I never thought I would experience motherhood on autopilot, until this happened.
Recently, I shared a story with my team (I even hesitate to go on to share it with you here…gulp). It’s about a hot, August day when something happened to me that I never imagined. Thank God I came out and back to the car soon enough.
Oliver (my youngest) was born on Memorial Day weekend. He was my third, and I already had a 16-month-old and a 30-month-old at home. Curtis’ travel schedule was busy at this time of year, and he was gone more than he was home. When I was pregnant, I remember picking a date on the calendar and chanting a mantra around it, praying that this was the day my baby would be born so that my husband could be at the birth. And miraculously, I went into labor at 2:30 a.m., two hours after midnight of my perfect date. This date was a long weekend, so Curtis could stay home a couple extra days.
When Oliver was five days old, Curtis departed by plane. We had no family nearby to help. I remember standing in the kitchen holding my “fresh from God” newborn, looking into the eyes of my 15-month-old daughter who couldn’t speak her needs yet and my toddler son who stopped napping a year before. Because I had mustered and muscled my way through things before, I knew I could do it. It was exhausting, depleting, stressful and frantic most of the time. I remember staring down at two screaming babies feeling like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice when she had to pick which child to let go and which one to rescue. It was probably the most stressful and harried couple months of my mothering career.
Three months later, Curtis was back in town and home more often. He encouraged me to take a break, so I decided to run a couple errands. Because Oliver was still a nursing newborn, Curtis asked me to take the baby along. I secured Oliver into his car seat, and he immediately fell asleep for the next several hours while I gallivanted around my local retail shops feeling like a free woman. I popped into the Carter’s baby clothing store and walked in silence into Kohl’s—not to buy anything but to be among adults and let myself rest while taking in this retail therapy.
I remember walking out of Kohl’s after having been in the store for well over 90 minutes, and as I walked through the parking lot to find my car, I heard the distressed and intense scream of a baby. I instantly stopped as anger rushed in. “Who the h*ll!! left their baby in the car? That is unbelievable! Whose baby is not being attended to? Don’t they know how hot it is? Don’t they know that babies die this way?” In my self-righteous manner, I kept walking, looking around the parking lot for the horrible mother who had left her baby in the car, to cry at such a level.
Then it hit me. Oh My God.
That Mother is ME. Oh what have I done?
My energy shifted into panic mode. I think I may have even assumed an army crawl position to make my way to my car. I was mortified, scared, completely shocked, and totally embarrassed that that mother, that mother on autopilot who left her baby in a hot car on in August day—was me!
I had been shopping for a couple hours and never once took Oliver out of the car, never once even remembered he was with me, never once thought about him as I closed the door, locked it with the key fob, and walked away with my back facing the car and my mind moving forward.
That mother was me.
Thank you God that I wasn’t going into a job that started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m.
Thank you God that I was running these mindless errands as the sun was going down and not as the sun was coming up for the day.
Thank you God that my bitty, helpless baby Oliver (now 13) is completely and totally fine.
I know I’m not the only one who has done this. We hear these stories in the news and even in our own communities. It happens more often than we think.
I am so devastated for mothers in this situation who were not so lucky. Be with them God.
I don’t blame them. I ache for them.
I am sure it will take a lifetime for a mother in this situation to forgive herself. I can’t even imagine the pain of losing my child and the weight of knowing that I was the cause. That might destroy me. So please, I beg you: Don’t judge her, only love her, forgive her, and know that it could’ve been you.
Being a mother is and continues to be one of the most taxing and testing jobs I have ever had. Both stay-at-home and working women are pushed to perform and produce and appear and meet deadlines and fill expectations. I don’t know what was going through those mothers’ minds the day they forgot their babies. I don’t know what deadline they were meeting or what tasks they were thinking about. I don’t know if their routine was thrown off, but I do know this:
It could’ve been me.