Friday, November 30, 2007


I read recently, about a five week old baby boy who died of SIDS. He and his parents were at a holiday party being thrown by members of a birthing class he had attended. He nursed at his mother's breast for awhile, fell asleep, bled from the nose just a bit and then stopped breathing. That was it. He was gone. All efforts to revive him were made- another father at the party began infant CPR right away, and he was life flighted to a hospital nearby. But, he wasn't breathing on his own for several hours. By then, he'd suffered irreprable damage and his brain had shut down. Within a few days, his parents had said their goodbyes and made the choice to turn off life support. His organs were donated to others in need.

Incidentally, I know someone who was able to donate her sons eyes, and I can't tell you how healing it is to think of Cody's baby blue eyes gazing out and really seeing the world for the first time.

What really strikes me about this case is the timeless quality of it. Mothers today are haunted by the specter of SIDS. We're told to lie our infants on their backs to sleep-then NO put them on their sides-fluffy bankets increase the risk-sleeping in a family bed increases the risk-NO it decreases the risk-smoking mothers have increased risk of SIDS babies-breastfeeding mothers have a decreased risk. Sometimes the information is conflicting, sometimes it seems downright crazy. The truth is, we have no idea what single or multiple factors cause it. All we can do is follow the instructions of our "experts" and hope the specter is warded away by our practices and the totems we use- such as side sleepting pillows and thin blankets.

I watched a program once about a Roman era archeological site in Britian (the name of the town I've long forgotten and some serious Google-Fu didn't turn up anything to supplement our discussion.) There were an unusually high number of infants buried there, ranging in ages from pre-term to 3 years of age. With burials found in the floors of homes, to just outside the doors and even in the cemeteries, it's not uncommon to see evidence of infanticide in Roman towns. Most often these babies are unwanted newborn girls-but in this town the sex ratio was fairly equal. Additionally, in many cases these were not discarded children, but clearly loved, as small tokens such as a hair brush or a necklace were often buried with them. Further analysis revealed high amounts of lead in the teeth and bones of these children-pointing to the true cause of their deaths-lead poisioning. Lead was common in Roman times, used in everything from cooking utensils to face paints to water piping. While literature tells us they were at least somewhat cognizant of the dangers of lead posioning, the entire population of this Frontier post shows elevated levels of lead in their bodies. Imagine knowing a silent spectre was creeping about in the night, killing the most innocent and helpless of your loved ones. You cling to the words of the most wise of your people, keep small trinkets and feed special morsels that are said to help ward from death. Sound familiar?

In the end, the reasons are different, the methods are different, but we still experience the same fear and the same pain of loss as millions of different women down through the ages. We often elevate ourselves due to our own apparent understanding of science and our modernity, but in the end, motherhood is the same no matter where or when you live. From the moment you discover you are carrying life inside you, you become a member of a timeless sisterhood of women-who have all loved, hoped, prayed, and suffered for a child. We are linked with all the women who have ever placed a gentle hand on the chest of a child to make sure they were still breathing.

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