For the first time in weeks, I had found myself with a free night. I was home and didn’t have any work to do. What a rare treat! I should have watched some mindless television. Even better, read a book. Instead, I found myself embroiled in a Facebook fight with fellow mothers, going round for round over the issue of perfect parenting, and how it is that any mother could ‘let their child die’.
This is a sensitive issue for me. I have two friends – wonderful mothers – whose children have drowned in recent years.
I met Kat Plint when, working as a journalist for the ABC, I interviewed her about pool safety. Back then, I didn’t have children. I was sympathetic to Kat and did truly believe that what happened to her daughter Hannah was a terrible accident. However, I don’t think I ever imagined it could happen to me.
Fast forward five years and my friend Rachel lost her precious son Hamish in another drowning accident. This tragedy shook me to the core. I had always – subconsciously – believed that losing a child through an accident was something that happened to ‘other people’.
As a broadcaster, reading news bulletins and reporting on stories of children losing their lives in accidents, I would find myself searching for the detail that would assure me that what had happened to ‘that parent’ wouldn’t happen to me.
They backed a 4WD over their child? I don’t have a 4WD, and my kids don’t have access to the driveway. Their child drowned in the bath? I always watch mine. A cord blind accident? Don’t have blinds. They weren’t supervising at the time? I certainly would be.
But Rachel was a parent just like me; a parent who loved her children and who would have done anything for them. And yet she lost her child. If it could happen to her, it truly could happen to any of us. What a horrifying thought.
So what do we mothers do with such a realisation? For me, it made it hard to sleep at night. I became ultra-cautious. Everyday moments with my children were treasured. Importantly, it gave me a strong sense of empathy for mothers who had lost their children in terrible accidents.