About this time last year, a sweet woman, here in Gilbert, Arizona, named Cherish accidentally left her baby in a shopping cart. As I watched numerous people posting horrific things about this mama, I couldn't stay silent another moment. I felt the need to share a few of my thoughts (you can read them here if you'd like). Having no idea how far and wide my post would spread on Facebook, I was absolutely stunned when hundreds of beautiful comments and messages of sisterhood, encouragement and support flooded my feed. I even connected with and made a few new friends out of it.
On the contrary, however, I was also very taken back as vicious, mean, and threatening comments came in… saying things like,
"Your mother should have left you in a hot car to die."
Pretty soon, as each and every "like" or comment notification appeared on my screen, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. It was very seriously one of the strangest and sad experiences of my life… to be so targeted and so judged, by people who didn't even know me…. and I wasn't even getting a fraction of the hate that Cherish was receiving.
I contemplated deleting the post many times. I bawled to my husband because the meanness hurt so much. And I hated that social media could be used in such a malicious way. But I decided to keep it up because I knew that soon enough, my post, and the horrific backlash Cherish received, would be over and forgotten.
Fast forward to today: The experience led me to some amazing people and one in particular who asked to share her story anonymously, but POWERFUL nonetheless.
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE-
We all have certain moments that define us, moments that when we look back on our life, those will stand out. To strip it down to bare bones, it’s comprised of good days and bad days. Have you had a day that you can say was honestly the worst day of your life? Depending on where you are in life, you might be blessed to be able to say that you have not experienced that worst day yet. I have. It was not even 1 year ago. Here is my story.
It was a Sunday. We skipped church. We slept in, we were exhausted from a busy family day the day before. My husband stayed home with the other kids to do some work around the house & I took my youngest with me to the grocery store so (ironically) he would be safe & out of the way. I took a different route to the store because I was on the phone. When I got to the store (still on the phone) I got out of the car & went into the store..just like that… I left him in the car. Once inside the store, I got off of the phone and began to shop. As I loaded our cart, I picked out his favorite applesauce and grabbed milk for him but didn’t remember him..yet. After what I estimate was about 8-10 min, I called my husband because I realized I had forgotten the credit card I wanted to use. About 1-2 min after hanging up the phone, I looked in the cart wondering where he was. For a second, I thought he was home with my husband…Typically when I got to the store, I have all of my kids with me OR they are all at home with my husband. I even frantically looked in the back of the cart where the groceries were and on the bottom (which is ridiculous because it wouldn’t be safe for him to be there but my brain was on overload). Then, it dawned on me… I.LEFT.HIM.IN.THE.CAR.
I cannot explain the horrific feeling I had as I abandoned my shopping cart & ran towards my car. I am shaking, afraid, nauseated, praying. There are no real words to describe it. All l know is from the moment I realized he was in the car until he was in my arms was the worst feeling I have ever had.
I am beginning to cry as I am running to him..saying aloud “what did I do, what did I do?” while I am fumbling for my keys. This is one of those moments you see in the movies when time stands still, when no matter how fast I go, he keeps getting further away from me. For a second I thought ..how am I going to tell his siblings I killed him? How in the world will I tell my husband what I did?
As I get close to the car I hear his cry. Praise God! He is alive! I still cannot find my keys. I bang on the window. I dump out the diaper bag on the curb. I find my keys. I open the door…seeing him sweating, red faced and crying. It is an image I will never forget. It is burned into me. It is an image only I will have. That moment of realization that he was in the car..it's a moment that only I will have? That feeling is also burned into me.
I am now crumpled on the curb next to that hot-death-trap of a car with my diaper bag strewn all over. I am holding him, sobbing hysterically. He was no longer crying but just sitting on my lap, looking at me. At that moment, I felt like I had lost my mind. How could this have happened? He was okay. I was not. I called my husband. I didn’t think I could drive home. He calmed me like he always does. He is my voice of reason, my rock, and my person. I didn’t want to drive but I didn’t want my other kids to
know the situation or see me like this. How could I strap him back into the car seat after that? I did. I cried, apologized repeatedly to my son and sang his favorite songs to him in the car on the drive home...you are my sunshine...the itsy bitsy spider...twinkle twinkle little star....singing and crying.
Shame, blame, guilt, confusion, anxiety and horrible thoughts plagued me in the days following. I KNEW I could never forgive myself.
How could this happen? I thought about him while shopping. I put applesauce and milk in the cart FOR HIM! How did I do that and not realize he wasn’t with me? I had seen stories over the years about parents/caregivers that this happened to with a very different outcome. In fact, I would put my diaper bag behind my seat to keep from doing this very thing because I heard this tip on the news after a family tragically lost their child to vehicular heatstroke. On that day. I put my bag between my driver seat and front passenger seat. I didn’t need to turn around to get it, so I didn’t see him.
