NEW YORK – Andrew Wasilewski is a chubby-cheeked toddler from Mississippi. Katie and Kathie Johnson are identical twins from South Dakota. Alyse Dansby is a playful 23-month-old from Alaska.
These children come from far-flung places, but they are united by a common twist of fate: They were born on Sept. 11, 2001 (search).
Andrew, the Johnson twins and Alyse were among 28 toddlers from 27 states who came to New York (search) for a two-day birthday celebration that began Sunday with a buffet dinner and birthday cake decorated with an American flag.
Sept. 11 "was such a tragedy, but in the light of tragedy, something so wonderful was happening," said Alyse's mother, Susana Dansby, standing in a sea of parents and toddlers dressed in red, white and blue. "I just feel close to these people."
Organized by Christine Pisera Naman -- whose son Trevor also was born on the day of the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people -- the birthday celebration was set to continue Monday with a visit to Toys "R" Us and a cruise around the Statue of Liberty (search).
Inspired by Trevor's birth and troubled by what was happening around her, Naman said she felt the need to get in touch with mothers who also gave birth on Sept. 11, 2001.
She then asked the mothers to send her their babies' pictures, which she has published in a book entitled "Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11." A portion of the proceeds from the book, featuring one baby from every state, is being donated to a fund for Sept. 11 orphans.
"Very rarely in your life do you simultaneously shed tears of joy and tears of such sadness all on the same day," said Naman, of Monroeville, Pa. "It was an easy day to give up and say, 'Good Lord, what are we doing?' But then you look at your baby and you see a good reason to go on."
Many of the Sept. 11 babies' parents described a similar mix of joy and pain as they experienced the births of their children while New York and Washington, D.C., came under attack.
Kalli Johnson, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, said she was overjoyed by the birth of her identical twins, Kathie and Katie, but was too ashamed to admit it.
"For our people, twins are a sacred blessing," said Johnson, bouncing one girl on her knee while feeding the other a slice of watermelon. "But I was ashamed for being happy because other people were so sad."
Several of the mothers learned of the attacks when they arrived at the hospital and saw doctors and nurses glued to the television. Others, such as Kazuko Spear, of Kaneohe, Hawaii, were in labor when they heard the news.
"I was in pain from the contractions at about 4 a.m. (Hawaiian time zone), when the nurse came in and said I had to take a look at the TV," said Kazuko, her daughter, Krystal, hugging a blue blanket. "In between my contractions I was watching TV and I was just zoned."
Given the unusual circumstances their children were born into, a number of parents said they believed their toddlers have a special mission to spread a message of hope and peace.
Karen Wasilewski, of Albany, Miss., made a keepsake box of Sept. 11 mementos that she plans to give to her son to teach him how important it is for people to get along, despite their differences.
"These children were born on Sept. 11 for a reason," Wasilewski said. "As long as he goes through life and shows people that there's no reason to fight and argue, I'll be happy."