When a mother leaves her baby alone in the car, do you think she should be punished?
Gina Kaysen Fernandes: As a working mother of three, Jane D's life is a constant juggling act -- and one day last June she dropped the ball. In an effort to get everything done on her "to do" list, Jane made a terrible mistake that she never thought would ever happen to her. She accidentally left her 4-week-old baby boy alone in his car seat when she ran into a store to run an errand.
Within 10 minutes, someone spotted the newborn and called police. When Jane heard her license plate number broadcasted over the store's intercom "it hit me like a bolt."
Jane suddenly remembered, "the baby's not with my husband, he's with me!" Luckily her newborn was okay, but Jane is forever haunted by what happened. "It's a hard thing to come to terms with ... that you could harm the one you love," she says.
About 40 children die every year of what's known as vehicular hypothermia. While the tragic stories of babies dying in hot cars grab sensational headlines, child advocates say the act of unintentionally leaving a child in the backseat is much more common than you might think. "It's not about parenting, it's about how memories let us down," said Janette Fennell who runs the nonprofit organization, Kids and Cars. "It's not that they forget they have a kid," Fennell explains. "It has more to do with how our memory works, or in this case, how our memory doesn't work."
Researchers have found that several factors such as sleep deprivation, work-related stress, marital problems and certain medications can affect the prefrontal cortex, which is one of the most critical parts of the brain used for multi-tasking. If you're feeling exhausted and under stress, your brain is less likely to be able to handle multiple demands.
Jane attributes her memory lapse to "Forgotten Baby Syndrome," which occurs when there's a combination of lack of sleep, stress, emotion and a change in routine. Her distracted mind clicked on autopilot and she believed her child was safe and in the care of her husband. "I was just as in shock as everyone else," said Jane, who describes herself as "the ideal mother."
"I remember the day it happened to me," said Sunny Hostin, a former prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN and FOX News Channel. The self-described "supermom" told momlogic how she and her husband "completely forgot" their 2-year-old daughter was sleeping in the car seat when they headed into Home Depot. They realized their mistake a few minutes later as they entered the store. But the episode has changed the way Hostin thinks about the issue, especially when it comes to prosecuting criminal charges in fatal cases.
"I feel conflicted. There's always the question of was there real, criminal negligence or just a mother overwhelmed with too many tasks who made a tragic mistake?" said Hostin. She's seeing a growing movement towards prosecuting these cases and charging parents with more severe crimes. But the crackdown is unlikely to stop a parent from making this mistake. "The fear of getting arrested is not going to prevent you from forgetting," said Jane. Hostin believes the real punishment is living with the guilt. "If you've killed your kid, that's a life sentence," she says.
After authorities arrested Jane and charged her with child endangerment, the local media demonized her. "I was terrified to talk," said Jane who is now sharing her story with momlogic in hopes of educating other moms about the subject that few are willing to discuss.
Here's how you can avoid Forgotten Baby Syndrome:
Many will argue that's not an excuse when it comes to the safety of our children. There's no clear-cut answer on how to deal with the tragic outcomes. Those who have suffered the consequences hope critics can find some compassion. "We're not monsters. We're just normal people who took on too much," says Jane.
• Make an agreement with your daycare provider to offer a call-back reminder service. If your child doesn't arrive at daycare, the provider will call you at home first and then at work to confirm the whereabouts of your child.
• Be mindful if your spouse/partner drops your baby off at daycare when it's not part of their daily routine. Call them to make sure your child was dropped off.
• Have a visual cue, such as putting the diaper bag in the passenger seat reminding you the baby is in the car.
• Always put something you need in the backseat like your purse or wallet.
• Call your spouse/partner after you've arrived at your destination.
|Gina Kaysen Fernandes is an award winning documentary producer and a former TV news producer/writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.|