The thing about becoming a mom for the second, third, or fourth time, is that you can expect to ignore the advice you didn’t find useful the first time around. When my third child, Noah, was born, I knew there were certain parenting “rules” I wouldn’t bother following. I ate the occasional sushi while pregnant, I had a glass or two of wine before nursing him, and I never thought twice about it, because I had rolled the dice enough times before that I was comfortable with my chances being slim that something bad would happen. I wouldn’t label myself careless, just a seasoned mom who knew her limits.
My babies always slept in my bed until they became mobile, and then I made the switch to a crib in their own room. Noah was particularly slow at meeting his milestones, and so I felt comfortable letting him stay in our bed well past when I made the switch with my older girls. I don’t regret co-sleeping with any of my children – it’s how I made it through the early months, when they wanted to nurse non-stop. I usually made sure their surroundings were uncluttered, and followed safe co-sleeping habits. Until once, when Noah was six months old, and I didn’t.
Reliving this awful day is not something I do lightly, but I would like every mom out there to know that, like all accidents we think won’t happen to us, this one can.
I was tired. My two older children had not been going to bed easily for weeks, and Noah was refusing to nap in the mornings. I was tired and desperate, actually. I nursed him to sleep in my bed, and crept quietly out of the room, fully anticipating the peace and quiet to last not ten minutes. I sat outside my bedroom door, and when I didn’t hear him fussing, went downstairs to do the breakfast dishes. I had so much housework that was piling up that I got lost in the task at hand. Between sorting laundry and washing the floors, I hardly noticed when noon rolled around and my husband walked through the front door, back for a quick hello and some lunch. He asked me where the baby was, and seemed worried when I told him he was still napping. I decided to go wake him so that he could give his Daddy a hug and kiss before he had to head back to work.
The moment I opened my bedroom door, I knew something was wrong. I could hear some very soft, muffled noises, but I couldn’t see Noah anywhere on my bed. When I moved closer, I realized that the duvet I had left on the edge of the bed was now covering his whole body. I threw it off the bed to find my little boy face down on the mattress, drenched in sweat and vomit, and blue. I screamed for my husband to call 9-1-1, and held his limp little body to my chest. In that moment, Noah began to scream, and the blue in his lips and face turned a deep red. I’m not sure when the ambulance showed up, but I remember sitting on the floor of my living room in my nursing bra and a pair of shorts, with Noah in my arms, and looking up to see fifteen ambulance technicians, policemen and firemen crammed into the small space. Someone found me some clothes and helped me into the back of the ambulance. By this point, Noah seemed to be doing fine. Needless to say, I was in shock.
After a night filled with brain scans and blood work, the doctor told me they believed his asphyxiation hadn’t caused any permanent damage. The next evening, I put Noah down in his crib, empty except for a snug fitting crib mattress, and fell asleep beside him. It was weeks before I could leave him alone in his room for a nap.
In the two years that have followed the accident, Noah has dealt with several motor and speech delays. No matter how many doctors tell me that the time he spent without proper oxygen didn’t affect him, I will never stop blaming myself for what happened, and for every little thing that my son struggles with. I know now that safe sleeping habits for babies are not something to take lightly. The loose cover on the edge of my bed was a disaster waiting to happen. And the fact that I had never seen him roll over before didn’t mean that he couldn’t. My fourth child, Evan, just turned nine months old. From the day he was born, I’ve been hyper aware of loose sheets near him, and use a sleep sack when he’s in his crib. I may be a mother of four, but I’m not taking any chances.