I’ve always been the daydreamer type; one who lets her mind run wild while driving down the road. I oftentimes find myself missing turns and later realizing in bewilderment that I’ve managed to autopilot my way to a location without remembering how I got there. On one particular drive following the birth of my first son, Brody, I daydreamed that something horrible had happened to him. I pictured myself pacing up and down the hospital corridors, awaiting word on his condition. In this horrible scenario, the doctor came to deliver the news that Brody hadn’t made it. I instantly dropped to my knees in hysteria and could feel my heart ripping out of my chest. As if my conscious mind could no longer take it, my vivid imagination shut off and I came to, realizing that I had been driving down Route 66, already halfway to my parents’ house. I glanced in the rearview mirror to see the reflection of my sweet son, sound asleep in the car seat, and I thanked my lucky stars that he was alive and well. I scolded myself for having such a cruel imagination.
On the morning of August 7, 2009, I stumbled into Brody’s nursery, half asleep and rubbing my eyes after a fitful night of sleeplessness. I saw Brody lying in what looked like a compromising position, his face flushed against the crib bumper. I tapped his tiny foot to get him to turn his head and noticed how cold he felt, thinking to myself that I should turn down the AC at night. He didn’t move. I scooped him up to gently shake him awake, and it was at this point that I began to panic. He still wasn’t moving.
Carrying him, I ran into my bedroom, grabbed the phone, and called 911. The dispatcher walked me through the steps of infant CPR, and I prayed that I was hearing them clearly and following the steps correctly. I felt Brody’s cold lips on mine and begged God that I could somehow breathe life back into him. I felt my son throw up into my mouth as I forced air into his lungs and I felt a flood of relief –I just knew that he would cough and gasp for air at any moment, just like in the movies.
I could hear the dispatcher asking me if I wanted to stop and I heard myself screaming, “No!” in angst. What did she mean stop? It wasn’t until later that I realized that the dispatcher already knew what I couldn’t accept. That fateful morning, a huge piece of my heart stopped beating along with Brody’s.
When the paramedics arrived, they rushed into my bedroom and pulled me away from my son. I watched helplessly as they took Brody away. Following the paramedics outside, I finally collapsed to my knees on the front lawn, overcome with the searing agony of what was happening. I begged my conscious mind to shut off my horrid imagination.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) both recommend that babies under the age of 12 months be placed to sleep on their backs, in a crib, and on a firm mattress with only a tightly fitted sheet and no bumpers, blankets, plush animals or pillows. The AAP recommends against bed-sharing among infants, and since their launch of the “Back to Sleep” campaign, SIDS has declined by 50%.
Brody was a colicky baby, and there were times when I would have given anything for a moment’s rest. I took the advice of a friend who told me to sleep him on his tummy to ensure sounder sleep. At the time I reasoned with myself that I had had great prenatal care, I didn’t smoke during my pregnancy, and that older generations placed their babies to sleep on their tummies. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) seemed so rare that I believed it could never happen to me.
As parents prepare and nest for their soon-to-be new bundle of joy, it’s important to talk about Infant Sleep Safety and the measures they must take to ensure the safest environment for their babies. If these important boundaries are set in stone prior to the birth of the child, they will help prevent desperate decisions made later as tired new parents. As you prepare your home for your child, it’s vital to do your homework and to research the recommended standards for safe sleeping habits for your infant. Remember when you put your infant to sleep that every single time counts. Take it from me, nothing is worth the risk.
I still daydream when I’m driving in the car. I often replay the events of that fateful morning, August 7, 2009. I imagine if I had not chosen not to use bumpers in Brody’s crib and placed him on his back rather than on his tummy. I recall making the phone call to my husband and can almost hear my own voice quivering as I told him, “Come home, come home, Brody isn’t breathing.” I remember the flood of family and friends in the hospital and the looks on their faces as they watched me involuntarily rock my body back and forth in shock. I daydream about what it must have felt like to be a family member or a close friend as that person got the news, and fresh tears well up as I grieve for them, too, re-living how their hearts must have broken for us. I can almost hear my wailing cry as I recall locking myself in a hospital bathroom that day. I daydream in the car all the time and, in my sweet daydreams, I’m often filled with the small hope of somehow changing the outcome.
The truth is that no matter how much I daydream, I can’t change what happened that day, but I can honor my son’s life by sharing his story and providing information about infant sleep safety. I believe that Brody had a physiological deficiency and this, when combined with the environmental risks that I put him in, created the perfect storm that took him from us. I never thought it would happen to me. It did. And I’m still learning to forgive myself.
Sunny King and her husband Mike founded the Playmates In Heaven Foundation, which raises funds to support a Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) research group at the University of Virginia Research Hospital. She hopes to spend her life continuing to write her late son’s story and to prevent other parents from experiencing the pain of losing a child to SIDS.