real life

Last year her baby died on his first day in daycare. Today Amber Scorah is a mum again.

About a year ago New York mum, Amber Scorah, returned to work after nearly four months of maternity leave. She dropped her three month old son Karl in daycare for the first time and when she returned to breastfeed him a few hours later he was unconscious and a childcare worker was attempting CPR on him.

Karl was pronounced dead that day at the hospital. The medical examiner could not determine the cause of death. The story of the baby who died on his first day at childcare went around the world. It was so utterly tragic. It also tapped into the fears every mother has who leaves her child in care when she returns to work. What is the real cost of me to my family returning to my job? What am I doing to my child by putting them into care? Is this the right age to leave them? Am I doing the right thing?

Amber Scorah and her husband, Lee Towndrow, have become vocal advocates of maternity leave rights for parents in the US. Scorah says she wasn’t ready to return to work but if she didn’t she would have lost her job and the family’s health insurance.

Friday night flowers #KarlIves #Brooklyn

A photo posted by Amber Scorah (@amberscorah) on

Amber with her baby Karl. 

Scorah and Towndrow had a baby girl last month. A little girl called Sevi. This week Amber Scorah spoke on the podcast Death, Sex and Money about the day she dropped Karl off for his first day at daycare.

She says she geared herself up on the morning thinking, “Everyone does this. This is just sort of one of those first rites of passage of parenthood that you have go through”.    

And of course it felt really surreal and strange to leave him, but once I took him out of the baby carrier, one of the day care assistants—one of the Spanish-speaking ladies—came over and went up to his face and smiled and said, “Hola!” And Karl just gave this big radiant smile, so I thought – I felt really reassured. I thought, “Oh, he’s gonna have a little adventure here and I’ll be back before he knows it.”

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Um, I went to work. I got there around just after 9:30, I think. And the whole morning consisted of just nothing. I mean, obviously it kills me now ’cause it just seems so fruitless and ridiculous. But, you know, it’s your first day back at work after months off and the computer doesn’t work, and you’re calling the IT support, and then by the time it got close to noon, I had told the daycare operator I would come back between 12 and 12:30. And so I waited until like 12:10 and then I just couldn’t – I couldn’t wait anymore. I was too excited to go see him.

  Sevi sunshine #sevidays   A photo posted by Amber Scorah (@amberscorah) on

Lee and Amber’s new baby, Sevi. 

When I got to the daycare I thought it was strange but the door was – the downstairs door was open, cause it was on the second floor. I thought, “Why would the door be open when there’s children inside?” And so then I went around the corner still having no idea that anything was wrong and I just saw Karl laying on the change table and the daycare owner was performing CPR on him.

I just – like I remember – it’s such a PTSD kind of thing. Like I replay that moment over and over in my mind. But even to this day I try to like reconnect what I thought I would be seeing with what I saw and I can’t ever really wrap my mind around how I could have seen that. I mean, there’s just no words to kind of explain the turmoil – the mental turmoil of that.

The couple admit they grieved differently and couldn’t return home moving into a friend’s apartment for several weeks. The daycare centre was unlicensed (although it had been operating for ten years) and was closed down. The media attention was huge. Amber says she talked about having another baby days after his death because she just wanted him back.

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Now they do have a little baby girl. They say in the podcast they will handle parental leave differently this time.

#KarlIves visits the office #scholastic @edperk @grovestrolls — @lilijing why did I not get one w/you?! A photo posted by Amber Scorah (@amberscorah) on

Baby Karl visited his mum’s office. 

Lee Towndrow: Um, yeah, I mean – well, one thing is that the work situation has changed a little bit for me. I’m the one with healthcare now, so I have it for the whole family. And, yeah, I definitely want to try to make sure that, at least for a year, Amber can be taking care of Karl.

Amber Scorah: Karl…

LT: Sorry. With the baby. It’s hard. Yeah, I mean it’s one of the main things that we talk about all the time, is how are we going to handle this differently.

It’s heartbreaking listening. There are so many tragedies in this story. Scorah has been every open about the fact she never felt ready to return to work. She left her baby at a daycare centre and it didn’t feel right to her. She wanted to stay with Karl and her employer, by US standards (the US is only one of three countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. The others are Papua New Guinea and Oman) was generous with its maternity leave provisions.

But she still had to go back to work before her baby was even four months old.

Scorah says another baby will never “fill the hole” that she has inside from losing Karl.

“But a little bit of the sadness is taken away. Because at least you have a baby to hold at the beginning. Like, even if it’s just that, that’s something.” 

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