‘I had to accept ... that I had killed him, my own son’

After baby Chloe Fogarty’s death in her dad’s car we are stunned – here are some answers

Nobody should judge the Fogarty family after this dreadful personal loss. File photograph: Getty Images

Nobody should judge the Fogarty family after this dreadful personal loss. File photograph: Getty Images

 

“There are no words.” It was a phrase used repeatedly in the wake of the Manchester bombing targeting children this week.

But that sentiment seemed even more apt when news filtered out of a very personal tragedy closer to home. The circumstances around the death of baby Chloe Fogarty in Co Tipperary, left in a car after her father apparently forgot to drop her at the creche, would chill the heart of any parent.

The death of a baby is tragic but for a parent to know their actions inadvertently led to it must compound the grief imaginably.

Distraction combined with bad luck, it seems. Work on his mind and the hottest day of the year so far.

We might think how could a father possibly forget about his daughter in the back seat? But we know that exactly the same scenario plays out more than occasionally in the US where about 38 babies a year die after being left in cars, by fathers and mothers.

Dr David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, thought it was incomprehensible that parents would do this unknowingly, until he studied the phenomenon in depth. He now believes such forgetfulness results from competition in the brain between our habit memory and our prospective memory, with the habitual winning out. What we plan to do can be over-ruled by what we usually do.

Akin to being on autopilot, something with which most of us can identify. Like driving our car off from home in our usual direction, when we are supposed to be heading somewhere else.

Common factors

In interviewing bereaved parents who had left children in cars with fatal consequences, Diamond observed common factors included some change from the routine and sleep deprivation. He also found some had a “false memory” of dropping off the child, because that is what they had intended to do, before being confronted with the horror of what they had actually done.

On the campaigning kidsandcars.org website, Raelyn Balfour of Virginia writes of the pain “ever present like a cold stiff blanket surrounding me” ever since discovering she had left her first child to die in a car.

She was severely sleep deprived on the morning of March 30th, 2007, and while heading to work received a call about a problem there and totally forgot she hadn’t stopped on the way to drop off her nine-month-old son at his childminder.

“When I opened the door and saw my son Bryce not moving, not breathing, the world as I knew it would never be the same. I had to kiss Bryce goodbye and accept the devastating reality that I had killed him, my own son.”

Nobody with children can forget that fog of early parenthood and that feeling of going through the motions, while not quite with it.

Few parents can honestly say they haven’t had at least moments of distraction from babies and small children, when the consequences could have been so much worse. Children die in baths, in swimming pools, in car crashes and accidental falls because parents are unwittingly distracted and their luck runs out.

Parental empathy is why a stunned silence is the only appropriate response of onlookers to the Fogarty family tragedy. Nobody should judge them. Their family, friends and community will rally around them.

It was notable that the day after the tragedy, babble on an online parenting forum such as Rollercoaster was quiet on the incident. No words indeed.

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