9/11/08 – When my obstetrician announced my due date in January of 2008, I became paranoid; I didn’t want my first child – my daughter – to share her birthday with a date that will undoubtedly live in infamy among the American psyche. As my due date neared, I observed the calendar with eagerness and anxiety; I wanted my baby to come, but not on September 11th. Little did I know, she’d be born on another date that would also have a long-lasting impact on our country.

A Child Is Born

When I awoke on the morning of September 14, 2008, I had already been in labor for 24 hours. The news headlines as the sun rose included the landfall of Hurricane Ike along the Texas Gulf Coast; it was a Sunday, and there was a full docket of NFL games on the schedule.

As the day progressed, my contractions grew more and more intense. By 1pm – kickoff time on the East Coast – I was at 6cm and resting after finally giving in to the anesthetized haze of an epidural. My husband and I watched Peyton Manning – after whom we’d name our daughter – lead the Indianapolis Colts in a fourth quarter comeback over the Minnesota Vikings. During halftime, there was a breaking news report… something about a major financial services firm… but by this time my contractions had once again intensified, taking my ability to focus on anything but the pain with them.

A few hours later – at 5:10pm – our daughter entered the world. Little did I know that while I labored, that world – and the economic foundation on which much of it had been based – had changed dramatically.

A Recession Is Born

While I was delivering my baby girl, Lehman Brothers – the global financial services giant – was delivering bad news to its employees. After failing to find a buyer, the firm filed for bankruptcy protection. That same day, Bank of America bought struggling Merrill Lynch for $50 billion in hopes of escaping from a financial crisis. Immediately, the government – both the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission – sprang into action with new initiatives, policies, and assurances.

It didn’t work.

By the time the markets opened for trading on Monday, September 15th, 2008 – the first sunrise my daughter would ever see – the world’s economy was already in peril. The Dow Jones tanked 504 points, shedding 4.4% of its value, in what was at the time one of the top 10 biggest single-day drops in the stock market’s history. Insurance giant AIG saw its stock price plunge 60%; by the next day, it became the first company to receive federal bailout money – $85 billion from the Federal Reserve Board – but far from the last.

We know what came next – a housing market with millions of foreclosures, short sales, and underwater mortgages; millions of jobs lost, many seemingly for good; a stock market that lost more than half its value by the time it hit rock bottom nearly six months later. The damage wasn’t limited to our shores, either; by the end of September 2008, it was clear my daughter had been born into a world economic recession.

How Life Is Different

Do you remember life before September 14, 2008? Before Lehman went bankrupt, Merrill ceased to exist, and AIG was still a stable entity?

For me, the difference to my pre-9/14/08 life and my post-9/14/08 life is day and night. In one day, I went from being a wife to a mother, while our world went from secure to on the brink. As the months and years passed, I watched friends lose their jobs while my daughter learned to crawl; I saw neighbors lose their homes to foreclosure while my daughter learned to talk. I saw the technicolor world begin to fade into a thousand shades of gray, then later transform into two colors – blue and red – which seem to paint just about everything these days.

Every year when my family and I celebrate our daughter’s birthday, I’m filled with joyous memories of her entrance into this world; of a baby who learned to walk and talk early; of a little girl who never stops asking questions, but always stops to save helpless earthworms stranded on the sidewalk after a rain. But I’m also haunted by the headlines of her birthday, the news that shattered the hopes and dreams of so many.

This week, the recession turns four years old. So does my daughter. I can only hope that the latter lives a long, happy life, and the former meets a quick death.


Libby Balke

Libby Balke