When something happens to a child mother blaming is never far behind

I went on Radio 4 PM yesterday to talk about the banning of pushchairs from a rather poncy sounding coffee shop in Berlin, where you’re not allowed to put sugar or milk in your coffee or bring in your laptop! Frankly, what’s the point?  But as I sat in the studio and glanced at the screens of rolling news, one news story dominated – that of missing April Jones.  There was a shot of a stretch of road where the suspect had been picked up and Eddie Mair kept asking, is there a breakthrough yet?  Quite rightly he was expecting something was about to happen.

When a small child goes missing, the shock and fear quickly turns to blame.  Apparently April was playing outside her house.  The subtext is always there – where was mother?  Or mother turned her back for an instant.  We need to blame because that way such a terrible thing will never happen to us. Remember the tsunami of blame that was heaped on Kate McCann?  She didn’t cry enough, she appeared in public looking ‘nice’ instead of wearing sackcloth and ashes, and worst of all she was (shockingly) enjoying herself when her daughter went missing.

Last night I was thinking of the times I turned my back and something might have happened and only luck prevented it.

When my son was about six months old I sat him in the bath and watched him for a minute as he splashed among his toys.  The phone rang and I went downstairs.  I could hear him splashing but as I reached the kitchen the sound changed.  It became frantic.   I raced up the stairs three at a time to find him underwater, his eyes open and staring, thrashing desperately.  Yanking him out I clutched his soaking hot little body to me and cried as he yelled his relief.  I could see the headlines: Baby Drowns while Mum Gossips.

The next time was when my daughter was two ish and just walking.  We had moved house and were still living among boxes.  Exhausted, I woke up from a brief nap on the sofa and called upstairs.  Where was she?  Nobody had seen her.  Then I noticed the front door was open.  That’s how it is with babies.  One day they absolutely can’t do something and the next day they can.  I ran out into the street – there was no sign of her.  The previous day her granny had visited and she had gone for a little walk with her.  I headed off in the same direction, heart pounding, nausea trickling.  There was a main road straight ahead. Turning the corner I saw a police car and daughter in the arms of a policewoman who was gently asking her what her name was.  I ran towards her weeping with relief.  The policewoman told me that a shopkeeper had seen my baby heading for the road and had dialled 999.  ‘She’s come prepared’ said the policewoman, pointing to the nappy that baby was clutching in her little fist.  ‘And you should get that foot looked at.’  My feet were pouring blood.  I had run through broken glass and my feet were bare.  I hadn’t even felt it.

Baby Hit By Car While Lazy Mum Snoozes

I turned my back and it could have ended in disaster.  I don’t think about it much because there’s no point ruminating on what didn’t happen.  But whenever something really terrible happens to other people it reminds me how easy it is to blame and point fingers.

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