I remember the day well. It was a Saturday. I’d started it drinking raspberry leaf tea and ended it eating spicy lamb chops, hoping desperately that one of these things would kick start labour before I went in to be induced.
In between the old-wives tales, my husband and I spent several hours at a car dealership, test-driving an SUV we were looking to buy for the sole purpose of being able to drive around with our kelpie and our soon-to-be-born kid at the same time.
Neither the tea nor the chilli worked but we did end up with a new car. And this car has HEAPS of toys in it, but not for the reason you’d think.
You see, the most important toy in the car stays with the car at all times. He’s a shaggy bear who’s aged nearly 40, called (imaginatively) “Big Ted”. One of my childhood bears, I retrieved him from my parents’ house after my son started childcare. His sole reason for being, now, is to warn my sleep-deprived brain that my son is in the car. Big Ted is my furry guardian to help prevent “Forgotten Baby Syndrome”.
Forgotten Baby Syndrome happens when parents have been convinced they’ve dropped their kid off at childcare, or elsewhere, except they haven’t, and their quietly sleeping child has been left in a parked car for hours or even the entire day. In our hot Australian summers, and internationally, children have died because of this. Forgotten Baby Syndrome is the stuff of nightmares.
According to experts, Forgotten Baby Syndrome comes about with the perfect storm of sleep deprivation, stress and an unexpected routine change. Aren’t these factors a hallmark of parenthood? Even people without children can imagine how easy it is – I mean, have you ever driven in the car for 10 minutes and zone out so much that you wondered how you got through all those sets of traffic lights?
For some ultra-tired parents, tragedy could strike simply because they dropped their children off in a different order. For example, you have a baby daughter and a school-aged son. Your routine is always to first drop your daughter at childcare, then your son at school. But one day, your son’s school has a pupil-free day. So you drop him off at his aunt’s house, fully intending to then head to childcare to drop off your daughter.
But that slight alteration to the routine, combined with tiredness, means your brain is on autopilot and guides you straight to work. If your daughter happens to fall asleep on the journey, you have no sound to remind you she’s there.
I know I’m not alone in my new-parent paranoia, where danger lurks around every corner. Practically, though, it’s better that we keep safety front of mind and deal with a danger as soon as we recognise it. That means cutting the buttons off a new toy which kind friends have given to my son. It means getting lots of shallow water dishes for the dog, and ditching her old, deep, water bucket. It means organising for the TV to be bolted to the wall – I really have to get on to that one.
It also means dusting off Big Ted.
Big Ted’s sole role now is to sit in my son’s baby seat whenever he’s not in the car. When the baby’s in the car, Big Ted is riding shotgun upfront in the passenger seat. His shaggy dimensions mean he takes up the entire seat – no room for bags. And if I somehow manage to forget that my son’s in his car seat, because our daily routine has changed and he’s asleep, well, as soon as I go to get out of the car, Big Ted will be there to remind me.
Other ways around this are to always leave one shoe in the backseat when you put your child or children in their car seats (because you’re not going to walk off anywhere wearing just one shoe) or put your mobile phone, wallet or handbag in the backseat – anything you need in your day-to-day life that you wouldn’t leave the car without.
Having to open the back doors to retrieve your stuff means you’re more likely to see your sleeping baby. And check whether your childcare centre or school will ring you – and keep ringing – if your child doesn’t turn up for school or care that day.
Listen: Planning on giving birth? Monique Bowley and Bec Judd discuss everything you’ll need for the first three days with a newborn, on Hello Bump. Post continues below.
In America, car manufacturers have introduced technology, which includes a sound alarm and visual cues to alert parents when a child is the back seats after the ignition has been switched off. This technology has been recommended for Australian cars, too. An Australian paramedic has also come up with an invention which alerts drivers if they walk away while a child restraint is still engaged.
It’s normal to be hyper-vigilant as parents. We’re right to take sensible steps to baby-proof our home and protect our children. We know nothing is foolproof and we need to watch our kids closely, without wrapping them in cotton wool.
And I’m comforted to know that Big Ted is here for the next generation of kids.