Saturday, January 4, 2014

What Doesn't Cause SIDS And 6 Things Every Parent Should Do

Kaden Michael Frey
September 12, 2003-January 04, 2004

Ten years ago today my baby boy, Kaden, died of SIDS. In all the years that have passed, I still don't think I will ever be entirely rid of the sense of guilt a parent feels when a child dies on their watch.

For as many times as I have replayed all the events and details of the night I found him lifeless in his crib, I have googled an equal number of corresponding articles and scientific studies that accuse me of everything I did wrong.  According to statistics, I killed my baby. And for many years I accepted that. I deserved that. Apparently what I did do "right" didn't matter because I ultimately failed my son and now he is gone. I wish someone could have convinced me what a lie that was.

It is hurtful that human nature’s need for answers and someone to blame ultimately surmises that parents are responsible for these deaths. And even more disheartening is people's dependence on a false sense of security and control that will undoubtedly continue to perpetuate this lie for centuries to follow. Despite that I'd nurtured and raised three infants from birth to childhood without a hitch prior to Kaden, admittedly there is still a part of me that believes this lie.  But every year it’s just a little bit less, and at least I can look myself in the mirror now.

SIDS wasn't even on my radar when I had Kaden.  Statistically, SIDS would not visit any of my children, so why would I worry about something that would never happen?!  Besides, I was a spirit filled Christian who fully believed in the healing power of my faith rather than the sovereignty of my Creator. I had faith in my faith; SIDS and disease, sickness and death happened to other people (there’ll be more on this another day).  

The point is, I cared for my baby boy like any loving, doting mama would. I was designed to be his mommy and he was made just for me. I did what was individually best for each of my babies. But as a novice mom, I didn’t have a "system" or particular routine for my infants. I didn’t follow a book or have access to the interwebs to tell me how to raise my babies.  I winged it, like so many hundreds of generations before me. I trusted my gut, learned how to read the finite and subtle cues of each child. I followed my instincts and sought out wiser, seasoned moms for their advice. Until Kaden passed away, I never questioned my ability to mother my own babies, much less keep them alive.

It was the early 90’s when I had my first child. I bottle-fed Elih. I let him sleep beside me in my floppy plastic waterbed. I let him snooze in his swing--in the other room where I was not present. I allowed Elih to roam the house unattended in a rolling walker and I put him on a leash when we went to the mall. I strapped his car seat into the front passenger side of my vehicle. I didn't change his diapers every 2 hours, either. However, I did have Elih sleep on his side, per Doctors orders. At the time it wasn't “safe” to let babies sleep on their backs, they could spit up and choke, or their tongue could cut off their air supply. As an 18 years old mom, who was I to question this gospel "truth"?  I'm honestly a little surprised he survived.

Five years later my second child, Jared, slept in a bassinet beside our bed, because co-sleeping could be deadly the experts told us. We would probably smother him or he would grow up needy and co-dependent. I nursed Jared but like my first child, I propped his bottles with a blanket to free up my hands when he started weaning. We also let Jared bounce in his Johnny jump-up, scarcely jerry-rigged from the door frame. Studies hadn't emerged yet that we were the worst parents ever. 

We'd never owned a baby monitor until our 3rd child, Jamey.  By this time I’d managed to do some things "right," but mostly I still did what I thought was best for him.
We had Jamey sleep on his back because now science said it was tummy sleeping that would kill him. Even though he was projectile puker and could possibly choke to death, we took the risk in the name of "new" research. Oh, and we co-slept because studies now said it would make him a more grounded and trusting human… Ok that's a lie; really I was just lazy and didn’t want to get out of bed for midnight feedings.  But because Jamey couldn’t keep anything down (besides the fact he was horrible at nursing), at two months of age I began supplementing breast milk with a rice and formula mix in his bottle. By then we’d eighty-sixed the rolling walker and Johnny-jump up and instead let him spend the first half of his life in his activity bouncer. Clearly, we were improving.

By the time we had our fourth son, Kaden, I had 12 years of parenting under my belt. I felt pretty confident to tackle raising another baby. And like all his brothers before him, Kaden loved his pacifier. And oh, we loved how that magical latex plug gave us a few precious moments of peace. Unfortunately, this little guy came out of the gate lactose intolerant. Nothing was more peculiar to me than a newborn with stinky farts, it was almost adorable. However, he was nursing exclusively so it meant I had to make concessions in my diet and I tried to eat what the internets told me to eat.

By the time he was 3 1/2 months old, he was plumping up nicely. He wasn't a puker and was pro at nursing.  But due to his chronic tummy bubbles, I would occasionally allow him to sleep on his belly. Sometimes that was the only way he would go to sleep. On those nights I would wait till he was in a deep coma before I would return him to his backside. Besides the intercom system we used to monitor his sleeping, I'd developed a good habit of checking in on my kids periodically while they slept.  I still do. 

