The Day I Forgot My Son in the Car

It happened to me one unforgettable January morning. The weather has been glorious this week; it is time to tell this story, even though I am hesitant to share it.

Our world today is fast-paced and time-crunched; sometimes we overlook details as a result. Infants are rear-facing until they are 2 years old; they can fall asleep in their car seat and we can forget they are there. It really can happen to ANY parent and below is my own experience.

Each of my children came to work with me daily so I could nurse on demand until they were 18 months old. I am extremely grateful to my families for understanding and accepting my disorganization during those years. This particular morning was no different than any other day. I strapped my youngest child, who was 6 months old at the time, in his car seat when leaving the house that morning.

After arriving in the parking lot, I got out of the car, carried my belongings into the office, and walked past a brand new patient family (you know who you are) in the waiting room. It was a new mother, with her 8 month old daughter, and her grandmother. I smiled at each of them, headed back to my office, and sat down. Usually, I go through the stack of faxes with lab or x-rays results, review notes from specialists, initial them, and then return calls to parents. Next, I review issues for the day with my staff, sign refill requests, and answer questions. Rachel, my medical assistant walked into my office and said “Oh, the baby is home today?”

My hand clasped over my mouth, which was wide open in shock and I said “Oh my God! The baby!” I went tearing out of the office both terrified and feeling like an utter failure as a mother, raced to the car, unlocked it, and opened the minivan door. There he was with his curly red hair and porcelain skin, wrapped in a bunting, warm, cozy, calm, and totally asleep. He looked at peace with the world and he missed the ENTIRE event. In January, the temperature inside the car was not a major concern, yet the larger lesson still haunts me. I FORGOT my beautiful son in the car for almost 10 minutes!

How could this happen? I am a pediatrician. I have heard many stories. I should know better. I should do better. I should be better. Sobbing, he started to awaken as I picked him up and carried him back into my office, past the new mother and grandmother. My mind and heart were awash in relief and gratitude he had not been frightened and screaming while alone in the car.

As I put him down in the nursery, I wondered what this new family thought of the whole scenario. This mother was seeking help with breastfeeding her daughter, who had not been gaining weight well (a specialty of mine.) As I walked toward the room with the chart in hand, I thought “she will never trust anything I say after the debacle she just witnessed.” What a horrendous first impression.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the door, walked in, and introduced myself. She looked up at me, smiled, and said “Well Doc, at least I know you are human, that is as good a place to start as any.” I am not only proud to know this mother, but lucky to have her children as part of my practice and my life. Thank you.

We will all make mistakes on this journey, but we need support and encouragement along the way as we each try to do the very best we can.

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