Shaken Baby Syndrome Shook My Life

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My son was born at the University of New Mexico Hospital where they have a Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention & Awareness Program.  As a part of that program, I watched a video titled “When Babies Cry” before I was discharged. It is a heartbreaking video about Shaken Baby Syndrome and how to prevent it.

I believed that something so awful could never happen to us. It did. 

Finding Childcare

As soon as my maternity leave began, I researched childcare options for my son. I was wary of putting him into daycare, and I believed that the one-on-one care of a nanny would be the best fit for our family. A few of my family members work as nannies, and they all recommended a popular web service that matches parents with caregivers. So I created an account.

I selected a few nannies who checked the boxes for desired experience, availability, and rates, and set up interviews. I invited each nanny to my home, and one stood out. She was in her mid-twenties and new to the area. She had a clean background check, and nothing nefarious popped up with a Google or social media search.

This nanny had previous experience nannying three young brothers and spent time as a live-in caregiver for her cousin’s newborn. Surely if she had been successful with three little boys and had experience with a newborn, watching my one “easy” three-month-old baby would be no problem. 

Shaken Baby Syndrome Shook My LifeHer references were glowing. The mothers I talked to from her previous positions spoke about how much they wished she hadn’t decided to move away. I felt a connection because her fiancé was in school in a field similar to that of my career. She loved art and played guitar, and I fell in love with the idea of her serenading my son. We hired her. 

The Worst Day of My Life

Things seemed to be going well. We had cameras in our main living area and my son’s room. She was aware of them and had access to them because the camera in the baby’s room also served as a baby monitor. At three months old, my son slept quite a lot. For the majority of the time when I logged into the cameras, the nanny was quietly watching a show on her laptop while he happily snoozed in his cot. I would often find her with him on her knee, cooing and talking to him or feeding him a bottle.

In the second week she was with him, after only six days of providing care for my son, I logged into his bedroom camera during my lunch hour and heard him crying. That in itself wasn’t unusual. After all, babies cry. Then I heard her tell him, very loudly, to “SHUT UP!” My heart dropped into my stomach.

I pressed record on the camera.

(Unfortunately, we were new to the camera system and hadn’t yet set it up to save recordings automatically). I called my husband to tell him I was on my way home, but serendipitously, he had forgotten his lunch in the refrigerator and was already just blocks away. She was gone before I got home.

My son had the strangest, saddest cry I had ever heard from him. He looked pale. I knew he wasn’t okay. I laid him on my bed to look him over, and then I noticed the bruises on his arms. My heart broke–my sweet, helpless three-month-old baby was hurt.

Then, suddenly, I was terrified. What if I reported this and someone thought I or my husband had hurt my son? I called my mom, scared, heartbroken, and sobbing. She calmed me down, prayed for me, and told me, “You know what you have to do.” Reassured, I gathered my courage, and we drove straight to the pediatric urgent care.

 At the Hospital

The next 24 hours were so hard.

There was a flurry of medical tests that showed my son’s brain was bleeding and that a retina in one of his eyes had detached from its supportive tissue. Both injuries are indicative of shaken baby syndrome.

Police investigators documented my son’s condition, photographing his tiny body like a crime scene. A policeman was stationed outside of our room. It was simultaneously reassuring and unnerving. My husband provided the police with an initial report and gave them keys to our home when they served us a search warrant. I shared the camera recording with them. They contacted the nanny, and she came to the hospital. When the police interviewed us at 2:00 a.m., the questions were centered on her. I was beyond relieved that I wasn’t being accused.

I finally felt like I could take a deep breath again.

The nanny had been frantically texting me all evening. I never replied. One of the PICU nurses advocated for us and asked the police to have the nanny stop contacting me. When it became clear we would be spending days in the hospital and would need to get necessities from home, the same nurse also asked the police to escort my husband to his car via the patient elevator to avoid seeing the woman who had just hurt our son. She was still there. Even though she had been asked to leave. I hadn’t had the wherewithal at the moment to ask for those things for myself. I am forever grateful for that nurse.