I needed a reason, a rationale..other than I simply forgot. I KNEW there was a better explanation. I KNEW this happened too often to parents and caregivers, they couldn’t all be neglectful. I KNEW I was not a neglectful parent. I would give my life for any one of my children. They are my world. I KNEW for me to begin to heal I had to find the answer. I KNEW there had to be something going on in my brain. Through an internet search, I found an amazing organization called KidsAndCars.Org
Here is the watered down version. It is a failure of 2 systems in your brain that are competing. Your brain's “habit memory system” and the “prospective memory system”. Prospective memory is basically the planning & execution of an action (like planning to take a child to daycare/babysitter). Habit memory forms subconsciously through repeated actions that are performed automatically (the routine drive to work you make every day, brushing your teeth, etc). It “enables” us to be on auto-pilot. Have you ever arrived somewhere like work or a friend's house and thought “ how did I get here?” You don't really remember driving there. That is habit memory.
Prospective Memory is processed by 2 brain structures, One of them, The Hippocampus stores new info (ie: The child is in the car).
The other one is The Prefrontal Cortex enables us to plan for the future, accounts for change in routine (ie: it processes the route/drive…going to daycare instead of straight to work).
In forgotten baby syndrome, the basal ganglia takes over & suppresses the prefrontal cortex so prospective memory & habit memory clash. It is the failure of your prospective memory & your habit memory is the winner.
1. Lack of sleep/exhaustion (check! Up late the night before and as a night nurse I experience lack of sleep all of the time. In fact two days before the incident. I had been up for more than 30hrs)
2. Change in Routine (check! Skipped church, drove a diff way to store. Only took one child to the store and/or didn’t go to the store alone. I work a lot of weekends and this weekend my husband & I were both off together all weekend.
3. Stress (check! I recently had a change in my job)
4. Distractions (Check! I was on my phone when I got out of the car.
5. Hormone Changes (I don’t think this was a factor for me that day but it contributes to this happening to new parents)
Cars can heat up quickly, they can reach 125 degrees in minutes. 80% of the temperature increase happens in the first 10 minutes..
Cracking a window doesn’t help slow down the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature. This is why you should NEVER knowingly leave your child in the car, even for a few min..to run in to pay at the gas station or anything! Also, you could get car-jacked. This happens A LOT more than you think!
This can happen in all seasons. Children have died in temps as low as 60 degrees!
An avg of 37 children per year die of vehicular heatstroke/hyperthermia (at the time of this writing 16 have died)
87% are under age 3
50% of parents (like myself) unknowingly left them
30% of children lock themselves in the car.
12% of parents knew they left the child in the car.
- LOOK BEFORE YOU LOCK
- Make a routine of opening the back door of your car EVERY time you park-even in your own driveway. (many children have died in front of their own home.)
- Put something in the backseat like a purse, bag, cell phone, shoe to remind you to open the backdoor when you park. You can’t get too far without your shoe!
- Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat, put it on the front seat as a visual reminder when babe is in the back seat.
- Ask your babysitter/childcare provider to phone you if your child has not arrived as scheduled.
- MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN CANNOT GET INTO A PARKED CAR
- Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway (if you cannot find your child..check the car first!!! Many children have died because they slipped out the front door to get a toy out of the car, or play hide n seek and get trapped in the car)
- Keys and remote openers should be kept out of a child’s reach
- If a child goes missing IMMEDIATELY check the trunk and inside of vehicles carefully!
- If you see a child alone in a car, try to open the car & remove the child, break the window, call the police. You don’t know how long the child has been in the car.
- *Frontovers, Backovers, trunk entrapment power windows and vehicles set in motion are also very real dangers that take many children’s lives every year.*
Although my sweet boys’ life was spared, this was still a traumatic event for me. I now know I can forgive myself. I still suffer from anxiety & I never really know when it is going to hit. I have bad dreams that wake me on many nights. Sometimes I have some mood swings that are unexplained. At night I sneak into his room, watch him sleep & thank God for him. Every time I strap him in his car seat I will be reminded. Every time I go to that store, or I am in my car on a hot day I will be reminded. Every time I hear a tragic story on the news where a child is lost to vehicular heatstroke/hyperthermia, I will be reminded. When I see a story of a parent facing charges because they too, had the perfect storm of events, I will be reminded. I will always see what his face looked like when I opened the car that day. I will always know that fear from that moment I realized he was in the car. It will all remind me. It will all remind me of God’s grace and plan. It will all remind me that for each one of those memories there a million mamas and daddies that need to hear my story.
It can happen to anyone.
*For more info on this issue or any other car safety issues or stats and tips go to KidsAndCars.org.