What’s It Like When Your Birthday Is September 11?

Mandy Grazioso was not having a very good birthday.

It was the fall of 2009. She was turning 30, which suddenly felt old. She was nine months pregnant with her first child, everything hurt, and the pre-partum hormones were blazing. And then there was the constant news coverage of the eighth anniversary of 9/11—documentaries, news specials, TV movies, the reading of the names.

Everything just felt heavy.

Grazioso did what she always did on 9/11 since the terrorist attacks: She brought coffee and doughnuts to her local firehouse and police station. She sent her husband out for her favorite Italian pastries.

And then? She went home to celebrate her birthday.

“When I tell people my birthday is on September 11, they usually say something like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ Or they make that ‘eww’ face,” she says.

A few months after her daughter was born that fall of 2009, Grazioso thought back to September 11, 2001, the day she turned 24. She left work to go to her parents’ house and sat in front of the TV, with the rest of the world. She cried. “Then my mom, God love her, came in and said we’re going to eat dinner and have birthday cake,” she says. “I said, how can I celebrate today? How can we eat cake? She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You’re my first baby. It’s your birthday.’ That gave me a whole new feeling about it. It’s a tragic day, but there are still people who are happy that I’m here, and who want to celebrate that.”

Grazioso recalled this moment all those years later, after her daughter was born, and figured there must be a lot of other people like her mom out there, making sure the 9/11 birthday crew has a special day. So she founded a Facebook group called Yes My Birthday Is On 9/11.

It started with two other members. Today it totals 221.

Here’s what she wrote in the “About” section:

Jenny Burckhardt, who will turn 37 on 9/11/21 and works for Amazon in Missouri, joined the group in 2010. Her mother’s birthday is also September 11. In 2001, Burckhardt was a 17-year-old high school student. “I was in my first class,” she says. “My mom dropped me off and gave me flowers and a cupcake. Shortly after, there was an announcement over the intercom. My teacher turned on the TV and we watched the news. I was in shock. I excused myself and went to the principal’s office and called my mom. She came back to my school and we went home. We decided to stay away from the news.”

Every year, she and her mother say a prayer for those who died on 9/11, then celebrate their day with family and friends.

Jennifer Diane, 38, a middle-school teacher in Nassau County, New York, joined the group after her daughter, Isabella, was born on 9/11 seven years ago. Diane had been due to deliver her baby on September 9, was then scheduled to be induced on the 10th, and finally gave birth on the 11th.

“People would ask when I had her and when I told them they would say, ‘Ohhh,’ like they were disappointed,” she says. “And I don’t want that for her. It’s still her birthday! It takes a very special group of people to be born on that day. And I’m not saying that just because she’s my daughter. To be able handle that connection—to be able to say ‘Yes, that’s my birthday!’—you have to be a strong person.”

To handle that connection—to be able to say yes, that’s my birthday!—you have to be a strong person.

Diane hasn’t talked with her daughter yet about the tragedy that makes her birth date unique, but they do visit the firehouse and police station on 9/11, and talk a lot about heroes.

“We say, ‘Yes, it’s your birthday, it’s a fantastic day—but you know what? We also want to honor and make it a day for heroes.’ That’s what we’ve been doing so far,” she says.

This year, Isabella is getting her favorite ice-cream cake…and a hamster.

“It’s nice that there’s a Facebook group for her when she gets older, should she be interested in that,” Diane says. “It’s a good support system for everyone.”

This year, Isabella will enjoy drive-by wishes from family and friends (Diane is recovering from COVID-19). Burckhardt and her mother will say a prayer, then try to have some fun. Grazioso will bring coffee and doughnuts down to the firehouse, then relax while her husband and kids do the chores and bring her mocha cake.

“It’s become a taboo day now,” Grazioso says. “We just wanted to find people to celebrate with. For me it’s about just being a good human every day of your life, and trying to do things for other people. Pay it forward. A tragic thing happened that day, but maybe by being good people we can help prevent tragic things from happening again.”

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