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The Best Time I Took My Baby to the Emergency Room

This is still a little too raw for me to really want to talk about it, but I got a bit of a guilt-nudge from yesterday’s post on criminalizing bad mothers.

All parents do something stupid at some point, and most of us get away with it. That’s the truth. Usually, it’s not doing meth while you’re pregnant, or putting your baby on top of a bear in Yellowstone so you can film it. But it’s something, and you usually get away with it. And if you get away with it, it’s a funny story, and you’ll eventually laugh about it with other parents. If you don’t get away with it, people will make themselves feel better about their own mistakes by pillorying you. But there’s no difference between people who do something stupid and get away with it, and people who don’t get away with it. It’s luck. Don’t kid yourself.

Me? I was making dinner, and I had my baby in a wide-based baby chair (not a Bumbo, for the record), on the kitchen island. Stable, wide-based. Not near the edge. I shouldn’t have done it. It’s on the packaging. Don’t do it. I was singing the Eagles’ “Take it Easy” to her, and I was chopping peppers, and then I heard a noise, and I looked up, and there was nothing on the island. She had somehow launched herself and the entire chair backwards off the four-foot-high island.

I wanted to kill myself. I remember thinking, very clearly, that if she died, I would have to kill myself. It was the worst moment of my life. I was filled with self-loathing, she was screaming, the chair partially broke her fall, but she obviously hit her head on the tile floor.

So I called 911. And the first thing they ask for is your address, and I started into this whole “I don’t even know if I should be calling, but my baby fell and hit her head” thing, and the very nice dispatcher just said “I know, I know, what’s your address?” And the paramedics were there in about ten minutes. And they were, again, very nice, and each of them, because it’s Utah, was about thirty years old and had six children, and six individual stories about how they almost killed their child, but didn’t, and it was okay. “I was holding my baby while drinking coffee, and dumped it on her leg.” “My baby reached out and touched the glass front of our gas fireplace and burned herself really badly.” “My daughter was tossing the baby in a blanket on the driveway and dropped him.” It was so kind. They told me she was beautiful, and that her vital signs were good, and that babies fall all the time, and that I in no way needed to kill myself.

But they also wanted to take her to the hospital, and we did, and we rode in the ambulance, and I still hated myself, and then we had this very, very matter-of-fact emergency room doctor from New Zealand who told us all the stats on head injuries in infants.

(In case you are wondering, babies have brains that are right up against their little skulls, so if there’s a significant bleed, you’ll know within a very short window of time, and the chance of brain injury drops to nil after about 24 hours without symptoms.)

So we sat there with her for four hours of observation, and I hated myself, and everyone was so kind to me, and I hated myself, and then my husband, who is in a sling because of a bike accident, said: “man, the cops are going to be all over you, huh? Between the baby and me.” Which is usually the sort of thing that I would find funny, but instead I just burst into floods of uncontrollable tears, and then people were even nicer, which made me feel worse, because it was so clearly and obviously completely my fault, and my baby was the only person anyone should be feeling bad for.

After four hours, she had a decent-sized goose egg, but a good attitude, and our doctor said we could take her home and let her sleep through the night. “You don’t need to wake her up, we don’t do that anymore.”

And then he left, and our nurse said: “Wake her up every four hours.” So we did.  And she was fine. We were lucky.

There is no difference between me leaving her on the counter in that chair, and a parent who backed over their kid playing in the driveway. We pretend there is, because we want to think there’s an immense barrier between us and disaster, but there isn’t. Just luck.

When we left the hospital, they gave us a yellow stuffed bear for her, which is a very nice thing they do. I left it in her carseat for a week, nearly dry-heaved every time I saw it, and then eventually tossed it in the trash.

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