SIDS: A Personal Story


Dedicated to Nathan Carroll 10/24/91 - 3/6/92

I will always remember my pregnancy with my eldest child. My sister and I were pregnant and due around the same time. We had a lot of fun dreaming about what our children would be like and how they would play together. She was going to have a girl (according to five ultrasounds) and I was to have a boy (my own deductive reasoning). It was great to have someone to share my joys and aches of pregnancy with and be so close together.

My sister had several bouts of preterm labor, and finally it was time for him to be born. We were at the hospital waiting for the baby to be born, five weeks early. A nurse wheels a baby from the surgery suite. I ask if it's my sister's baby, and she says yes. I looked into the incubator and said, "Baby Rose, I love you!" The nurse laughed, "He's not going to like that name!" And so Nathan was born...

In my few remaining child free days, I spent some time watching Nathan. I can remember thinking that if this baby was six pounds, there was no way I could have a baby inside me that was bigger than about four pounds! Nathan was sweet, but had a very serious look about him. He would stare intently at something for hours. I really enjoyed my time with Nathan, he taught me a lot about newborn babes.

My daughter, Hilary, was born five weeks after Nathan. Though Nathan still spent considerable time at our house.

Everyone thought that they were twins when we went out. It was great. I really enjoyed our time with Nathan. I have the cutest picture of the two of them curled up on a blanket sleeping with their double diapered bottoms in the air. We laughed and called it Hilary and Nathan's Rockin' New Year's Eve.

They were both delights.

One day in early March I was near my sister's house and I had a strong urge to drop by and visit them. It had been over a week since I had seen Nathan, and I missed him. I never went.

The next day I was thinking about a naming ceremony for Nathan and Hilary, maybe combining it. I had a lot of plans in my head for the party and ceremony. This is what I was thinking about as I went into work, my last day. I had brought Hilary with me. The secretary told me that my husband had called. I said I would call him later. She suggested that I call now. I picked up the phone in the front office. She took Hilary and suggested that I go to another phone in the back. She was acting strange, but I didn't really think much of it. So, off I went to call him.

I made the phone call, expecting it to be my husband griping about his cold. He was crying. I asked what was wrong and he said, "Nathan's dead!" "What!" My mind was going a thousand miles a minute. Surely this must be a joke. I got off the phone to call my sister.

It was true, and they weren't sure what it was. Nathan had gotten them up around 3:00 A.M. and wanted a bottle, by the time they fixed it he had settled down and they left him to sleep figuring he would be up within the hour to eat.

My sister got up for her early morning walk before her husband left for work, and crept out so she wouldn't wake anyone.

She came home and went into the bathroom. She says that she heard her husband scream, "Oh God!" She said she instantly knew what had happened. Her husband blocked the door trying to protect her from seeing Nathan and called 911. The paramedics and coroner had told them that it was probably Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The funeral and everything happened so very quickly. He was found at 8:00 A.M. on a Friday morning. They did the autopsy that day and had the first visitation at 7:00 P.M. that night, he was buried the next day.

It was all so strange, leaving a baby in the funeral home that night, he needed a blanket to keep him warm, someone to watch him, you just didn't leave a baby alone.

Nathan's death affected many people. I can only imagine what pain my sister and her husband felt, because my life seemed shattered and I was only his aunt. Even the EMT who was there that day was in tears, my sister remembers his very clearly.

Every year my daughter gets a year older and my sister and I reflect how much fun it would be to have Nathan around, how the two of them would have grown up like twins. We both feel pain and a large sense of loss over Nathan and the life he would have lived. However, Nathan's death gave my sister a new lease on life. She had always been depressed and feeling useless. She told me that Nathan's death made her realize how precious life was and that she had to live life and not worry about everything.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome kills approximately 2,200 babies in the United States a year. In April of 1992, one month after Nathan died, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out its recommendation for sleeping position for infants. We still do not know for sure what causes SIDS, or how to prevent it, but we do know risk factors, and some of them can be changed to decrease your baby's risk of dying from SIDS. For example, not smoking during pregnancy or smoking around the baby after birth, breastfeeding, avoiding drug usage in pregnancy, and the sleeping positioning of the baby (on their back). For more on SIDS and safe sleeping, please see the work from the Notre Dame Mother/Baby Sleep Lab and Dr. James McKenna or Safe Sleep for You and Your Baby by Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett.


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Hauck FR, Thompson JM, Tanabe KO, Moon RY, Vennemann MM. Breastfeeding and reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2011 Jul;128(1):103-10. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3000. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

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