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Despite Our Fears, We Need to Restore the Unity We Felt After 9/11

The sun shone strongly through the windows of my classroom on a typical Tuesday, distributing unwelcome late-summer heat over my students. It was just the second week of school, but it felt like a continuation of the year prior in some ways as I had moved up along with my students after our first year together at Kenmore Middle School.

Within a matter of seven hours, we would be bonded in trauma, as the school day ended in eerie silence. No planes passed overhead, hardly a car on the road, and most people shuttered in their homes, glued to their televisions and computers.

Ask any American about September 11th, and the overwhelming majority can tell you exactly where they were, how they heard the news, maybe even what they were wearing, and to what extent their life and the lives of their loved ones were affected.

I am no exception to this. I was leaving the library wearing one of my more professional outfits of a blouse and slacks along with a pair of platform sandals which my students always referred to as my Frankenstein shoes. As I passed the checkout desk, Mrs. Stump, our head media specialist, turned from the television strapped to the library cart and calmly stated, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

“Was it an accident?” I asked.

“That was the second one,” she said quietly, yet insistently.

I was incapable of appreciating just how devastating this really was. I did not consider the sheer magnitude of casualties and certain death. The World Trade Center towers were up 100 or so stories. Planes were big. This was not something small or recoverable. But I was young and distracted, and so I merely nodded and continued out of the library, shifting focus toward my third period class.

That didn’t last long.

The timeline here is hazy in my recollection, but at some point that hour, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, less than five miles from us. Later, some would recall hearing rumbles caused by the low-flying aircraft as it approached its target. Loudspeaker announcements were made. Every television turned on. Parents began arriving at school to scoop up their children, while other students sat in panic because their mothers or fathers worked at the Pentagon or the airlines. 

I was 25-years-old and responsible for keeping an agitated herd of seventh graders calm, all the while wondering if my own friends and family members were safe. Cell phone calls weren’t going through, thanks to a lack of necessary cell towers to handle such a catastrophe. I watched my colleagues valiantly stuff their own emotions way down as we all distracted ourselves with helping our students. I saw more than a few pre-teens holding on for emotional dear life, understandably terrified. One particular teacher heroically organized the dismissal procedure, not knowing if her husband who worked at the Pentagon was alive or dead.

After the last student had been claimed, the teachers and staff followed closely behind, anxious to get home to our own people. By that time, no planes were left in the air. No more would be weaponized, at least on that day. It was a small comfort.

There was no school the next day. I’m pretty sure the entire world, save the first responders digging through the rubble and searching for signs of life at both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, had hit a giant pause button, desperately searching for rewind and praying to erase the previous 24 hours.

As school resumed, the world knew that the attacks had been orchestrated by Al Qaeda and carried out by several of its members. And soon we would learn that the attackers lived in an apartment complex a few doors up from our school and attended the same mosque as several of our students. Many students were recent arrivals to the United States and worried about the status of their visas. Would they be forced to leave? Would their asylum status be revoked? Not being born in a country that supports religious freedom, many expressed concern that their house of worship would be closed or that they would no longer be permitted to practice their faith. Even those families in our community who were from parts of the world other than the Middle East were concerned about their ability to stay in the U.S.

Our school grew closer that year as we mourned together. While some students did lose family friends, all parents and other family were safe. We grieved the losses of our community, the loss of security, and we learned from each other: teachers, staff, students. Adults and children. Citizens, veterans, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Christians, Jews.

Two months later during Ramadan, a group of Muslim students spent their lunch hour in my classroom fasting and praying. Not once did their classmates criticize them or mock them for their beliefs. No one told them to go back to their country. These middle schoolers modeled the ideal response to tragedy and did not allow fear to dictate their treatment of their friends. We were a microcosm of the outside world, and while not perfect, we were a model worth emulating.

That was 16 years ago. My then-students are now older than I was on 9/11. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers. I keep up with them on social media, impressed by the men and women they’ve become while realizing how quickly time passes. Just one year after we watched planes fly into buildings together, we spent a month ducking and weaving our way into the school building, afraid of being shot by the DC Snipers. When they graduated high school, some chose to attend Virginia Tech, in spite of the fact that, months prior, a student had shot and killed dozens of people. To say they are survivors is an understatement.

Since 9/11, the world has changed irrevocably. Although still the most destructive act of terror, many others have occurred both abroad and in the United States. Wars have resulted. Post-traumatic stress disorder runs rampant in our soldiers returning from the Middle East. An entire generation is now entering high school having never known the excitement of meeting a loved one at the arrivals gate of an airport or even attending schools with unlocked doors. By age five, our children know how to hide from a gunman. We sit in our churches, our mosques, our temples, and our meeting houses, wondering what the best course of action would be if someone bursts through the doors shooting at us. We go to the movie theater with escape plans.

We have been holding our collective breath for 16 years, and the lack of oxygen is causing significant damage. No longer united through our grief, we are lashing out at one another in fear. So few seem interested in finding common ground.  

And now, a presidential candidate is cheered for suggesting the answer to all of our woes is a giant wall and mass deportation. I think of my students on that day 16 years ago, their terrified faces indistinguishable from the terrified faces of their citizen classmates. I think of all they endured and what they’ve accomplished; the ways in which they’ve made this country their home, and how America is better for their presence and contributions.

Yes, much has happened in these 16 years to cause these fears and doubts. But in order to return to the unity we felt following the unthinkable, we must cast them aside. As the sixteenth anniversary of that day arrives, I vow to do my part. I will try to understand “the other” instead of disregarding him. I will listen instead of react. I will breathe deeply, and I hope you will, too.

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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.

The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.

Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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