In 1981, my father went home for lunch. He walked into my baby sister’s room to kiss her goodbye and instead found that his little girl not breathing and without a pulse. She could not be revived. It was a parent’s worst nightmare come true. My sister’s death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has left a lasting scar on my family. We still feel its effects over thirty years later.
My sisters and I are more anxious than the average parents with newborns. All of us are guilty of sneaking into our babies’ rooms while they were sleeping and anxiously looking for the rise and fall of their chest. Always watchful and with crossed finger hoping, no praying that the fate of our sister will not be revisited on our children.
The cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) remains, for the most part, unknown. Prematurity is a risk factor, so too seems to be exposure to cigarette smoke. Placing a baby on their back to sleep seems to help prevent SIDS, as does removing blankets, pillows, and bumper pads from cribs. Some research has also shown that up to 10 percent of SIDS deaths may be related to congenital heart rhythm disorders.
I find little of this reassuring. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) feels to me like a random lightening strike. You don’t know where or when it is going to strike and, as a parent you are powerless to prevent it. And, I do believe it can happen to my child because my sister’s death proved to me that my family is not immune to such a tragedy.
Pregnant with my second child, I find myself growing more anxious as her birth approaches. I will count down the months until she passes out of the danger zone for SIDS, as I did with my son. I will pray and hope that she makes it through and sleep more soundly when she does.
It is a legacy of fear. But, it is a legacy of fear that I hope to not pass down to my own children. The farther our family moves away from the tragedy, the less hold it has over us. My children will, most likely, never share my experience of losing a sibling to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
They will be able to believe that it would never happen to them or their children and that, in my opinion, is for the best. After all, I will worry enough about my grandchildren enough for all of us because I will never forget.