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Learning to Mother Again After Losing My Baby to SIDS

Learning to Mother Again After Losing My Baby to SIDS

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Yael. Adelle Shayna (Shiny)z''l, and Menachem Mendel (Moo)
Yael. Adelle Shayna (Shiny)z"l, and Menachem Mendel (Moo)

The internet is an amazing thing. In an instant, mothers from all over the world can connect with each other online. We share interests, tips, stories about our children; we compare ourselves and pick one another apart until we can finally decide, once and for all: Who is the best mother? And what makes her that way?

The internet is a microcosm of "real life," nothing happens there that hasn't been happening since the dawn of society. On the internet, it just happens faster. Without delay, mothers can declare to one another their children's achievements: three-year-olds who read, four-year-olds with impeccable table manners, teenagers who are always in a good mood. Of course, these amazing children are all the result of amazing mothers who always took their prenatal vitamins, never raised their voices, always kept a clean house and never got a good night's sleep, because a good mother never sleeps.

What if I can't come up with exciting educational activities every day?And what if my preschooler does not heed my every soft-spoken command? What if I can't come up with exciting, educational activities for my kids, every day, all day? What if something happens to me that I just can't plow through like a champ? What do I tell the other internet mommies when I'm too depressed to do more with my kid than watch Disney movies all morning? What do I tell the child I have failed by not giving him stimulating days of learning and fun?

Last fall, I developed a home preschool program for my two and a half year old son, Menachem Mendel (Moo). We had a regular routine that started after breakfast and carried us through to lunch. Every day he was learning more and his behavior and his ability to follow instructions was improving. He had a new baby sister, Adelle Shayna (Shiny)z"l, who didn't require a whole lot of stimulation. It was easy to tend to her needs while teaching her brother. After naptime every day, we would go to the park or the museum and the other mommies would marvel at all I was accomplishing.

In November, the rest of life started getting in the way of my prize-worthy mothering. My hours at work were getting longer, though since I work at night, I still had time during the day. Menachem Mendel started waking at night and needed to be soothed back to sleep. The disturbance would wake Adelle Shayna, who would then also need to be soothed back to sleep. I was getting overwhelmed and tired. On top of work and sleep deprevation, I had a trip to plan. By myself. With both kids.

He could sense my distractionMaybe he could sense my distraction, because Menachem Mendel started getting distracted, too. His routine slowly dissolved as he started making his own decisions about how he wanted to spend his time. Our firm routine gave way to independent play. It wasn't a bad way for my son to spend his time, but he wouldn't be reading by age three. I promised we'd resume our home school program when we got back from our trip and got settled.

Meanwhile I felt like I'd lost something, but what? I had lost my place in the contest for Best Mommy.

I found my promise really hard to keep. The sleep disturbances didn't stop. Menachem Mendel's attention span didn't get longer. And then, a month after we returned from our trip, my plans were completely derailed.

On Saturday night, December thirteenth, Adelle Shayna died of SIDS. It was the kind of tragedy for which no parent can be prepared. Any ambition I had to impress the other parents or push my child to his utmost potential vanished. My concern turned to emotional survival. I felt like there wasn't enough left of me to be the kind of mother I was before. I gave up on the idea of homeschooling. I had serious emotional work to do if I was going to make it through this time in my life. I think my brain knew this better than I did and dedicated a significant amount of space to the effort. My memory declined, my logical reasoning suffered. My mind was too busy for those things.

I had to live day to day and moment to moment. I had once been devoted to Unconditional Parenting, but now I found myself unable to carry through with the philosophy. I needed behaviorism and efficiency, so I started using consequences and rewards, which I had previously sworn off. My house had always been clean and tidy, but chores felt meaningless to me suddenly. For the first time in a while, dishes went undone, messes accumulated. For hours on end, I found myself in a sort of mental stasis, staring at nothing or reading something of very little substance while Menachem Mendel watched a movie or played on his own.

What if they blamed me?When I snapped out of it, I felt terrible. What happened to my son's teacher, his great leader of field trips, the brilliant stimulator? Was she gone forever? Would his brain turn to mush? I would read parenting boards online and think, "Oh no. What have I done? I can never be like these women. I'm cheating my son." And then I was struck by an even more horrifying thought. What if they blamed me for Adelle Shayna's death?

