Almost exactly two years ago, a girl named Hava dropped her baby boy Joey off at daycare, and then the unthinkable happened. Since then, sadly but true, Hava became an expert of sorts about SIDS and daycare safety. From then on, her life will never be the same, but she decided to share her story and her advice, hoping that it will save another mother from suffering the same heartbreak. Here is her story:
The day for Hava and Avi Freidenreich started like any other day: Avi went on work and Hava dropped their children off at daycare at the Above and Beyond Daycare Center in Highland Park, New Jersey. Their oldest daughter has been there since infancy and their son Joey who was only 9 weeks older, had just stared few days prior.
As every other mother that leaves her babies in those first weeks, Hava felt nervous. That’s why she drove around the block to watch them playing outside, in order to calm her nerves before going to work as a high school biology teacher. Hava was not really happy leaving her baby at just two months old, but she thought that it would be highly disruptive for her students to start off the school year with a substitute, so she decided to return to work earlier than she might have otherwise preferred.
A few hours of her work day, she looked up and saw her mother – in – law standing in her classroom doorway. In that moment, Hava’s life changed forever. Her mother – in – law told her that her son Joey has been rushed to the hospital having some breathing difficulties. On her way to the hospital, she called her husband and informed him what was happening. She played that it was a minor incident, but after she entered in the hospital and a police officer greeted her, she said that she knew.
The following weeks, the death of their son was a blur for Hava and Avi. Hava said: “Joey had been a horrible sleeper, up every hour all night long for days on end, but that sleep deprivation was nothing in comparison to how we felt after he died. During the day we were surrounded by family and friends. Avi and I would cry until we collapsed of exhaustion, sleep for a couple hours only to wake up, realize what happened, and repeat the cycle.”
The death of Joey was initially reported as a tragic sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) case. But after the weeks and months following their loss, the family learned the disturbing circumstances of their son’s death at a licensed and well-respected daycare center. According to some news reports, the daycare workers have admitted that they have been putting the baby Joey face down in his crib while swaddled. He was also left alone for two hours, even though that Hava says her son has never napped for so long before.
These circumstances were recorded on video, but from the video evidence or the testimony of the daycare worker in charge of the infant, it was not clear if the baby was even been placed with his head turned to the side. So these contributing factors were the reason why the medical examiner ultimately declined to classify the death as a SIDS case.
Not long after the death of her son, Hava became pregnant again and gave birth to a healthy baby boy last October.
Hava says: “We have been blessed with another son, but he is his own unique person — not a replacement for his brother. He’s brought so much joy into our lives, but his older brother is still missing.”
This time, Hava decided to take off the entire school year in order to be with her new baby at home.
Both, Hava and Avi were looking for daycare options for their new son recently and they have also asked some friends for advice, for choosing the safe daycare provider for their own son. Hava, as well as all of her friends and her family, now understand that this decision can mean the difference between life and death.
She says: “We will continue to wonder about the boy Joey would have grown into if he had been properly cared for at his daycare.”
According to the National Institute of Health, most SIDS deaths happen when babies are between 1 and 4 months of age. This is another reason why the daycare can be one of the most dangerous places for babies between 1 and 4 months, especially in the first weeks of their life.
Hava also says: “It’s crazy that so many people start work the same time that their babies are most vulnerable.”
It is sure that going back to work is a reality for a lot of families, and there are also plenty of safe and loving options out there, when it comes to childcare. So, here is what other parents can learn from this family, when choosing a daycare for their own children:
– Don’t assume anything
Hava recalled that she had read about SIDS in every pregnancy magazine and book, but she never thought that this could happen to her. Joey was delivered on time with natural delivery exclusively breastfed, and lived in a non-smoking home. He had none of the known risk factors for the disease, except one major: at his home he has been placed to sleep on his back, but in the daycare he was placed on the stomach.
Even if the parents do everything right at their home, as Hava did, babies can be at bigger risk in the daycare, as their caregivers are not careful. According to First Candle, a nonprofit dedicated to SIDS awareness, babies who usually sleep on their back are at a significantly increased risk of SIDS when placed to sleep on their stomach by a well-intentioned but ill-informed relative or caregiver.
When some parents come to Hava to aks her for some advice, she’s biggest piece is: “Don’t assume daycare workers, even those in licensed centers, know about safe sleep recommendations.”
She also said: “The people watching your kids … may not be as well-informed about SIDS risks as parents. Joey’s daycare worker insists she had no idea this could happen … There were three other people in the room and nobody noticed.”
– Visit during nap – time
According to the prosecutor who investigated the case and who watched video footage of the infant room, the circumstances which regarded Joey’s death were not an isolated incident, as the daycare center had a pattern of unsafe behavior. On the video he saw a worker from the daycare center placing a blanket over the baby’s head during nap – time, in order to block out the light, as well as some other cases of babies being placed on their stomach.
Hava said: “Joey was just the unlucky one.”
It is important to talk with the childcare workers about what you expect when they take care of your children. Besides this, Hava also recommends to visit the baby during the nap – time. You should also become familiar with your state’s regulations and ascertain if other regulations are being followed. When the daycare center asks for blankets or let babies sleep in swings, despite state regulations banning them, Hava cautions that they have to be careful about some other safety regulations when the parents are not there to look.
– Look for cameras
Another Hava’s recommendation is to only choose daycare centers which have cameras, because they are ideal, as the parents can check in on during the whole day. It is the human nature that employees behave more carefully when they think they may be being watched, she points out.
Even if your babies have previously been to daycare center, a few simple conversations, as well as careful observations about the layout of the daycare center, and the behavior of its employers are easy and valuable steps, in order to ensure the safety of all the babies included in the program.
Now, there is nothing that can take away the heartache which Hava, Avi, their daughter and their whole family experienced on the day of Joey’s death. Even though that they had another baby boy the year following Joey’s death, every parent knows that there is no replacing a child, or that it is impossible to undo the unfathomable pain of his senseless loss.Hava generously shared with us the story of the baby boy Joey hoping that no other family will experience the same pain, as her family did.