Recently, Mum Central published an article on 7 ways to prevent a forgotten baby syndrome tragedy.

It was a simple article which touched on the condition [which, incidentally, they didn’t make up themselves] and provided 7 practical and sensible ways parents and caregivers could prevent forgetting their baby in a car.

When they shared it on Facebook, the backlash was swift and brutal

“‘Your not going to forget your handbag’ seriously? Your not going to forget your purse but you’ll forget your child?? What the actual f###!!”

“This is garbage! Being an irresponsible parent is not a “syndrome”. I can understand a momentary lapse in judgement or memory but these babies were left in the cars for a WHOLE WORKING DAY. That’s eight hours! As a single mum and uni student I can tell you for a fact that I am constantly drained and exhausted but I have never forgotten my kids! Sometimes in the afternoons I get caught up studying or cleaning and might be a few minutes late for school pick up but I AM ALWAYS THERE!! If someone can’t remember where their baby is, they shouldn’t be allowed a baby. Call me judgemental, I don’t care.”

“Oh FFS ‘forgotten baby syndrome?’ Mum Central, you have to be joking don’t you? It’s more a case of ‘fecking shitty parent’ syndrome, if you really want to give it a name. Which parent (worth their salt) ‘forgets’ the whereabouts of their child? This is the very being that has turned your entire life upside down and been the cause of reprogramming your entire existence. How then can you ‘forget’ about them? Either the parent is on drugs, on the piss or seriously ill. None of those warrants an excuse of a title such as ‘forgotten baby syndrome’. It’s not a ‘syndrome’, it’s plain negligence.”

“Oh come on if you forget to get your child out you should not have them in the first place unfit parent if ya ask me”

I quietly read all the comments from the comfort and anonymity of my own private keyboard and cringed.

I get it. I get what a lot of these mothers were saying.

How the fuck do you forget your baby in the car?

Personally, I don’t get it. I can’t fathom how that particular thing can even be a thing. But here’s another thing. When my children were little, I wasn’t a working mum. When my children were little I had the luxury of never having to use external care for them. So for me, a stay-at-home mum, the very thought of forgetting my child is completely alien to me and I suspect that the backlash is, predominantly, from other stay-at-home mums.

Now hold your horses right there ladies. DO NOT misinterpret this as a thinly veiled platform to shame working mothers from my SAHM high horse. I don’t do that shit. Some of my bestest friends who are also the most excellent mums are working mums. Fuck, my own mum worked THREE JOBS to make ends meet [and they still didn’t, just quietly] without a partner so I know all about the merits of being a working mum. High-five to every single one of you.

What this is, is a somewhat aggressive, plea for some solidarity. Just because you can’t understand how something can happen doesn’t mean it’s not real. Forgotten Baby Syndrome is as real as a syndrome can be:

syndrome

ˈsɪndrəʊm/

noun

  1. a group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterised by a set of associated symptoms.

“a rare syndrome in which the production of white blood cells is damaged”

  • a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions, or behaviour.

“the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ syndrome”

 

Syndrome shmindrome. How do you forget your child??

The brutal comments from OTHER MUMS who cannot understand the concept of a MOTHER ever forgetting their child do not understand the premise behind this syndrome. These are not parents who are neglectful. These are not parents who have PURPOSELY left their child unattended in a car. These are loving, responsible, committed parents whose everyday habits have become part of everyday memory or “auto-pilot”. Which means their brain then struggles with any changes to the habit.

Misinformed comments such as “I can understand forgetting for a few minutes but not for a whole day” occur from not fully grasping the concept of a working parent’s daily routine. Their daily habit is to take their beloved child to a location outside of their home to be cared for which they drop them off at in the morning and collect from at the end of the day. When there has been a change to their routine their auto-pilot kicks in. Their full brain sends the message that they have already done that, then by habit, they will not think about that again until pick-up time is near. That is the crux of the syndrome.

The reason I can’t imagine ever doing that is because my daily habit was to have my child with me ALL.THE.TIME. But my auto-pilot still kicked in and that’s how I can understand and empathise with those mothers who have tragically suffered the same thing.

My auto-pilot would make me push the shopping trolley back and forth when I was in line even though I was without my baby.

My auto-pilot would make me rock side to side at a professional networking evening when all I was cradling was a glass of well-earned wine.

My auto-pilot once made me frantically search the bed after waking up in the middle of the night on the verge of intense panic because I COULD NOT REMEMBER returning my baby to their bassinet after I had fed them. I was CONVINCED that I had left them to suffocate in the bed between me and their father. Even after I discovered that they were, in fact, safely swaddled [complete with fresh nappy and full tummy] in their bassinet next to me – I COULD NOT REMEMBER putting them there. My brain was so full and tired and confused that I accused my husband of doing it and not telling me. My sleeping husband. THAT seemed more likely to me than the fact that I had done it and had no recollection of doing so. That is what auto-pilot does.

But one story that really stands out for me is that of a very close SAHM friend of mine who rarely had anyone look after her little one externally. One day she dropped her off at a family member’s place for a couple of hours so she could get some shopping done. When she went back to her car, she realised that her daughter was not in the trolley. She was distraught and raced back into the shopping centre searching for her, convinced that she had left her behind. Security was called and though she was able to recall what she had dressed her in she had totally FORGOTTEN that she hadn’t actually taken her daughter shopping with her that day at all. That is what auto-pilot does.

