OCTOBER IS SIDS AWARENESS MONTH
written in memory of
ALLISON SMITH October 23, 1980 – Feb 2, 1981
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the #1 cause of death for healthy infants under the age of 1 in Canada and I have lived theffects of SIDS for almost 33 years.
October is not only SIDS awareness month but also the month our first child, our daughter Allison was born…October 23, 1980. Allison was a healthy 9lb 1oz & she was 21 ½ inches long at birth! She was our pride and joy. As any young, new parents, adjusting to life with a baby was a challenge but so worth it. There was not a day that went by when she didn’t make us smile or laugh. Don’t get me wrong, life wasn’t without its stresses. Allison had become colicky and for any parent who has experienced colic with their child, you know that there are times in your day when you would do anything to slip in a warm tub and escape the frustrations of trying to deal with the fussiness, but all in all, life was good. We had the normal health worries about our daughter as most parents do with their children including the fear of SIDS. I remember asking the health nurse that came to visit about SIDS. She nicely said that it was a rare thing that seldom happens and that I shouldn’t worry; besides she was almost 3 months old and it doesn’t happen after 3 months of age. I remember feeling so relieved!
Allison was a very alert young lady, she was not great in the nap department, it seemed like she always wanted to be a part of everything and she knew that sleep would remove her from that. She loved her baby swing and it would often be the only way to get her to nap. Each and every day it seemed as though she got more and more beautiful, but I know every parent feels that way about their child. I could hardly wait to take our daughter home to meet her family. Peter and I lived in Thunder Bay and our immediate families lived 500 miles away in Sault Ste. Marie. Allison was the first grandchild on my side of the family and so I was anxious to have her meet her grandparents, especially since my dad was too ill to travel.
In November, I took Allison and flew home to Sault Ste. Marie where she was introduced to her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. It was a great time and I was impressed how well she travelled, especially by plane!
I remember our first big snowfall that winter, after dinner we bundled our girl up and put her in her baby sleigh and took her for a ride. As the big fluffy flakes fell, I looked at my husband Peter just ahead of me, pulling the sleigh with Allison in it, surrounded by the hue of multi-colored Christmas lights; I could not help but look up into the sky and prayed a prayer of thanks to God. It’s amazing how a simple memory can stay with you, but at that very moment I was just so grateful for the life God had blessed me with.
That Christmas we shared with Allison was, well, probably more fun for us then for our 2 month old daughter! Allison’s routine had her up around 3 in the morning to eat, so Christmas eve/day, after she ate, we put her back to bed and went back to sleep but not until after we debated on keeping her up and opening our presents then. I awoke again at 6 am and woke up my husband Peter, who was only dozing anyway, and we decided that we’d wake Allison up, feed her, dress her in the cute Christmas outfit that we had gotten for her and start our day. We were more like the kids than Allison was…we took turns opening her gifts and showing them to her, she just kind of sat in her chair and gave us the occasional smile! Later in the day we went to my aunt’s house for a delicious dinner, but soon thereafter, Allison let us know that it was time for her to go to bed. After saying our goodbyes we bundled our girl up and put her in her sleigh and trekked home. As we headed off to bed that night, Peter talked about how wonderful it would be next Christmas when she would be lots of fun with the wrapping paper and bows and of course, her toys. All of a sudden I felt my stomach sink and as I tried to picture next Christmas…I couldn’t! How strange was that I thought to myself?
New Year’s Eve came and we decided to stay home with our daughter, even though she was sleeping, we went into our room where she was asleep in her cradle and kissed her and wished her a Happy New Year at midnight. As the New Year began, I had felt this urgency in getting a family picture and her picture taken professionally. Almost daily I would ask Peter if we could go to Sears and get pictures taken. He kept saying sure, but then he’d come home from work and not feel like getting ready and going and getting the pictures done. This sense of urgency kept growing stronger in me with each passing day and on January 29, 1981 I got Allison and I ready and when Peter came home from work, his clothes were laid out, we were ready so he didn’t have much choice but shower, change and head down to Sears. That evening we had pictures done and now that nagging urgency inside me ended.
Things seemed to be in place, family pictures done, on Monday we were going to talk to the Minister of our church to talk about having Allison baptised; life was moving along and nicely. On the night of January 31st, Peter and I were going out together for the first time since Allison was born and she was going to spend the night at my aunt’s house. This would be the first night away from my daughter and as you can well imagine I didn’t sleep well. The next morning we were up bright and early and off to my aunt’s house by 9 am, we couldn’t wait to see our little “Pokey” (her nickname). We had coffee with my aunt and then we made our way home with our girl in tow! The day progressed like any other day, but Allison was now over 3 month’s old and feeling like we didn’t need to worry about SIDS anymore, Peter and I decided that tonight we would put her in her own room to sleep.
