As part of an ongoing series, Yahoo Canada is profiling personal experiences and opinions in open letters. This letter profiles Meagen Gries, a loving mother who started the Molly Ann Gries Foundation to spread awareness about safe sleep practices after her baby girl suffocated on a blanket while sleeping. For more from the series, click here. As told to Nisean Lorde.
Dear moms and dads of babies, How are you? That’s a silly question…I know how you are. You’re deliriously in love with that sweet baby of yours but also delirious with exhaustion. These first few months are hard. Really hard. But I don’t need to tell you that. You’ve probably found yourself entering into what I refer to as “survival mode.” You know it — the place you find yourself when you’re so tired you don’t know up from down and you will do anything to get some sleep and feel like yourself again. Right? I get it because I’ve been there.
But can I tell you a secret?
Your baby will sleep. It’s true. I didn’t believe it either. But it happens. Slowly at first, and then all of a sudden they’re sleeping and you look back and think, “Man, that was hard. But we did it.”
How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it. Three times to be exact. With my first two I used every trick in the book. Everything you’re “not supposed to do” because I was in that survival mode. And I needed sleep and I convinced myself those “no-nos” were the only way I was going to get it. So, they slept next to me in my bed. There were blankets in their cribs. They slept in things they weren’t supposed to — car seats, swings, bouncers. It didn’t matter to me, so long as they were sleeping!
But then…my 10 week old daughter died.
Not with me, but at her daycare. That part doesn’t matter because the way she died — swaddled, in a crib with blankets under her — could’ve easily happened with me or my husband.
Her name is Molly, and she should still be here.
I dropped her off for her first day of daycare after my 10-week maternity leave and returned to my classroom of first grade students who were so excited to have their teacher back. Everything went great until lunchtime when I sat down to inhale my turkey sandwich and pump my breastmilk. That’s when I got the call.
“She’s not breathing. They took her to the hospital.”
After thrusting the pumped milk at a coworker and screaming inaudible directions at my boss, I sprinted out the door. One excruciatingly long drive later, I arrived at the hospital to be met by a social worker. She escorted me to a small, white room where an ugly lamp, a scratchy wool couch and a box of tissues were waiting for me.
“So…how old is Owen?” she asked with fake interest. I ignored her. I was too busy trying to convince myself that this wasn’t happening. It didn’t work. It was happening. Then a teary physician walked in and rushed through saying, “She came in with no pulse. We tried to restart her heart and were not successful. We’re very sorry.”
And as I slid off the chair onto the floor, my world ended.
The rest became a blur. Calling my husband who was out of town and telling him his little girl was gone. Walking into a small, dimly lit room where my cold, lifeless daughter was handed to me. Rocking her and sobbing into her fine hair. Telling her older brother his sister wasn’t coming home. Picking out a casket for her. Deciding what clothes she would be buried in. Sitting numbly through her funeral where everyone told me how very sorry they were and that they’re praying for us. And saying goodbye as they lowered her into the ground.
It’s the worst thing you can go through. It’s been two years and I still cannot believe this is real life. I wake up many mornings and think it was a bad dream. A really bad dream. But it wasn’t, and Molly should be here.
A year after losing Molly, we welcomed her little sister Emma. Molly passed away May 4, 2016. Emma was due May 4, 2017, and she was born on the 5th. When she came, my husband and I decided that no matter what, she would sleep safely.
We’d follow all the rules this time. And let me tell you…it was tough. There were some long nights. Not a lot, but a few. But we made it through. And now Emma is a year and a half old and she’s never known those comforts that we convinced ourselves Owen and Molly needed. She’s only ever slept alone, on her back and in her crib and get this…she sleeps! Like a champ!
No one will tell you that safe sleep is always easy. If they do, they’re lying. But I can tell you without a doubt, it’s worth it. Ignore those moms and dads and grandparents and well meaning old ladies in the grocery store who tell you they had to put their baby down on her belly or in a swing because it was “the only way they’d sleep!” Your biggest priority is protecting your little one — making sure they’re eating and gaining weight and that they’re healthy. This is just part of that.
Look past all the tips and tricks and products you know are risky and stay strong — something you’ll do a lot of as a mom and a dad. Because babies do sleep.
You’ve got this.