Mum wants every parent to know about shaken baby syndrome
"No matter what, you never shake a baby..."
In a heart-wrenching story, a mum has shared the horror that a fit of parental rage can inflict on a baby. The victim? Her very own newborn baby son. Now, she wants all parents to be aware of the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome, what it is, and how to prevent it.
Angie Setlak is mummy to little Xavier. He is now six months old, but was born prematurely in May 2018.
She explains that she had a difficult pregnancy. Her partner cheated on her, causing her stress levels — and blood pressure — to soar. As a result, Xavier was “born four weeks early because he wasn’t growing”. He was perfectly healthy though, but still was monitored in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before going home.
It was when he was three months old and on Angie’s first day back at work, that her life turned upside-down.
“I had been fielding text messages from Xavier’s father all day about how difficult he was being, and I told his dad we would find another solution so he didn’t have to watch him during the day,” she said.
“While on maternity leave, Xavier’s father had been alone with him for two hours tops, and everything had been fine. His father worked nights, and the plan was for him to watch Xavier during the day while I worked, and then I would watch him at night when he worked.
“My former partner had raised a 10-year-old after all, so even though I was very nervous about the situation, he kept reassuring me everything would be alright.”
However, at one point, the baby’s dad texted Angie, asking “if he could murder the baby now.”
Angie told her partner that she’d be home soon. But never did she expect her son’s life to actually be in danger.
After the flurry of messages from the baby’s dad, Angie just kept thinking that in a few hours more she’d be home with her little one, and that all would be okay.
Then, at 2.30pm, she got this message: “Xavier stopped breathing. Come home now.”
When she called home, she was told her baby choked on milk, and that he and his dad were on their way to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Angie rushed to the hospital, and when she heard her baby crying, she expected things to be alright, even though “there was a room full of doctors all for my tiny 10-pound baby.”
Eventually, she was allowed to approach her baby and hold his hand. But, “he was suddenly quiet and pale. I knew something was not right.”
The doctors then told her that her little boy’s brain was bleeding.
Consumed by anger while watching Xavier, his father had shaken the baby, damaging the little one’s brain. Little Xavier had to be put in a coma because he was suffering seizures — one of the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome.
“I heard everything from ‘he might be blind’ to ‘he may never be able to learn, walk, talk, move…’” Angie wrote. “But still I knew he would come back to me.”
After over two weeks in hospital, baby Xavier was finally allowed to go home. His father meanwhile, was arrested on the night the incident happened, for first degree child abuse.
Three months on, for Angie now it’s more about the “now what” rather than the “why”.
Xavier still has a long way to go for full recovery. He has weekly appointments with therapists and his brain basically has to be “awakened and re-wired”, says his mum. Also, he faces the risk of developing Cerebral Palsy, but that diagnosis can only be made in another two years.
Angie remains hopeful, despite all these challenges. However, she has this important message for all parents when faced with a baby who won’t stop crying or fussing:
“You go cry somewhere, or scream, or talk to someone. You get your frustrations out, and then come back to your sweet baby and start over again. To this day, Xavier still cries. And fusses.
“And I have moments I have to put him down and walk away. Because that’s what you do as a parent. I hope someone reading our story will take all of it to heart and realize how important it is to not shake a baby. No matter what, you never shake a baby. It’s so easily avoidable. A moment of rage changed my baby forever.”
In a fit of anger or frustration, it is possible for an adult to shake a young baby. However, those hasty few seconds of shaking cause your baby’s fragile brain to slide back and forth within its skull, possibly inflicting irreversible brain trauma. This is known as shaken baby syndrome.
The symptoms of shaken baby syndrome and its consequences can be severe, even resulting in death.
Studies show that shaking babies vigorously can lead to severe retinal hemorrhage, coma, and even death. Terrifyingly, the damage is not always obvious. In mild cases of shaken baby syndrome, babies may seem unhurt, but develop health and learning problems down the road.
According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include:
Shaken baby syndrome symptoms and signs include:
- Extreme fussiness or irritability
- Difficulty staying awake
- Breathing problems
- Poor eating
- Pale or bluish skin
Shaken baby syndrome understandably occurs due to the frustration of caring for the baby. More often than not, it’s because baby won’t stop crying, setting parents’ already frayed nerves on edge.
To protect you and your cherished one from the tragic consequences of a moment of anger, here are some essential tips:
Keep your cool — Parenthood is a stressful journey and your anxiety levels can easily spiral out of control. Be sure to know how you can calm yourself down quickly.
Share the workload — Arrange to take turns looking after the baby with your partner, parents, and other caregivers! Draw on your support system to avoid burning out.
Make sleep a priority — Your impulse control gets worse when you’re sleep-deprived. Schedule the overnight care with your spouse such that both of you get enough shut-eye.
Support systems — Join an online parenting support group and reach out to your friends who are experienced mums. Not only will you pick up strategies on caring for a newborn, you’ll take comfort from hearing about other parents’ struggles and realising you’re not alone!
Have realistic expectations — Due to the media’s romanticized portrayals of parenthood, we may have rosy expectations of baby behaviour. Our tots can’t always be perfect, cooing bundles, and we aren’t going to ‘naturally’ know how to calm them every time they fuss. Adjusting your expectations will help reduce your frustration at the messy reality of parenthood.
Also read: Why you should never shake your baby