Life couldn't have been better. My business was doing well and clients got a kick out of Kaden tagging along with me. Our big new and improved  family was just wrapping up our first holiday season together. By all appearances, doctor visits and vaccinations, our little boy was a perfectly healthy and normal 15 1/2 pound chunk of squishy goodness. 

And then one night, he just died.

The medical examiner called it SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome.  On the phone, as we combed over his autopsy report together, she lamented that there was absolutely no reason for his death. He definitely didn't suffocate or choke, she reassured. All his little baby pieces were perfect. I'm so sorry, she said. He was a beautiful, healthy boy, she said. She went on to try and console and convince me there's nothing we could have done to prevent his senseless death.

If science knew what caused SIDS it wouldn't be called SIDS. All the studies available are just a bunch of guesses and correlations, nothing else. She explained that the medical profession suspects the cause of SIDS is more likely a trigger, or lack thereof, in the brain that causes or the heart and lungs to shut down simultaneously.  She apologized for our loss.

And so began my relentless voyage on the Googles. For every study or scientific “evidence” that claimed one method caused SIDS, there was another or ten that disputed it.  According to research, smoking and drinking parents better beware! But if tummy sleeping really caused SIDS, where was the epidemic in the 70's, when tummy sleeping was the rule?  Back and side sleeping are also highly debated and none of the hypothesis’ are of any solace to the moms whose babies died in their arms or the dad’s who lost their child asleep on their laps. But good news? Statistics show nursing babies are at the least risk! Really? Then where are the mass graves of  all the bottle-fed baby boomers that should have died from formula?! And God forbid you vaccinate or don't vaccinate or give your child a pacifier! Or wait, what was that? Pacifiers now prevent SIDS? Ok, got it.  *eye roll*

The only definitive correlation I have found is that SIDS is more common in male Caucasians of European descent, between the ages of two months to a year, most commonly happening around the third through fifth months. So if we use conventional internet wisdom, and you have a white baby boy the age of 4 months, he is in the gravest danger of getting SIDS.

And that’s when I called bull$#*%.

The insanity of SIDS is that one can’t contract it, it is not a disease or virus or malady or curse. Neither can you cause it, because the very nature of the assignment of this condition is that it is unknown.  SIDS is only assigned when an analysis of the death of a baby is inconclusive, where no reasonable cause can be determined.  Don’t be fooled by all the current research and studies out there, they only offer correlations at best, not causes. They are mere observations, not reasons. If a baby’s death is caused by suffocation, it is not SIDS. If an infant dies of choking, it is not SIDS. If you lose your child to a diagnosis, it is not SIDS.

All frustration aside, I do believe with all my heart there is a scientific reason for SIDS and I even donate to medical research in hopes they find the actual origination of it.  Is it hereditary, is it preventable, is it a birth defect? Does anything actually "cause" it?  These are the most emergent questions still left unanswered. Meanwhile, we who have lost and paid the ultimate price of SIDS, are constantly being patronized, reminded and accused of all the hundred different ways we possibly killed our babies. While cautiously nervous and proactive new parents of infants are being placated with inaccurate data offering them a false sense of security, suggesting they have some fictitious element of control. They are also being barraged with conflicting propaganda, trying to sell them the latest gadget or book that will “prevent” something that can’t be prevented.

It needs to stop. For these reasons I don’t speak much on the topic of SIDS, though I do love to talk about my son. But even ten years after his passing, it's still too close to home to mull over the sorted details of his death. Instead I prefer to remember his life and focus on how much he changed mine. Grieving Kaden for the rest of my life is the currency I pay for the short 115 days we had him, and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Asking why, beating myself up, regretting the woulda-coulda-shoulda's is not something I'm willing to do anymore.

My prayer is that these few words I have to offer will be some measure of comfort for someone else who has lost their baby for no explainable reason:

  1. Forgive yourself. It's not your fault. No, it's not.
  2. Don't allow fear to steal away the gift of another child if one day you decide to open your heart to having another baby.
  3. Losing a child doesn't define you. If anything, it strips us of our preconceptions and widens our boundaries. Now live like you mean it.

And to the parents of precious new littles born every day, my hope for you  is this:

  1. Don't be anxious about what hasn't happened. Live in the present, enjoy your babies!!!
  2. Don’t make fear based choices or live in trepidation of something you have no power to control. No, you don't.
  3. IF SIDS happens to you (and it probably wont) you’ll be grateful for the sacred time you spent with your baby not wasted on worrying. And you’ll be left with all the carefree memories you made while they were here. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Beautifully written. I love the part about not allowing fear to prevent you from having another child. Thankfully you didn't and the world is blessed by the lovely Audrey.