The Mom Guilt Club: Monkeys, Beds, and Recovering from Your Own Bad Parenting


ER Collage

My baby fell off the bed and bumped her head.  And it wasn’t the first time.

There’s this theory you learn about in law school called Res Ipsa loquitor.  A Latin phrase, it translates to “the thing speaks for itself,”which, when applied to liability, means that a particular consequence would not have occurred without negligence.  For example, you’re walking down a street lined with high rises, and a piece of window cleaning equipment falls from above, almost killing you.  Said equipment would only have fallen as the result of  negligence. Someone did not properly secure the equipment and by not doing so that person/people/company was the cause of your injury.  Regardless, of how or why it fell, however, the falling equipment speaks for itself.  Shit falling from the sky rarely happens for no reason.

Another example of res ipsa loquitor: babies falling off beds and bumping their heads.

If you know babies, like I now know babies (or baby in my case, as I’m still only intimately acquainted with one baby, my own), then you can go ahead and conclude that I am a horrible mother destined for mommy hell. And that it pretty much speaks for itself that the scales in the contest of decent/responsible mom awards would not be tipping in my favor after what transpired this weekend. Especially because this is the second time that our little monkey has seriously bonked her noggin and the second time a bed was involved.

The first happened about two months ago, and I was too ashamed to tell anyone (beyond my close inner circle and pediatrician).  It involved an early morning workday wherein one side of the bed was left unattended by a husband rushing off to a meeting.  He thought I was awake, I thought I was awake, but I wasn’t.  The thud of a little body blasted me out of bed so quickly you’d think a bomb had gone off.  Which is basically what it felt like.  To me, and her, I’m sure.  Thinking back on her confused, purple faced screams, makes me horribly sad.  It’s a big, bad, hard floored world and I wasn’t there to catch her, because I was sleeping. 

Back then, I could sort-of-kind-of blame the old husband for leaving his side of the bed unattended after a particularly gruesome night of growth spurt nursing.  But this time, the only scapegoats I have are too much coffee, jet lag, and stress from a morning of separation anxiety crying. Nothing, I mean absolutely NOTHING, tears at my insides and scrambles my brain like hearing my baby cry.  Even if I know she’s in safe hands.  That instinct is still alive and well 9-months later.

SO after a morning of attempting to get a haircut (6 months overdue) while my darling Daphne was whisked away by Minnesota/Wisconsin grandparents she rarely sees, my nerves were fried. My baby girl’s bawling had echoed around the halls of Mall of America for a good 10-minutes until I fled the stylist’s chair, the black cap flapping behind me like a giant bat wing, half of my hair twisted on my head with skull gnawing orange clips.  My lovely mother-in-law handed her over, far more calm than I, because I just couldn’t make baby girl cry it out between the Loft and Victoria’s Secret.  She needed more time to get comfortable with these new people, and it was my fault for not communicating that.  For the rest of the cut, Daphne sat on my lap, while my mother-in-law kept us company, the little bambino smiling and babbling, as if nothing had happened.

After that, nap time, and lunch time, and changing time, were all overdue.  Me juggling eating, socializing, feeding the baby, running her back to the room for a fresh diaper and some boob before bed.  I had that angsty buzzing feeling that comes from having coffee for breakfast.  For me it always lingers long after lunch, and as I unwrapped a wet diaper atop a hotel bed, I realized I didn’t have a fresh one handy.  I was rushing, and it showed.  With a few fingers wrapped around her foot, and others reaching across the room to a stack of annoyingly expensive Honest Company diapers, I let her go for a second, this time the thing not speaking for itself, but YELLING, as I turned in time to watch my little girl’s head smack carpet, even harder than what we have in our master.

It may sound like I’m being dramatic.  So, she fell a few feet onto a carpeted surface?  It’s not like a car accident, or God-forbid, being beamed in the head by a window washing implement.  But, given my little darling’s size, 17-lbs at her 9-month appointment, falling off the bed is equivalent to you or I falling off a horse.  And head injuries are freaking serious.  This is how brain damage happens.  Even death.  Remember Liam Neeson’s wife?

And so my day was ruined.  Angst creeping in like a teenager’s acne.  Daphne, of course, seemed fine, as I googled all the signs.  Was she eating?  Dazed?  Bruised?  Was she vomiting?  Yes. No. No. and No.

The next day, all seemed well – Daphne now very much thrilled at the sight of the grandparents who terrified her the day before.  I, however, was still trying hard not to pick at my festering pimples of guilt and anxiety, as we visited, shopped, and then slugged around a muddy and melting St. Paul Winter Carnival.

And then my baby vomited.  All over the Starbucks we ducked inside to do that very thing that had gotten me in trouble less than 24-hours earlier.  When will they invent self-cleaning diapers? Somebody please Shark Tank that shit.

We had just emerged from the grossest coffee shop bathroom I have ever visited, likely due to the throngs of ice sculpture looky loos, when an explosion of black beans and brown rice erupted from my tiny volcano.  Save some newborn spit ups, Daphne has never been a puker.  This was strange.

I immediately thought of the fall from the bed.  Vomiting was a thing to look for in the first 24-hours after a bad mom moment like that one.

And we debated this as we settled back in the car.  What should happen next?

Daphne decided for us, when she destroyed my brother-in-law’s back seat with barf.  This just happened to occur right as we were passing the St. John’s Emergency Room.  We would be spending the rest of the evening there at the hospital.  Thank you to my brother-in-law for not calling me out for 1) demanding he stop the car then and there, and 2) desecrating his automobile with undigested Chipotle, and then not cleaning it up.

