In February 2015, Meagen Gries welcomed her “beautiful, smiley, vivacious” daughter Molly into the world. Ten weeks later, however, Molly was gone and Meagen was left utterly heartbroken.
Her baby had tragically suffocated to death after being swaddled and placed on her side in a pack-n-play that had blankets in the bottom.
Now, in an emotional open letter shared with Yahoo7 Be, Meagen is urging other parents (and grandparents) to be aware of the popular baby product’s dangers.
“Dear mums and dads of babies,” she begins. “How are you? That’s a silly question. I know how you are. You’re deliriously in love with that sweet baby of yours but also delirious with exhaustion. These first few months are hard. Really hard. But I don’t need to tell you that. You’ve probably found yourself entering into what I refer to as ‘survival mode’. You know it – the place you find yourself when you’re so tired you don’t know up from down and you will do anything to get some sleep and feel like yourself again. Right? I get it because I’ve been there," she wrote.
“But can I tell you a secret? Your baby will sleep. It’s true. I didn’t believe it either. But it happens. Slowly at first, and then all of a sudden they're sleeping and you look back and think, 'Man, that was hard. But we did it.'
“How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it. Three times to be exact. With my first two I used every trick in the book. Everything you’re ‘not supposed to do’ because I was in that survival mode. And I needed sleep and I convinced myself those ‘no-no’s’ were the only way I was going to get it. So, they slept next to me in my bed. There were blankets in their cribs. They slept in things they weren’t supposed to – car seats, swings, bouncers. It didn’t matter to me, so long as they were sleeping!" Meagen shared.
“But then… my ten-week-old daughter died. Not with me, but at her daycare. That part doesn’t matter because the way she died – swaddled, in a crib with blankets under her – could’ve easily happened with me or my husband," she heartbreakingly revealed.
“Her name is Molly, and she should still be here. I dropped her off for her first day of daycare after my ten-week maternity leave and returned to my classroom of first grade students who were so excited to have their teacher back. Everything went great until lunchtime when I sat down to inhale my turkey sandwich and pump my breastmilk," Meagen said.
“That’s when I got the call. ‘She’s not breathing. They took her to the hospital.’ After thrusting the pumped milk at a co-worker and screaming inaudible directions at my boss, I sprinted out the door. One excruciatingly long drive later, I arrived at the hospital to be met by a social worker. She escorted me to a small, white room where an ugly lamp, a scratchy wool couch and a box of tissues were waiting for me," the mum wrote.
“‘So... how old is Owen?’ She asked with fake interest. I ignored her. I was too busy trying to convince myself that this wasn’t happening. It didn’t work. It was happening. Then a teary physician walked in and rushed through saying, ‘She came in with no pulse. We tried to restart her heart and were not successful. We’re very sorry.’”
Meagen added, “And as I slid off the chair onto the floor, my world ended.”
She continued, “The rest became a blur. Calling my husband who was out of town and telling him his little girl was gone. Walking into a small, dimly lit room where my cold, lifeless daughter was handed to me. Rocking her and sobbing into her fine hair. Telling her older brother his sister wasn’t coming home. Picking out a casket for her. Deciding what clothes she would be buried in. Sitting numbly through her funeral where everyone told me how very sorry they were and that they’re praying for us. And saying goodbye as they lowered her into the ground.”
Meagen shared, “It’s the worst thing you can go through. It’s been two years and I still cannot believe this is real life. I wake up many mornings and think it was a bad dream. A really bad dream. But it wasn’t, and Molly should be here.”
But good news was to come. “A year after losing Molly, we welcomed her little sister Emma. Molly passed away May 4th, 2016. Emma was due May 4th, 2017, and she was born on the 5th. When she came, my husband and I decided that no matter what, she would sleep safely. We’d follow all the rules this time. And let me tell you, it was tough. There were some long nights. Not a lot, but a few. But we made it through. And now Emma is a year-and-a-half-old and she’s never known those comforts that we convinced ourselves Owen and Molly needed. She’s only ever slept alone, on her back and in her crib and get this ... she sleeps! Like a champ!”
The letter continues, “No one will tell you that safe sleep is always easy. If they do, they’re lying. But I can tell you without a doubt, it’s worth it. Ignore those mums and dads and grandparents and well-meaning old ladies in the grocery store who tell you they had to put their baby down on her belly or in a swing because it was ‘the only way they’d sleep!’ Your biggest priority is protecting your little one –making sure they're eating and gaining weight and that they’re healthy. This is just part of that.”
The mum added, “Look past all the tips and tricks and products you know are risky and stay strong – something you'll do a lot of as a mum and a dad. Because babies do sleep."
“You’ve got this,” Meagen signs off.
The Molly Ann Gries Foundation has been set up in Molly’s honour to help raise awareness about safe sleeping. To learn more, click here.