This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 17, 1997.
Doing research has been one of the more enjoyable aspects of being a writer. In fact, there is something vaguely annoying about having to stop researching and facing the blank page to write. This is especially true when the research doesnít bear out preconceived theories of mine. So it was with some joy I discovered, this week, that at least one preconceived theory was at least partially correct, and that new research by others has borne it out.My theory for this particular project involved Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, known as SIDS. I had been reading about infanticide through history, both as a form of birth control and as a generally accepted vehicle for adult - generally male - rage or annoyance. When I was in school, we learned that in ancient Greece - by which was meant mean, militaristic old Sparta - at birth the city elders viewed the infant for any problems, and if there were, the child was exposed to die on the hillside. The supposition, of course, is that they left only those with actual birth defects to die, but my contention, based on what we know through history, is that they left any surplus female children to die as well. In Japan to this day, there are areas where females are killed on birth if there are insufficient male children to satisfy father, the theory being that men can hunt whereas women are an expense unless they marry real well. There are other places where children are exposed for various reasons even yet.
I have very cynical views about the self-worship by American parents, especially mothers, who get huffy when it is suggested that being a parent is not a mark of supreme sacrifice but of supreme vanity. My questions were: does accepted infanticide exist yet in even the most civilized sections of the world, probably masked as something else? Forgetting actual abortion, of course. I suspected it did here in the US, and the chosen target was the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. What I could find, however, indicated that SIDS was an actual sort of birth defect that could even run in families. There was a mother who had five children die of SIDS. I didnít and donít believe it, and it was with great relief that now science is suspicious as well.
In England, a researching physician set up video cameras in hospital rooms. In thirty-nine cases of infants having been brought in with breathing trouble, the mothers were caught on tape trying to smother the child when left alone with it. Sometimes, the name for this is Munchausen by Proxy: the bid for attention by the death of another. In the United States as well, hospitals are re-assessing the whole concept of SIDS, and are installing cameras in infant care centers. Court cases are being re-examined more critically in instances of child death formerly swept under the SIDS banner. In many instances, it turns out, the infant had trouble breathing only when the mother had access to it. It is not always the mother, of course.
SIDS deaths have declined sharply in the last few years, and there are reasons given by the numerous support groups for the parents of SIDS victims and those medical establishments set up to handle them - and profit from them. It was once believed that apnea, a condition of thwarted breathing for 15 seconds or more, caused SIDS or was caused by SIDS and a brisk business selling electronic monitors and such was established for the concerned parents to purchase. There is no evidence that the monitors have saved many children, perhaps not a single child. When one doctor suggested that parents not allow the babies to sleep on their tummies but on their sides or backs so that their tiny noses and mouths cannot by blocked, the sharp decline in death started. Such blatant cause and effect was annoying to several organizations, and to this day several SIDS organizations suspiciously do not mention this simple step in their brochures. In the case of those who hoped to profit by selling an electronic monitor, at least the concept of greed is known and accepted.
But what about in all those 'parent as victim, too' organizations? Anything that suggests the parent is in any way guilty, by design or even by accident, is thrown out and ignored. America has always claimed, loudly and annoyingly, that as a nation we love children. Actually, we love parents, who are confused, scared, sedentary, and looking to buy things to make their lives easier and better. It is one of our great hypocrisies.