Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Who forgets a child in a car?"

"Who forgets a child in a car?" Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog asks in today's New York Times.

The tragic answer: just about anybody.

Belkin points her readers to an absolutely gut-wrenching yet amazingly compassionate feature story in last weekend's Washington Post magazine by reporter Gene Weingarten (who apparently usually writes on more humourous subjects).

As Belkin says: "The moral of his story: don’t judge; it really could happen to you."

You may not have left a child in a car, but if you're reading my blog, you have probably known grief and loss in some form, either through infertility, or pregnancy loss, or perhaps both. There is much in the grief felt by these parents that will sound familiar to you. (And there are infertility angles to the stories told too -- as well as an ending that left me sitting in my chair, staring at the screen, going, "Wow.")

Weingarten writes about the vitriolic public reaction to such stories. While few of us in the ALI community have been judged quite so harshly, there was something in this psychologist's explanation that sounded very familiar to me too:

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

..."We are vulnerable, but we don't want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we'll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don't want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with…"
There are video and audio features, as well as tips on how to help prevent such a tragedy from happening.

I had trouble accessing the comments, but I understand there were some scathing ones there...

And here's the transcript of an online discussion with the reporter, who says this was the most difficult story he's ever had to write -- in part because it could easily have happened to him.

Aside from the usual vitriolic comments from people blaming the parents, I think what bothered me me most was how many people said they just couldn't read the story. (Actually, what REALLY bothered me most were those who said they couldn't read stories like this "since becoming a parent" -- as if being a parent somehow grants them a special kind of immunity.)(There's that need not to be reminded about vulnerability again…)

I've heard similar coments about stillbirth & loss stories. It's so easy for others to avert their eyes… but some of us have to live with these sad stories every single day of our lives...


  1. I read the story, with tears, thinking about what that poor man must have faced. I simply can't imagine.

  2. I saw the blog headline on the NYT, but I'm not a big fan of Motherlode, so I'm glad you put up the link to the wapo article -- will go and read that.

    That quote is absolutely right. People are very quick to judge that THEY would have made a different decision that would've avoided what befell YOU. whether it's kid in the car, or lung cancer, or a dead baby.

  3. There isn't person on this earth, especially parents, who shouldn't read to know that bad things CAN happen to them. No one is immune to tragedy. Totally agree with you.

  4. I read the Washington Post story the other day, through a link on Salon's Broadsheet. It was a very powerful article. I cried for awhile afterward. I consider it a "must read," though.

    BTW, the pediatrician mentioned early in the story, in the list of cases, was a local family. It happened a few years ago and I remember some of the extremely hateful and sexist commentary due to the fact that the mother worked out of the house (as a medical researcher). A very sad case quickly grew more inflamed. The county prosecutor decided not to press charges, but this incited racial tension because the previous week a black daycare worker had been charged for accidentally leaving a 3-year-old asleep in a van on a hot summer day. That child had no injuries and was quickly found, but the prosecutor was all "we have to make an example" and it took weeks for charges to be dropped after (well-justified) claims of discrimination.

  5. A number of (mostly political) blogs I read linked to this story. And I thought something very similar to what you posted.

  6. That was one of the most heartbreaking articles I think I have ever sobbed my way through.

  7. So true that people like order and are uncomfortable with choas. And yes, I'm more bothered by the "I can't bear to hear about these kind of tragedies" type of responses. We didn't have a choice but to live through them.

  8. totally agree with you that people love to pile on and blame rather than consider, "just what if that were me..." It's far easier than to try to imagine being that poor soul who might have been sleep deprived, worried about losing a job, any number of crazy mind-losing distractions.

  9. I know this isn't the point of your post, but the summer we were pregnant a coworker of Triple S' left his baby in the car - his wife had put the baby in his car thinking he was dropping her (the baby) at daycare that day but he didn't realize it was his turn.
    I bought safety mirrors for both of our cars, even tho before that I thought parents were ridiculous to need to see their baby ALL the time.

  10. That article made me cry. A lot.

  11. I actually don't read this stuff very often because everytime I do, I feel like I get retraumatized and end up sick and sad. And yes, especially because I have living kids, I end up even more overprotective and freaked out and it makes their lives worse.

    So I'm not the average person refusing to read it because of denial, but I'm in there. And I don't know how to change that.

    I often wonder if other people with PTSD or other issues do the same and it's not because of being babyloss mamas....

  12. It makes sense what the dr. is saying. People need to believe that it can't happen to them, which results in the judgment, etc. I feel like our community gets the same type of judgement- that surely we must have done something wrong in our pregnancies to get the outcome we did, even if they never say it. I feel as though I can see it in their eyes.

  13. Hi Loribeth, thanks so much for stopping by thru LFCA. I appreciate your support especially as I now feel my way around this new IF club.

    Joy. But there will be. I know.

    I'm too raw to read the article right now. But from reading your post, it triggered something I was planning on posting later...

    How as IFers still TTC, we looked over the fence at this club I've just joined, hoping we'd be the chosen ones to dodge the odds as we stared in riveted horror at the crash on the other side. "Oh, that won't happen to ME. This IVF will work for me and I won't have to face being childfree, but not by choice..."

    No such for too many of us. However, we ALL beat odds in certain areas and sometimes we simply draw the short straw. Yes, even fertile couples know grief and loss, it's just in different areas.

    I shall continue to count my "blessings." Or, "luck." Or whatever other term makes one comfy in looking at the good that randomly happens to find us--just as randomly as the bad.

    Life's SUCH a crap shoot.

    (And maybe we dodged a bullet... DH can be quite absentminded.)

  14. I agree -- we are ALL vulnerable at different times, whether it just happens, someone else's actions cause a chain reaction, or we cause it in a typically unimaginable moment of distraction. I'm always sick for the parents this happens to for the nightmare they live after losing their child (never mind that they must bear the burden of responsibility . . . what could be worse on this earth?), and also because they are so unfairly demonized by people who either don't get or won't admit that fallibility is a given for every single one of us.

    All you have to do is think of the last time you didn't hear, at all, what your child (or anyone in the room) said to you, or you left your front door unlocked, or you were so deep in thought that you had no memory of driving from point A to B . . .

    These moments may seem different from forgetting a child in the car. But I don't think they are. Not even the most perfectly alert and astute parent/person in the world can be fully present in every moment of every day. Sometimes those lost moments do nothing more than startle you or make you laugh, and sometimes they can result in unspeakable tragedy. I just remember, "There but for the grace of God go I . . ."

  15. It was very difficult to click over, but I'm glad I did.

    I find myself more and more thinking about horrible accidents that befall children everyday and what I'm going to do to protect my child. To be honest, I mostly think, "What can I do?" I know I won't be able to be there for everything.