You see, depending on whom you ask, Adelle Shayna was either at the least risk for SIDS, or at a great one. She was exclusively breastfed, and slept, swaddled, in the family bed with a pacifier. She was alone when she died. Most people, regardless of their position on the issue, have enough common sense not to say something to a grieving mother about her responsibility for the death of her child. Of course, there's one exception in every group. Every time I would post to a parenting board I held my breath, waiting for the accusation. Finally, it came. About six months after Adelle Shayna died, a mother on a forum posited that it had happened because the baby had been left alone.

It was hardly the crushing blow for which I had braced myself. In fact, it was rather amusing. By this point I had done quite a lot of research and I knew that babies died of SIDS in family beds, in cribs and even in their parents' arms. Breastfed babies died of SIDS. Formula fed babies died of SIDS. I passed this information on to the other mother and invited her to learn some tact. Then, I left that parenting board--forever. What good was it doing me, reading about how wonderful all these other mothers were and pondering how terrible I might be?

We have to step away from the mommy race When surrounded by tales of Supermommies, it's hard to believe something could occur that could throw a mother off her game. Things happen in our lives, things we need to process and heal from. Real things, big things that affect the way we function. Pushing them aside to go on with the business of winning at motherhood doesn't make them disappear, it just pushes them to the back of the fridge. By the time we get to the original problem, it's a big, moldy, sticky, unrecognizable mess and it still needs to be dealt with.

Before it gets to be too much, we have to step away from the mommy race. We have to realize most of it is exaggerated anyway. We have to take the time to think, to process, to heal. We have to realize that while we do that, some TV and take-out isn't going to permanently damage our children. A mother with a festering heartache who hasn't taken the time to work through it really could damage her children. We need to forgive ourselves for the time we need and realize we will come out stronger for it. In the end, we'll be able to add "overcoming adversity," to our list of Supermommy accomplishments.

Yael Hanover is an author, speaker and Kallah teacher living in Florida with her husband and three sons. She is available for classes in person and via Skype. Yael can be reached at HiImYael@gmail.com. The first installment of her book, "I Can't Even Imagine" is now available for Kindle.
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Nadia Lopes Johannesburg South Africa September 9, 2013

Living with acceptance & grace Dear Yael.
I found so much comfort in your write up. Thank you for being so open and honest.I recently lost my daughter at 3 months of SIDS. And if anything this experience has taught me is to accept Gods will and have faith that we will meet her again. Death is enevitable and I miss her every day. The challenge is living pure & good lives here on earth. People are so quick to judge and say the most bizarre things which are not comforting at all. I say bless them, they have no idea what we going through. Bless all you ladies who are going thru this. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Reply

Protect Your Baby from SIDS Philippines September 2, 2013

I have been aware of SIDS when I was pregnant. I learned from it on the net.

I hope here in the Philippines people would be aware of SIDS. I can still see plenty of people having their baby sleep beside them or in the middle. Not even knowing Co sleeping is one of the many reasons of SIDS. Reply

Melinda Terrazas tx November 8, 2012

My baby boy, i lost my baby boy to sids a month ago tomorrow he turned two months today :,( it is very hard my husband and i blame ourselves for it and cry and fight now sometimes i want to go crazy but i honeslty would like to know how everyone goes on through life its so hard.... Reply

Yael Hanover Brooklyn, NY May 2, 2012

To Anonymous I agree with Jessica - be there for them. I'll expand from my own experience and add that you should be open to what that means. The most painful interactions I've had with others were the ones when they had decided what I should be feeling and how they should respond. Being told "You must be so angry/sad/whatever" or "eventually you'll feel..." ot "you must just want to die..." put me very much on the defensive, that I had to justify how I really felt.
Ask, "what are you feeling?" "What would be helpful for you?" "What can I do to help you handle this?" And don't put a time limit on your support. It was a month, six weeks, a year, even a day here and there two and three years later, that I would have really appreciated a reminder that it was still ok to be grieving. Reply

Jessica Keet Los Angeles, CA via chabadbw.com May 1, 2012

To Anonymous in Florida I’m so sorry for your friends' loss; clearly it’s your loss too, as you were very much part of their family. My advice is to be there for them -- in whatever they need, whether it be a hug, a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to them railing at G-d (there is a lot of anger in the beginning stages of grief), babysitting their other kids, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry or just being around to share their heartache. When I first lost my son, people would send me messages like, "I don't know what to say but I want you to know I'm thinking of you." Knowing I was not alone in my sorrow helped immeasurably. Grief is a very long, often lonely, journey so just being there for them means so much. Also try to shield them from others' insensitive comments. I learned through my loss that most times people don't intend to be insensitive; usually it stems from awkwardness and not knowing what to say -- still as a bereaved parent it can be hurtful. They are lucky to have a friend like you. xx Reply