The next morning, the Child Abuse Response Team (CART) doctor talked with us about my son’s diagnosis. She let us know she would be working with the district attorney’s office to provide evidence to prosecute the nanny. It would be a year before the nanny was arraigned, pled guilty to, and charged with felony child abuse.

COPE-ing

We are exceptionally lucky. My son’s injuries completely healed. All of our follow-up appointments showed zero evidence that he had been hurt. His brain bleed had stopped before we left the hospital five days after we were admitted. Three months later, the optometrist couldn’t discern which retina had been detached. Both eyes looked perfect. The biggest thing we learned was how to advocate for our son by educating his caregivers. 

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the number one trigger for Shaken Baby Syndrome is frustration with a baby’s crying. It was the nanny’s “SHUT UP!” that alerted me to the abuse. She could not handle his crying.

The Shaken Baby Alliance aims to teach caregivers how to C.O.P.E. with a crying baby using the following steps: 

C-Crying

O-Overwhelmed

P-Pause

E-Exit

If you become overwhelmed by a crying baby, stop and breathe. Leave the baby somewhere safe, and take some time to calm down. 

After our experience, we make a point to give explicit instructions to our caregivers and babysitters before leaving our baby in their care. Even grandparents. We always tell them, “If the baby gets to be too much and you need a break, please put him in his crib and give yourself a time out.” At this, the caregiver usually laughs and assures us that they will be just fine. “Seriously,” I say, “It’s something even I have to do from time to time, and he’ll be perfectly safe in his crib for five minutes. If you need a break, it’s okay to step away.”

I also leave a short list of specific calming tactics that have been successful in stopping his crying and run through the list before I go. The last item on the list is always “Take a break and call MOM!”

Even after everything we went through, this conversation is still awkward. It is also the best thing we can do for our baby. If you are leaving your baby with a caregiver, please don’t let that uneasiness keep you from advocating for your baby. 

You are not alone!

Heaven forbid, if you see any signs of abuse, reach down into the depths of your love for your baby and find the courage to get them help and fight for them.

Even though I had done everything right, recognized the signs immediately, and knew I needed to get my baby medical care as soon as possible, bringing my abused baby to the hospital was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I am still shocked by how difficult that was. I’m usually an outspoken, courageous woman, and I was terrified. If you find yourself in that space, reach out to someone who loves you and can pray and talk you through it. 

There are so many advocates for victims of child abuse. Our angel of a nurse fought for us. The CART doctor fought for us. The DA fought for us. We were able to work with the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission to help with the financial losses we experienced, and we got a conviction.

I hope your babies are always safe, but if somehow, against all odds, someone hurts them, know that there are people out there that will fight for you and your child.

If your baby has been a victim of child abuse under the care of someone you thought you could trust, I hope that you see this and know you are not alone.

Healing

When your child is abused, it isn’t just the child that needs healing. While we were in the hospital and at a follow-up medical appointments, I put on a brave face. I had to be strong for my son. I handled everything one step at a time, bolstering myself with my faith and my amazing support system.

Months later, after I knew my son was healed, when we heard from the District Attorney’s office, I was surprised by the anxiety and anger that suddenly washed over me. It was so strong that my hair started falling out. I was amazed that those emotions were still within me, waiting to be felt.

I found a therapist to help me process that trauma, but I also know that I might always feel that twinge of guilt whenever I think of our experience. However, I am bolstered by sharing my own story and by seeing other mothers’ stories of their own experiences with Shaken Baby Syndrome. There are great organizations that provide resources and support families impacted by Shaken Baby Syndrome, including the Shaken Baby Alliance and the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome

Please, remember, if you are ever overwhelmed by your baby’s crying or feel like someone caring for them might be overwhelmed, be brave. Interfere. Pause. Exit. Breathe. 



The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.

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