That Monday morning, Lee entertained Karl while I rushed to shower and get his things ready. I put Karl in his baby carrier and his dad and I headed into the city on the subway. I felt propelled down the street, swept into the train, carried along by a system that gave me no choice but to submit to the inevitability of any working mother of an infant in America. For Karl’s part, he was curious and unconcerned, looking around, smiling. In the subway car, someone offered me a seat, and I loosened the straps of the carrier, struggling to get my curious baby to focus on nursing. With this extra bit of subway feeding time, he could arrive with a full stomach. And this extra few minutes of nursing each day would help keep my milk supply up, now that I would be pumping my milk to fill bottles. I pulled up a baby blanket to block the man next to me from seeing my exposed breast on his morning commute.
We arrived at the day care by 9:30. The day-care assistant came to Karl with arms outstretched and said, “Hola!” Karl studied her face and flashed a big smile. The day-care owner told a joke that was probably told to all new parents dropping their babies off on the first day: The worst thing that could happen was he would get hit by a fire truck — since once a toddler had hit a baby with a toy truck on his first day. I felt reassured. This was what everyone did, how everyone felt.
I returned to the day care at 12:15 to nurse Karl. I was so excited to see him, I ran the two blocks there from the office. As I took the stairs by twos to the second floor, I noticed that the door to the day care was propped open. It seemed odd to me — that they would leave the door open, with so many toddlers inside. I walked around the corner, expecting to pick up my son, feel his chubby rolls, see his face light up at the sight of his mommy.
Instead, I saw my son unconscious, splayed out on a soft changing table. His lips and the area around his mouth were blue, and the day-care owner was performing CPR on him, incorrectly.
Our sweet son died two and a half hours after the first time I had left him.
Would Karl have died if he had been with me that morning? The medical examiner finished her report last week and the conclusion is: undetermined.
What is determined is that at 11:50 a.m. the day-care assistant saw my baby kicking his legs and brought it to the attention of the day-care owner. The day-care owner dismissed the assistant, telling her not to go over to check him. “Babies kick their legs in their sleep all the time,” she said. Twenty minutes later, my baby was dead. If the day-care assistant had gone over and picked him up, checked on him, would Karl be alive? I don’t know. The day-care owner had also put Karl down to sleep on his side, which is a known unsafe sleep position. Had he been put down on his back to sleep, would he be alive? I don’t know.
I will have to live with questioning this for the rest of my life.
What I do know is that had I been with my 3-month-old son, I would have gone over and checked on him at that moment. What I also know is that my son would have been safely on his back to sleep, if not sleeping on me, as he loved to do on all our days home together.
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