The suggestions provided in the Mum Central article are simple things that will jar your brain out of auto-pilot. It’s not comparing a handbag to a child. It’s not suggesting that your mobile phone is more important to you than your baby. Don’t be so fucking ridiculous. Working on the premise of a habit-based memory system, when something is out of place [your shoe is missing or your handbag isn’t next to you] it’s hard for your mind to continue working unconsciously.

But how can you care more about work than your baby???

Your baby should be the most important, life-changing thing in the world to you. If you’re so busy and focused on your career to forget your baby you are a bad, bad mother. You deserve to not have any babies ever. You are an abuser and a murderer and should be jailed for the rest of your life.

As if they’re not.

The thought of a mum forgetting their baby is offensive. It speaks to our very vulnerable core. It challenges all our maternal instincts and I think it scares us. I’ve spoken to working mums about this and I see the fear in their eyes… and in many cases the relief that they are past those days and it didn’t happen to them. But they remember that one time that it could’ve.

So if leaving your handbag with your baby who you love and adore and could not imagine life without may prevent them from y’know DYING, then why wouldn’t you do it?

I know, I know. Because you would NEVER forget your baby… and I bet the parents who did actually forget theirs thought exactly the same thing.

Author

Seventies Baby writes the things we think... but don't say out loud! A gloves-off perspective of womanhood, parenting and modern family life in a world obsessed with being perfect and politically correct. You can (and should!) follow her blog at www.seventiesbaby.blogspot.com or find her on Facebook.

6 Comments

  1. Your description of frantically looking for the baby in the bed is (I’m sure) something we have all done, especially in the first few weeks after bringing baby home. It’s a great reminder that we are all capable of making mistakes, even when full of love for our kids.
    But for the grace of God…

  2. How sad that those parents made those awful comments. I don’t think we are entitled to an opinion if we have never experienced auto pilot. I haven’t experienced autopilot, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for parents that do. They must have a lot of fear, all the time. I’m sure they ALL try their best, after recovering from birth, and lack of sleep, I’m sure lots of parents forget or don’t think about a lot of things, it doesn’t make them a bad parent. I truly feel for parents that have to go through that every single day.

  3. I am a Homeschooling stay at home Mum to 5. My kids are my life and I love them more than words but that didn’t stop me from forgetting my baby. Our routine for that particular day was to drop our 4 year old and 6 month old with Nanny so me and the big kids could go to the library. This particular day my Mum came to pick them up rather than me dropping them off and i decided at the last minute to keep the baby because he was still sleeping and i didn’t want to wake him. 20 minutes later after packing library books and organising big boys my auto pilot kicked in and off we went. After 30 minutes at the library and icecream on the way home i walked in the front door with my arms laden with books when my 12 year old called me. He was standing in the doorway to the nursery where my still sleeping baby dreamed peacefully. I was inconsolable and so grateful that he had slept oblivious to being left home alone for close to an hour but it reminded me how easily a sleep deprived Mumma can have a brain lapse.

  4. It would help if one had a noisy child, because their screams would snap anyone out of auto-pilot, but those little ones who take a nap in the car oh so quietly, can be unintentionally forgotten in the rush of things. It’s a terrible tragedy, and no, they are not necessarily bad parents, they are just so overwhelmed and have so many things they need to do for their family… that Auto-pilot syndrome can be terrifying, I’ve found myself doing things then completing them and not remembering that I did them! Worse yet, I’ve come quite close to picking up items and forgetting to pay for them! utterly embarrassing. I guess we’re so used to grabbing items at home and going, or paying first at the shop, then grabbing the item and going. Now I make sure I PAY first. Also when I did pay, I’d put my money in the wallet and keep going like a robot then later on, wonder, was I given the correct change?? The good thing is, I have a bit of an obsessive compulsive habit of checking the car 2 or 3 times that the handbrake is up and all the doors are locked, so regarding any kids, I’d see them while doing the checking.
    That’s a good idea about the bag or purse in the back seat, because we are automatically wired to reach for the wallet to pay for things and when there is no wallet there, it will certainly snap one out of their auto-pilot.

  5. Given the comments the original Forgotten Child Syndrome post got, I think that this response was highly needed.
    I’ve never personally forgotten my kids – yet, and I hope I never do. But I’ve definitely experienced the autopilot, especially when breastfeeding both my babies and waking and having had no recollection of having put them back to bed after their last feed.

    Comments asking how any loving parent could forget their child Is like asking how a parent with post-natal depression isn’t happy at a time in their life when they should be. Just like no one chooses to have post natal depression, no one forgets their child on purpose.

  6. Personally, I have never forgotten my baby in the car as a working mum in a high stress industry I dont get the luxury of taking my kids to their day care and droppjng them off with much kisses and cries of mummy dont leave! I am in front of my computer at 7am each day, my husband choses his own hours therefore takes the reins on the morning routone – but – my mother was a working mother also, without a husband with a loose schedule and as PRIMARY SCHOOL students my sister and I would stay MUTE in the back seat waiting on our drive to school for mum to switch to auto pilot. We could see it happen even, she would get this intense look in her eyes in the rear view mirror as she planned out her day on the drive to work, and my sister and I would high five each other as we drove past our school without slowing and got to go to mums work in the morning, it didnt happen regularly but it was enough to become the inside joke of our family. I get how mums can go on auto pilot I truely do.

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