That night about 10 pm when we had fed her, we both took her and tucked her into her crib for the very first night. She had been having her daytime naps in her crib but this would be her first night. I think I was struggling with some attachment issues as I was apprehensive about her being in her own room but so many of our friends had put their babies in their cribs in their own room once they turned 6 weeks old that I thought to myself that I need to do this, it is a normal progression in parenting.
Peter and I watched a movie after we put Allison down and at midnight headed to bed ourselves. We stopped in her room, watched her sleeping so soundly, kissed her and went to our room. The next morning the alarm went off at 6 am for Peter to get up for work, Allison had been sleeping through the night for about a week now and so I reminded Peter to be quiet as she was still sleeping. We talked about our appointment with the Minister that day at 2 pm regarding Allison’s baptism and before he left for work, Peter went in to her room to kiss her good bye.
This is the moment that our world came crashing down and we would be forever changed. As Peter leaned over her crib, something was not right, she was cold and her color was not right. He rolled her over and I will never forget the words that came out of his mouth in a voice I never want to hear again…”Oh my God Laurie, our baby is dead” To this very day, I can hear those words ring in my head.
The next number of months are a blur but somehow, we got through the funeral, and as everyone’s life returned to normal, I became vividly aware that I no longer new what normal was. All it seemed that I could formulate in my head were questions. How can a healthy, happy baby die for no reason? What did I do wrong? Did she die to punish us for putting her in her own room that night? Would she still be alive if we had kept her in our room? Did she cry out before she died and died alone because of our decision? Why did a child who was wanted and loved die when there was so many abortions happening in the world? Was God not satisfied with those babies? How could God let this happen to us? Peter became very bitter and he made statements such as “If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, does he think I’m Hercules, because I’m not” and “God says He will not hurt or forsake us…well guess what…I’m not laughing because it hurts more than anything I can ever explain” How did this happen? How can a healthy child die in her sleep? How can you tell me that you’ve done an autopsy and you can find no cause of death? How can we go from being a couple to being parents and now to being “bereaved parents”? I had questions that I needed answers for…from God and the Medical Professionals. But no one could give me any answers.
SIDS is the sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy infant after an autopsy is completed. SIDS does not have a poster child…we have empty cribs…our poster children did not survive…It sounds utterly ridiculous, I know… but IT IS REAL. To this very day, no one can tell me why my daughter died. They would give me statistics of which my daughter did not fit into. I lost a lot of faith in the Medical field, in Doctors & researchers alike. I realized that man cannot explain everything about health or about God.
In the months that followed Allison’s death, Peter and I became very angry with God. We quit going to church (why worship a God that allows innocent families to be destroyed), we quit praying (why pray, God doesn’t listen anyway. I prayed all the way to the hospital that morning that we would get there and the Doctors would have revived her) and we lost all faith. I am so very grateful that God did not lose His faith in us, he never abandoned us and he gave us small glimpses of hope in our future.
I remember one particularly tough day; I was wallowing in self-pity, missing Allison, and feeling very alone, I decided to pick up my bible. Just as I picked it up, someone knocked at my door so I put my bible down, answered the door and when I went back to my bible it was open to the book of Jeremiah. I have to admit that I was not big into the Old Testament and had no idea what this book was about so I thought maybe if I read the pages that were opened I might learn something new. Well as I was reading, the verse Jeremiah 29:11 jumped out at me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” I started to sob uncontrollably and being very young in my understanding, I didn’t understand why. I now had to figure out why I was so touched by this verse and instead of focusing on the medical reasons Allison died, I would focus on understanding God and why he would let this happen.
I could go on for pages and days about what I have learned over the last 32+ years, but I will tell you all that I found peace. It didn’t happen overnight; in fact it took about 12 years until I came to a place of acceptance, to a place where I learned that God does have a plan for my future. Peter and I were blessed with 2 wonderful sons after Allison died and now, we are also parents to not 1 but 2 beautiful daughters that we were able to adopt. None of our 4 subsequent children can fill the empty spot in our hearts that only Allison can fill, but they are our hope and our future. We waited 29 years before we had another daughter and we understand more of Job’s faithfulness to God after his losses and how because of that faithfulness God in turn blessed him with more than he had lost. We know that someday, God will welcome us home and we will dwell with him and Allison for all of eternity.
There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Allison, we remember little events and joys we shared with her, but now, rather than a lifetime of sadness and a sense of living in the dark, we see the Glory of God and trust that He knows what He is doing and that He does indeed have a plan for us all, a plan that includes hope and a future. It still amazes us how God can turn the worst possible thing that could happen to a person into a blessing. Because Allison lived, we understand how important it is to appreciate our children, because Allison lived, we have come closer to God, because Allison lived, I went into the field of Social Work, because Allison lived, we have learned to value each day that we are blessed with.
I wrote this poem after Allison died:
You left us so suddenly, without saying goodbye
The dreams that we dreamed are now tears that we cry
Our pride & joy, our dream come true
Our precious Allison, how we miss you!
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