ER rooms everywhere are the stuff of urban legend.  Gun shot wounds.  Ranting psych patients.  Ebola.  Luckily, the scene we encountered was pretty uneventful, and we were called back about 90 minutes later.  Record time for an ER, I’m sure.  Maybe the baby covered in barf helped speed things along.

In the room, Daphne puked a third time, and the doctor said this made it necessary to perform a CT Scan.  While I was thrilled they were taking us seriously, I was growing more and more disgusted with myself by the agonizingly slow ER minute (3 hours had passed by this point).  With one reach for a diaper, I had set off a very dangerous chain of events at worst, or a very lame/expensive/uncomfortable one at best.  Oh and did I mention that one CAT Scan delivers a year’s worth of radiation?  Awesome.  Three eyed fish face, a la Simpsons, here we come.

Cat Scan MachineThe CAT Scan, as you can imagine, was not fun for a sick/hungry/tired baby.  As she was screaming at me to save her, it was time to mom-up.  There are kids out there with cancer.  Without parents. There are kids suffering because of Abuse/Neglect/Starvation.  At least, here, I could take responsibility.  I could do better next time.  And I could be strong, for her.

Another vomiting mess later, a snickers bar, and an hour of waiting, a remarkably chipper 9-month old bouncing in my arms, we were told we could go home.  No visible brain damage.  No internal bleeds.  My child was sick for the first time, with a virus or food poisoning, but the fall off the bed probably had nothing to do with it.  Relief, but not true absolution for this guilty mom.  The nurse’s eyes practically shouted at me no more monkeys bouncing off the bed! 

As I grow into parenthood, I realize this is all part of it.  The guilt.  The mistakes (but hopefully less dangerous ones!).  The tears.  The late night wiping away of saliva.  Of changing puke soiled pajamas at 1:30 AM.  Of being the only one they want when they hurt.

I made a big mistake.  I let go.  And in that one second I got a taste of what it means to not be careful enough.  To get too comfortable.  To think cutting corners will somehow get that baby fed faster, that diaper on sooner, that nap schedule adhered to.

Because, really, truly, there’s no rush.  Being a good mom, means taking, your sweet, safe time to do it right.  It may sound like I’m fear mongering, but that one time you fail to buckle baby in, because you’re just going up the street, could be the time a heavy hauling truck loses its brakes speeding down the nearest hill.  I’m all too familiar with those freak catastrophes as a part-time legal investigator.

Mom guilt is a crappy result of parenthood, but an unavoidable one.  I’m still shaken up by our weekend in the ER, and by baby D’s first illness.  I know that all accidents can’t be prevented, but when she’s in my hands, I will hold on tight.




Add Yours
    • gardengirl29

      Er, I was typing quickly at work and realized I shouldn’t have said “mistakes” because it’s not really one. It’s something unavoidable that happens to all of us- mistake being defined as when our body cannot catch up with the erratic movements of our little ones. (Like the time I told you about when E plunked down on the back of his head while playing on the dishwasher lid.)

      They all fall and hurt themselves. We can save them most of the time, but not always. I guess it’s part of the way they learn about the world (and physics!) too.


  1. practicemakesme

    My little one is soon to be 6-months. He wants to crawl so very badly. I know that he will find his way to a hard surface and I will try to cushion his fall…for the rest of his life. Loved your post. 🙂


  2. journeyformybaby

    I so understand this. Any time my baby has been hurt or even come close to being hurt because of my mistakes, I have felt so absolutely horrible. Somethings are unavoidable and I still feel guilty. Just today, he was bouncing around on the couch and I was afraid he would fall. As soon as he was “safely” on the floor, he tripped and busted his lip and chipped his front tooth…. I should have left him on the couch! I can’t win…

    Glad that Daphne is fine and that the vomiting is unrelated. I’m glad you had her checked out anyways though for your peace of mind.


  3. Lauren

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had so much stress and guilt. I totally get it. Abby has fallen off twice also, and it is amazing how horrible I feel for allowing my precious girl to incur pain or injury. Big hugs to you Friend. Keep on keeping on. I think that is part of the definition of motherhood right now.


    • Steph Mignon

      Lauren, I miss your blogs! I know you just did an Abby update, but I want more haha. No pressure though. And yes, the name of the game, is just doing our best. Things have gotten much more challenging around these parts.


  4. Daryl

    Oh, the mommy guilt! Having a mobile little one is so stressful. Baby girl has also taken a flying leap off the side of the bed (because I also fell asleep–for a second), and it was the most terrifying, guilt-inducing day of my life! Keeping up with her and keeping her safe is definitely a full time job, but, as my husband reminded me about a gazillion times that day, we just have to try to do better next time. I hope Daphne feels better after her illness, and you feel better after the guilt hangover!


    • Steph Mignon

      I am getting there. Knowing I’m not alone, and that I have friends out there like you who spend most of the day grappling with a little squirm worm, certainly helps. Hope all is well in your world! And hope hubby is grieving as best he can.


  5. theunexpectedtrip

    holy shit. my breathing stopped. not because you did something horrible but because in trying to imagine what that was like to go through, i’m agog. so much anxiety. i can only imagine, and i’m so sorry you went through that. you’re a wonderful mama! as someone who is hard on herself, i extend the advice people are always giving me: don’t beat yourself up. you guys weathered this all fine. big hugs.


  6. tastehitch

    Seriously don’t sweat it. Our boy has gone through a massive phase of knocking into things and face planting the floor. He too rolled off the bed (much to our guilt) but has been fine.

    And as for falling off horses, I’ve done that plenty of times. It hurts, sure, but you learn to ride better.


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