to bring them together 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 (if they weren't sleeping or munching on their blankets), the older ones crawling out of position again and again, mothers and producers running around to catch them. How do you wrangle 36 baby boys and 27 baby girls — ranging in age from three weeks to nearly a year — all into one place and get them to sit still for a photograph?
Going Through Pregnancy Alone
The 63 babies were a happy sight, but the loss that unites their mothers, of course, was not. In a similar way, while the mothers said their babies had brought them joy, many said that having to go through a pregnancy alone had made their grieving even harder.
"I think he's a gift," said Haven Fyfe of her 1-month-old Parker, "but I did not think being pregnant and being a widow was a gift. I thought it was very cruel." Fyfe had told her husband Karleton that she was pregnant just two days before he died on board American Airlines Flight 11. She went through a long and painful natural childbirth, but said the pain was "a cathartic release for me about the anger that I have about my husband's death."
Katy Soulas said she wishes her husband Tim, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center, was present at the birth of their sixth child, Daniel, so she could have thanked him for making her a mother. But she said she sensed his presence: "I felt Tim holding my hand. So he was with me."
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.
"It would be very easy to just stop," said Patti Quigley, as her baby Leigh gurgled on her lap. "She wakes up at 6, like clockwork, every day, and I can't just let her lie there.... Once I'm up, I'm all right."
The widows, many of whom were meeting each other for the first time, found some solace in coming together. "It's incredible to take in, that so many people are going through the same thing," said Barbara Atwood, whose husband Gerald was a firefighter. "There's some comfort, unfortunately, in that — and there's strength in it."
Oldest Baby, Youngest Baby
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. She got a temporary license in April — something she said would have made her husband proud.
The youngest of the babies was Francesca Liriano, just three weeks old. Her father Francisco did not work at the World Trade Center but was giving a presentation there on the morning of Sept. 11. He and his wife Shirley had been trying to have a baby for six months, and the weekend before the attacks he had been sure she was pregnant. She did not think she was, and they agreed that she would take a pregnancy test the following weekend, so he could be with her to see the result. But, his wife told Primetime, "Next weekend never came."
Instead, Shirley Liriano spent the days after Sept. 11 desperately searching for her husband. When she finally took the pregnancy test weeks later and it was positive, she was more determined than ever to find him. "You wanted this, so you have to be here," she would tell him in her mind. When Francesca was born in May, she immediately started playing a role in the search for her father, providing DNA from inside her cheek to help identify his remains.
Grieving Without a Body
Identification of remains was another frequent topic among the widows. At the New York City medical examiner's DNA laboratory on the East River, there are still 20,000 body parts in storage, waiting to be identified. Each sample is labeled "DM," for "Disaster Manhattan." Every piece has been tested once, and around half of them have enough DNA material — flesh, bone and ligament — to make identification feasible. Those that showed no DNA in the first test are undergoing a second round of testing.
It will take another six to eight months to complete the work. In the meantime, dozens of victims' families show up every week to ask whether their loved ones' remains have been identified.
Some of the widows have had to wrestle with the question of whether to hold a funeral without remains. Barbara Atwood held out hope for months that her firefighter husband's remains would be identified. His company's truck, Ladder 21, was left ghost-like on the street, but no trace of its crew was found.
Atwood, who gave birth to a baby boy in March, was reluctant to hold a memorial service for her husband, worried that if his remains were later found she would have to hold a second service. "That I just can't imagine doing twice," she told Primetime at the time. Finally, after the search at Ground Zero was declared over, she decided to go ahead with a memorial service in June.
Kindness of Strangers
Another issue facing the women is finances. The mothers who attended the photo session ranged in age from 25 to 40. For some, the babies were their first; for one, her sixth. But for all the women, the babies were children they never expected to be raising on their own.
Charities have collected more than $2 billion for the victims' families so far. The widows were shy about discussing money, but Primetime calculated that each family has likely received about $175,000 from the charities to date. Families of police officers and firefighters have received an average of about $1 million each from funds set up specially for them.
In addition, the federal government is offering payouts — an average of $1.4 million — to families who forfeit the right to sue the airlines, security firms or any government agency, but only one-fifth of all victims' families have applied so far.
But rather than money, the widows said that what meant the most were the small, simple kindnesses strangers had shown them.
"A 7-year-old boy in California wrote this cute note," said Kellie Lee, who gave birth to a daughter after her husband Danny died on board Flight 11. "He wanted to make sure that if I didn't breastfeed Allison, I had enough money for formula and diapers. He raised $400 by standing out in front of his church and asking."
Jenna Jacobs' neighbors organized a food chain and made sure she and her newborn son Gabriel had home-cooked meals every night for two months.
Some felt their husbands' employers could have done more. While a few companies have offered to give lifetime health benefits to surviving families, the firm Pat Wotton's husband Rod worked for, Franklin Templeton, one of the largest mutual fund managers in the world, plans to cut off her health insurance in less than two years. The company, which lost 87 employees in all, said its total financial package for each family was "substantial and comprehensive."
Rings for Remembrance
For many of the widows, their wedding rings have taken on a special importance. Jenna Jacobs, whose husband Ariel was at a breakfast meeting in Windows on the World, followed the tradition of moving her ring to her right finger. "I want people to notice that it's on my right hand, that something is wrong in my life. It's the sign of a widow," she said.
Terilyn Patrick had celebrated her first wedding anniversary with her husband Jim on Sept. 9. Searchers found his wedding ring lying amid all the destruction at Ground Zero. Patrick plans to give it to her newborn son Jack, who she says already has his father's smile.