Anonymous North port, Fl April 29, 2012

Wow A friend of mine lost her 3 week old son, Isaiah Trent, early this morning. He was asleep on his daddy's chest when he went to be with the Lord. Isaiah has three older siblings (2yrs-1st grade), and the most amazing mom & dad. I can't imagine the depth of loss their feeling & the grief and I am praying feverishly that his dad doesn't become consumed with guilt. Your post was so encouraging, to know that for a season it is okay to allow your routine to fall apart as you figure out your new reality. I know that the family is still numb right now, I held that sweet boy for hours on Thursday, never thinking that I'd never have the opportunity to do it again- I've been a basket case all day & I'm just a friend- I can't imagine how they feel :/ Do you have any advise as to how I can be a supportive friend in this most painful of times? Reply

Jessica Keet Los Angeles, USA via chabadbw.com July 4, 2011

Thinking of all you, ladies! My heart goes out to all of you and I'm so sorry for all of your losses. Losing a child is the hardest thing in the world and we have all survived it! One day (soon, I hope), Hashem will let us see our precious babies again, but until then they will be forever in our hearts and looking down on us from above. We miss our angels so much. Reply

Tarryn Roberts Cape Town, South Africa July 4, 2011

its so hard i too lost my baby boy to sids 6 months ago .im not jewish but i know how it feels.i have 2 olders daughters 8yrs and 5 yrs and my baby boy cody,s twin sister tawny .i know many tells me i should be grateful that G-d has still left me with 1 baby but it doesnt lessen the pain.as tawny grows day by day it gets harder imagining what my cody would have been like .i feel like such a bad mother the guilt is really getting to me .i just felt i needed to write this.mwah hope we find all the peace and happiness again as we will with G-d Reply

Ruth San Diego, CA via lubavitchliverpool.com July 4, 2011

Adele Dearest Adele
Know and understand exactly how you feel, this is normal you should grieve it's the right thing to do your adorable son my love will always be your son and in your heart and soul forever. Get community support right away, you are not to blame, you are a wonderful person and mother please believe this. Sometimes people make you feel worse but it's just they don't know how to react or what o say they mean well really they do. Take it day by day, you have no shame nor blame G-d has a place in heaven for your boy for he was so special. I believe I will meet my little Charlotte again and I believe you will meet your son who is an angel in the arms of Hashem. I wish I could make you feel better and let you cry in my arms for a while I feel for you my love. My Charlotte gave me strength to carry on strength to feel proud of what I had been through and survived stronger than ever as I still believe she is the spirit of my life and through having her I grew and my faith toox Reply

Ruth San Diego, CA via lubavitchliverpool.com July 4, 2011

Still Born To all us brave Jewish women, we know that Still born means our children still count, they were sent to us by Hashem for a reason. We more than others understand about the real "miracle" of life and have already faced peoples worse nightmare the loss of a child; But as an angel in heaven I believe our children were so very special that G-d could only send them to us for a moment. Stay strong for I believe we shall meet again and that my daughter is in G-d's hands. Live life carry on show others the strength that we have, we survived and we are good Jewish mothers who have to continue to nurture and love others. G-d bless you and may you have happiness and joy all of your lives. I feel for all of youx Reply

Jessica Keet Los Angeles, USA via chabadbw.com July 3, 2011

To Adele Phelan Adele,
I don't know you but I'm sorry for your loss and want to try and give you some comfort. Firstly, you aren't to blame and it was nothing you did -- it was part of Hashem's plan for your son's soul. You should read a book called "The Garden of Emuna" by Rabbi Shalom Arush. It is an amazing book and comforted me a lot when my son was fullterm stillborn 2 years ago. In it there are many stories of children who passed away at a young age, and later it was revealed that they had something to correct that their soul had not done in a previous life, for example the soul of a tzaddik that had done everything except have a bris at 8 days old because the baby had jaundice came down into this world in order to have a bris at 8 days. After the bris, the baby passed away because the soul had completed its earthly mission. It makes the physical missing of your child easier when you see the spiritual side of it. I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Reply

