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National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Never Shake a Baby

©2009 House of Sims April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. A sign hangs in front of our courthouse. I've seen a few blurbs on the Columbus news. But I haven't seen a real big push to talk about child abuse in the state of Ohio. That worries me. Here's why: Ohio's rate of child abuse and neglect ranks 11th in the country. Not 11th best. 11th worst.

That's a sobering statistic.

A few years ago, my husband attended a continuing education seminar for Paramedics. The topic discussed that day was Shaken Baby Syndrome and the ways to spot it when responding to a call. At this seminar, he received a key chain that reads, "Never Never Never NEVER Shake a Baby." Four nevers. We have left it on our key ring for all of these years. Not because I think either of us are inherently violent people or that our children are at risk in our care. We've kept it on there because it's a reminder that any one of us is capable of crossing a line. We got that key chain before we ever had children. I had no idea how hard parenting was at the time but I figured it was a good message to keep in mind.

Children’s Hospital in Columbus had 137 inpatient admissions associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) from 1998-2003. Sadly, cases are still occurring in our state. Just last month, a woman running an illegal child care center out of her home was arrested for assaulting a child in her care. The six-month old had bleeding to the brain and retinal hemorrhaging, both signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Currently, six month old Jada Ruiz is in Akron Children's Hospital while courts and parents argue over whether or not to keep her on life support. Her 17 year old biological father is charged with shaking her. 

Shaken Baby Syndrome occurs when an adult, usually a caregiver of the child, shakes an infant or toddler vigorously, causing the brain to slam into the skull wall and bleeding to occur. Most cases occur between the ages of three and eight months old with cases being seen as old as four years of age. What's troubling, of course, is that all cases of SBS are completely avoidable. The stresses of new parenthood can be overwhelming, especially when combined with a fussy child experiencing a growth spurt or dealing with colic. However, when if you begin to feel overwhelmed or anxious, simply placing the baby in a safe place, like a crib, and walking away, maybe to splash some cold water on your face in the bathroom or to take a breather on the porch, can help remove you from the immediacy of the moment. If you really need a breather, call someone you trust to come watch your child and get out of the house, take a nap or a long, hot, uninterrupted shower. If your frazzled state is an on-going battle, issues like postpartum depression might be coming into play and intervention from a therapist or doctor might be beneficial for all involved.

I'm sure that no one expects they'll shake their baby. The truth is that no one is honest about how debilitating the first few months of new parenthood can be. I suffered from postpartum depression after my youngest son was born. I eventually called my parents and asked them to take my older son for a few days. I wasn't sleeping, couldn't stop crying and had reached my breaking point. They had offered even before we came home from the hospital but, being Brave and Independent, I wanted to prove I could do it. It sucked admitting that I needed help but I can honestly tell you that it saved my sanity. I wonder if too many of these cases of SBS were a combination of a lack of education, pride and/or lack of access to a support system. If my parents hadn't been able to step in and entertain my two year old, would we have survived that time? I dare not play that What If game.

I share all of these things with you because even mommybloggers and their readers are not immune from child abuse issues. More over, we do not live in bubbles, as much as we'd prefer to place our precious children in from time to time, to keep them from harm. If you see or suspect child abuse and neglect, please contact someone. If it is an emergency situation (you are viewing someone actively harming a child), dial 911. If it is a non-emergency situation, call your local public children services agency to make a report about the abuse. If you have a friend with a newborn or a young child who seems to be struggling, offer to watch her kid(s) for an afternoon and, more over, offer listen to her if she needs an ear. Sometimes all we need is to know that someone understands.

You could save a life. 

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Jenna Hatfield, aka @FireMom, is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer. She blogs at Stop, Drop & Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a Contributing Editor at AdoptionBlogs.com and Mom Central Technology.