It has been almost five years since that day. The day I left school and casually ran to the store before picking up my son, taking my time as I shopped around. That day I wasn’t in a hurry, which wasn’t my normal self. I decided to take an extra fifteen minutes alone before picking up my son for the night. It was that day, five years ago, that I showed up to pick up my son from a house that was surrounded by police cars and an ambulance. This was the day I ran up to the door to see my son crying as a police officer asked me who I was and which child was mine. Almost five years ago my son’s babysitter approached me at the door, shaking, to tell me she found the baby unresponsive. The baby that wasn’t even a year old had died.
This story is hard for me to share. My heart hurts for the family that lost their child. It’s a feeling I don’t want to even fathom. But I’m embarrassed and ashamed. As a mother I’m supposed to be my child’s protector, his safety net. I feel guilty that he came so close. I feel guilty that it was my decision, and that decision placed my son somewhere unsafe. I feel guilty that I would even put him in this situation.
And I get it. Accidents happen. Accidents happen. But years later, I still question myself, “What if it was him? What if that happened to my son? It could have been any of them.”
Five years ago my husband dropped my son off to his sitter for the day. It was the same routine we had since he was four months old. The majority of the kids there were his age and had been there for just as long as my son. It was his norm. It was our norm. Around lunchtime, I remember her sending me a text of the whole gang sitting in the living room, smiling with their cute little faces. It was this photo that would be plastered all over the news over the next few days, these cute faces blurred out. This genuinely sweet moment would soon we blurred out, and used as an image to symbolize the horrific tragedy.
I arrived to pick up my son about fifteen minutes later than normal. There were at least four police cars littering the front lawn of the house. My heart began to race and I started to panic. Why didn’t she call me? What was going on? A police officer greeted my anxious self and at first wouldn’t let me see my son. The panic started growing. I heard my child crying from the dining room that housed all of the baby swings and toys. He raced to me, almost oblivious to the scene that was going on. No one would tell me what was going on. The police officers just kept referring to it as a situation. People were going in and out of the house and I felt like I had been standing on the front step for hours, just hugging my son. Finally, my sitter’s daughter met me at the door, her hands were shaking and she was white as a ghost. She told me she found the baby in the pack n play after nap and they weren’t breathing. She said the baby had stopped breathing.
My mind went into shock for a few days after the situation. I talked to a few other parents, and we still hadn’t heard what was going on, and we kept hearing different stories. Suddenly, I became more protective of my son. I felt like I had failed him, and I didn’t want to let him out of my sight. One afternoon while he was napping, a detective from the local police department showed up at my house. She asked me questions, but wouldn’t tell me anything. I remember feeling even more awful about everything after she left. I felt judged as a mom. I felt like there were signs and information that I should have known. That I should have known better than to leave him there. That, somehow, I was supposed to have some kind of sense that he was unsafe, or that, somehow, with a little more diligence I could have been more aware. I felt accused- like, whatever I had done to vet this sitter just wasn’t enough.
The next few weeks weren’t any better. Every time I thought I was starting to move past everything, another story would show up in the news, and it felt like someone was rubbing salt into my wound. They flashed that picture up on the television and social media with these tiny blurred out faces and it made me want to throw up. Social media was toxic- all of a sudden, everybody had an opinion about how we all should have known. I found myself the unwitting participant in this incident, my son’s blurred out face a part of this story, he was a member of a group of kids whose parents-according to the unrelenting jury of social media- just hadn’t done enough. I had to block all of the news channel profiles from my page, otherwise I would keep myself up at night reading the horrible comments from people that had no problems expressing the fact that they thought horrible parenting was to blame for this tragedy.
It took almost a year to get the final report, which concluded that the baby had suffocated in a broken pack ‘n play. While I understand that accidents do happen, the unfortunate truth is that this tragedy could have been prevented with safe sleep techniques.
My son is a thriving first grader now. He’s an active, fun loving boy who loves nothing more than asking me a million questions a day and playing with his neighborhood friends. I am grateful that I am still watching him grow up and think often about the family that lost their baby. Still, every year when the anniversary rolls around, all the emotions come flooding back. I know he remembers nothing about that day, but it is something we will never forget.