Yael Hanover NYC, NY July 3, 2011

To Adele Adele,
Do you have support - people in your community, your shul, your family?
You can reach me directly at yael_hanover@yahoo.com or visit my website www.HiImYael.com Reply

Adele Phelan Mandaree, ND June 30, 2011

We now have a guardian angel....<3JR We just lost our 4 month old baby boy about a week ago to SIDS. This is the worst thing a family can go through in our lifetime. I keep blaming myself and I can't stop the tears from pouring out of my eyes. I miss our son so much and I'm going crazy here. Please help me... Reply

Ruth San Digo, CA via lubavitchliverpool.com January 3, 2011

SIDS How brave and wonderful are the mothers who lose their children in this way. One thing I know from my own suffering we more than anyone else understand how prescious and miraculous life is.
These women are so brave and I believe we have been closer to G-d than most as we pass our angel back to you. They were so perfect that hashem took them back into his arms. G-d bless you their little spirit and soul will be with you forever. Stay strong and may Hashem shine on you and bless you all the days of your livesx Reply

Mr. Joel Kleehammer December 29, 2010

For anonymous in Seattle, WA I commented on this post on 11 August 2009. I lost my four month old son 18 years ago in January. Your post brought back so many memories that I cried just thinking about it. If you need a perspective on what it is like later on, my wife and I are at kleehammer at gmail dot com. I have perspectives on fathering after a SIDS death, and my wife has some more unique perspectives of her own. May the upcoming times help you and yours to heal and grow. I can tell you that while the sorrow will diminish, that your loss will never fully leave you. Reply

Yael Hanover NYC December 29, 2010

Thank you for your comment, Montana. I have other pieces on TheJewishWoman.org about the journey since Shiny passed away and you can also see some of what I've written on TheShinyProject.com.
You can reach me directly at yael_hanover@yahoo.com Reply

Jessica Los Angeles, CA via chabadbw.com December 29, 2010

So sorry for your loss, Anonymous in Seattle Hi,

I'm so sorry for your loss -- my son was full-term stillborn 19 months ago (so I never met him alive), yet I had a strong connection to him. Having your son for 4 months makes it infinitely harder.

The grief journey is a long, heartbreaking road. One thing my husband told me when my son died was I cannot change the way I bring up my other kids (7 and 3 at the time). They still deserved my full love and attention, perhaps even more so.

You have experienced a tragic loss. I wish we knew why these things happened, but believe me in the past 19 months I have found much comfort from my other kids. I have learnt that in life there is joy mixed in with sorrow, and there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to be grateful for the blessings and try to accept the losses.

That's not to say there won't be times where you feel your heart has been ripped out of your chest...there will be, but the pain does lessen with time. Even so, your son will be in your heart always. xxxoo Reply

Anonymous Seattle, Wa December 29, 2010

My heart is broken..I now know your pain.. We just lost our 4 month old baby boy to Sids almost 6 weeks ago.. I find myself all alone at night reading other stories..We have a 7 year old daughter & 2 year old son... We are devastated! If you ever feel like emailing me..I'm here and do find that no one understands what we are going through...This looks like an old post so I would love to know where you are with everything now..
Sooo sorry for your loss.. As I'm sure you know it's something you don't wish on anyone...
Montana Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn December 8, 2010

Thank You Thank you. I just had a miscarriage two days ago at 9 weeks and am sitting at home with my one year old, trying to recover and not be too depressed. Reading your article helped me, I worry that I'm being immature for taking a week off from work and letting the house get messy while I sit in my pajamas in front of the computer and my baby runs around eating a piece of stale bread. Hey, he's happy, so this should be ok. I'm trying to deal with this and also move forward. Miscarriage totally stinks, although it can't compare to losing a baby who has lived in the world for 5 months. May you be comforted. and thank you for comforting others. Reply

Erica Tel Aviv, Israel February 15, 2010

Sympathetic This is the first article that I've read on this site and it touched me deeply. My son was born premature and is now 4 months old. At two months old, a day after bringing him home from the hospital, he stopped breathing while in my arms after feeding and was unresponsive. Luckily, my husband knows how to give CPR and was able to get him to start breathing again while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. It took a few minutes although it felt like hours. He spent another 10 days in the hospital and a month later, they concluded that it was probably due to reflux. Even though, thank G-d, he survived and is undergoing treatment, we are absolutely terrified of it happening again. We were told that many instances of SIDS (which this would have been had I not been there and noticed him turning blue), are probably due to reflux. Reply

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