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9/11, National Tragedy and Adoption Loss

by Laura on September 11th, 2013

“Will you tell me if anything ever happens to my baby?”

“Oh dear, you don’t need to worry about that. Your child will grow up healthy and happy, and you will move on with your life.”

Baby feet from

How many times? How. Many. Times.

How many times have expectant mothers wondered to themselves, or perhaps so boldly asked this question, only to be patronized and shut down?

Too many to count.

It’s true, not everything about adoption is bad. And yes, most of the time the infant does get adopted, and he grows up just fine, and nothing bad happens during his childhood. Most of the time? Sorry, I meant some of the time.

But today’s blog is not about post-adoption issues. I know, pigs have flown and hell has frozen over. It’s about another kind of tragedy; loss and death on the national scale.

Today is the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11.

Thomas Francis Dennis, Sr. at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan

Last year, I was a new blogger and was writing from personal experiences and I wanted to honor my uncle.

I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve gone from a somewhat clueless spunky adoptee to a snarky adoption activist. I’ve survived motherhood. I’ve safely brought my children through another year—now that much closer to living full, adult lives. My writing has expanded from navel-gazing (although that’s still pretty fulfilling, I have to admit) to looking out at the world and seeing how injustice and adoption often intertwine.

Okay, we get that, Laura, but what does 9/11 have to do with adoption?

Truly, what does any national tragedy of any kind have to do with adoption loss, aside from the trauma aspect? I put on my thinking cap and tried to figure it out. Last week I was talking about the unconscious, and how deeply adoption trauma resides, especially in the first mom and especially when that trauma is kept locked up. How this black  box of trauma connects to 9/11 is this:

What happens when an adoptee dies in a national tragedy?

Ah ha. There it is. Have you ever thought about it? I never had … until recently, after further emerging from my ever-elusive adoption fog. Truly, I was a bit surprised during the Sandy Hook school shootings when first moms all over Facebook were asking,

Does anyone know if any of the child victims are adoptees?

At first I was confused. … and then it dawned on me. If any of these children are adoptees in a closed adoption (which nearly all international adoptions still are, and most domestic–although that’s changing) … How will their first mom ever know if their child died?


Here first moms are told, Don’t worry! Your child will be fine; no, your child will be better off in an adoptive family! Truly, how could anyone live with the not knowing? What if you thought your child might be among the victims? How could you track down your child? How could you be 100% sure it’s not your relinquished child who died?

So I looked it up. And yes, there was an adoptee among the 9/11 victims.

Also aboard United Flight 175, was 3-year-old David Brandhorst and his adopted fathers, Daniel Brandhorst, 42, and Ronald Gamboa, 33. New York Blade reports Daniel was adopted by the homosexual couple at the time of his birth and was the “loving focus of their lives,” according to a close friend of the couple. Andrew Isen also told New York Blade, “[David] knew his parents as ‘Daddy’ and ‘Poppy.’”

– from WND

I am so glad that he was the loving focus of their lives. Nevertheless, this is a tragedy in so many ways. Especially in ways that the mass media doesn’t realize or acknowledge.

So, I’ll ask … But what about David’s first family?

Was his mother ever notified of her child’s death? Does she believe he’s alive? Is she waiting just another three years or so until she thinks her child turns 18, and the records will be opened? And then what? She will discover a new and different kind of hell. The child she waited for–for eighteen years, died on 9/11, when he was three years old.

Some might say, Hey, shit happens. That’s life. We all don’t get to live out our lives exactly how we want to.


However, I for one am not obliged to stand for injustice.

It is unjust that children die without knowing their first families.

It is unjust that families who have lost a child to adoption don’t know what happens to their child.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In remembering the tragedies on 9/11, perhaps we must also work to try to end injustices in the here-and-now.

Photo credit: See. Read. Cook.


  1. Lesley Earl permalink

    On Sept 11 2001 I was part of a support team for a young woman who relinquished her 7 day old infant. She decided to drive her baby to the Adoptive family (6 hours away) so she could relinquish her instead of having her taken;-(

  2. My favorite post about 9/11, EVER.

    You rocked it friend, you rocked it!


  3. Thank you for this.

    Tom Burnett, one of the heroes of Flight 93 was also a birth father:

    I think of these things often..most recently the Boston marathon bombings and how thank goodness, I could find out if my son was Ok immediately.

  4. eagoodlife permalink

    Such important points here, no-one ever deserves not to know or be told the truth however hard it is.

  5. Lavender Luz permalink

    I was thinking about you and your Uncle Tom today. Big hugs for that.

    And you've also made me think about another facet of adoption. I know that openness isn't a panacea, but yes, knowing is better than not knowing (to many, anyway, but possibly not to everyone).

  6. Lee H. permalink

    Having met my dad is 2012 at age 46 my heart is so sad for Mariah…her dad would have adored her…as one article stated, Tom's sister said how much he would have loved taking her to dinner in Chicago where she was a student at DePaul. He had told his sister he never stopped thinking about his daughter and that when the time was right they would meet and she would meet her sisters.

    I get to do these things with my dad and still there are those who view it as something weird, wanting to have dinner with my dad all by myself. It's what I have hoped for my whole life!

  7. Barbara permalink

    Thank you!

  8. 9/11 has been the most painful incident that we may not able to forget about for a very long time. It still makes me feel that it has happened recently when millions of people had died.

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