It’s the type of nightmare that you hear about and it brings you to tears
as you cling to your children, feeling so grateful that it’s not your family. This is the type of nightmare that only happens to other people. Until one morning you wake up, and the nightmdare becomes your life. It happened. It really happened to me.
Of course when things like this do happen, other people always want to jump to conclusions and make their own assumptions about what must have gone wrong. Bed sharing accidents only happen to people who have been drinking, on drugs, or obese, right? Surely, this parent or caregiver was not practicing the safe sleep guidelines written by the almighty attachment parenting doctors. The rest of the world always wants to find a fault; any reason they can cling to to believe this would never happen to them. Healthy babies don’t just die, right? Sadly they do. Mine did.
So this is the story of my son, Benjamin David.
As a second-time mom, I didn’t feel the anxiety I felt bringing my first son Trae home in 2011. After a beautiful and peaceful water birth, and Ben latching on and taking to breastfeeding right away, I felt like I could take on anything. I knew that it would be tough and exhausting to take care of my two boys alone, but I was up for the challenge. My heart had never been so full.
The night Ben passed away was no different than any other night. I laid him in his cosleeper that was attached to my bed, and I drifted off to sleep knowing that it wouldn’t be long until he woke up again. Ben never slept for long unless he was in my arms. It was only a short while later I awoke to Ben fussing. I took him out of his swaddle blanket, changed his diaper, then I latched him on so he could eat. Not long after he started eating, I fell asleep.
8 A.M. My alarm on my phone goes off. I reached over to turn it off, and I thought to myself it was odd that Trae hadn’t already woken up and dragged me out of bed to turn on Curious George or Thomas & Friends. Then I looked at my sweet Ben, all cuddled up to me as he loved to do. But something wasn’t right. His face was pale and his nostril was stuck halfway down. I sat up and I realized there was a pool of blood next to Ben. I thought to myself, “No. No. This isn’t happening!” I picked up my little 30-day-old son, laid him on his back, and started to gently shake him saying, “Ben! Ben! Wake up! Wake up, Ben!” It was then that I realized he was not going to wake up. He was already gone.
In my shock, I called my family; first my sister, but there was no answer as her phone battery was dead; then my grandma, who begged me to call 9-1-1. I carried Ben downstairs, pacing my living room as I talked to the operator. She asked me a few times if I would like to start CPR. Each time, I told her there was no point. Ben was gone. His little hard body was stiff in my arms, and he didn’t look like my Ben anymore. I knew there was no hope.
The ambulance finally arrived, and the paramedics walked into my living room. The male paramedic touched Ben and made the call to try and revive him, took Ben from my arms and ran out my door with him. As he’s running out, my aunt was running in (my grandma had called her). She had no idea that Ben was dead, she just thought he had stopped breathing but was still alive. I’ll never forget the moment she realized the truth, seeing his body in the EMT’s arms as he rushed by. Her face changed from panic to horror.
I fell to my knees as I begged God, anyone, to bring my son back. It was only a matter of minutes before I felt the hand of the paramedic gently touch my back as he said, “I’m so sorry Mom, but..” I don’t recall what the other words he spoke were. The “but” told me everything I needed to know. They couldn’t get Ben back. He had been gone for hours.
Before long, my house looked like something out of the crime shows you see on TV. Police, detectives, investigators and eventually the coroner arrived to analyze the death scene. My bedroom, my bed where I laid Ben with me had become a death scene. I only had one question for the coroner: “Did Ben suffer?” The answer I got is something forever burned into my mind. I can still remember the look on his face when he answered me, the smell in the room, and even the temperature in my house.
“Babies this small generally don’t suffer when they’re smothered,” he said.
And that is the moment my whole life, my whole being, was consumed with guilt. I killed Ben? But I knew I didn’t lay or roll onto him. The coroner told us that by smother, he meant suffocation. Somehow after I fell asleep, Ben suffocated. I explained to him that there was nothing blocking Ben’s airway. How did this happen if his nose and mouth were not covered? I did not understand.
As my family and friends started pouring into my house, the questioning began. The detective kept apologizing about the questions he had to ask. “Did you have any alcohol in the last 24 hours? Did you take any medication in the last 24 hours? What position did you find Ben in? What position were you in? Are you sure you have not consumed any alcohol recently?” While the detective was so kind about it, I felt like they were trying to find where I screwed up, as if I must have done something to put myself into an abnormally deep sleep. But there was nothing. I never felt as if I slept too deeply while Ben was in bed with me. Whenever I did roll over in the middle of the night, I would consciously pick Ben up and move him with me. Not once did I wake up facing away from him. That morning was no different than any other.
I call this my hell day. It is the worst story to tell. And it never seems to get easier.
Weeks went by before I got Ben’s final cause of death. It was ruled a SUID (sudden unexpected infant death)- positional asphyxiation due to unsafe sleep conditions. While there was never anything found in his autopsy to prove that he suffocated, nor was his airway blocked when I found him, his death was ruled an accidental asphyxiation. I was one of the unlucky mothers who got a coroner that refused to rule a death as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) because of his sleeping conditions. Naturally, I was angry and consumed with guilt.
Grieving your child is up and down at the same time. It’s mad and sad. Grief is every contradicting emotion all at once. I would give anything to prevent others from living this nightmare. Not only do you lose your child, you lose yourself. Life will always be grouped as before your child died, and after your child died. You are never the same.
Since Ben’s death, I feel it is my duty to promote safe sleep knowledge to parents. The knowledge is not always well received. Often I hear the line, “I bed shared with all of my children and they are fine.” I too shared a bed with both of my children. If either of my kids were at a higher risk for this, it would’ve been Trae. Trae was mostly formula fed, I was overweight from gaining 60 lbs during my pregnancy with him, and his dad sleeping in bed with us added a much higher risk of accidental suffocation or parental overlay. Yet, it was Ben who died. My breastfed baby that I gained the recommended 30 pounds with, that I slept alone with, only bringing him into the bed with me for midnight feedings.
I see a lot of information out there on how to safely bed share. After losing Ben, I cannot agree with it. Science has proven time and time again that bed sharing absolutely does increase a baby’s risk of SIDS or SUID. Many people tell me that if their babies were to die for no reason in their sleep, they would want their child next to them, instead of alone. I would also have to disagree there. Never knowing if my baby would still be alive had he been sleeping alone is something I will take to the grave with me. If Ben had died while I was practicing the ABC’s of safe sleep, I feel my life wouldn’t constantly be filled with doubt and guilt. Could his death have been prevented? I may never know. But I would not wish this feeling of guilt and never knowing the answer on anyone.
In memory of: Benjamin David “Benny Bear”