Pathology is No Place for Politics

March 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Posted in Grief, venting | 6 Comments
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I read an article recently about a young mother losing a child that presented a whole new take on a sad situation.

The death of any child is heart breaking, and a horrible situation no parent should have to suffer. In this case, a poor 16-year-old in Mississippi lost her baby at 36 weeks to what was most likely the frighteningly all too common situation of where the umbilical cord gets tangled around the baby and causes death. The teenager had to deliver her stillborn child and figure out how to deal with such a sad and horrid situation that would leave any mom filled with guilt (even though there was nothing she could have done to prevent it). It must have been even harder to be only 16 and having to deal with one of life’s greatest tragedies.

But then, for this girl, things got exponentially worse. Apparently in Mississippi at the time there was a pathologist who has quite a reputation – for being politically motivated and having an agenda. When he found evidence that the girl in question had used drugs during her pregnancy, the pathologist concluded that the drugs had led to the baby’s death. And he, along with local law enforcement (which also has an agenda to reduce women’s reproductive rights) decided to charge this 16-year-old girl with murdering her child. They alleged that her use of drugs was a “depraved heart” killing of her child.

They did all this despite the fact that no medical facts support that conclusion. They ignored the science that points to the cord as the cause of death and ignored the medical facts that show that while drug use is certainly a terrible idea for a pregnant woman, it does not cause death of the child (and not in this case).

For six years now this now 24-year-old from an impoverished background with drug issues has not only had to deal with the death of her child, she has had to deal with being accused of killing her child, of having a “depraved heart,” and with the very real fear of being tried and found guilty of murder by a Mississippi jury.

I just cannot imagine.

When Sawyer died, since his heart stopped at home, investigators questioned us in the ER.  Then they followed Evan and I home from the hospital to view the scene and talk more about what happened. They quickly concluded that what ever exactly happened to Sawyer, it was biological, not something that anyone did to him and not something that could have been prevented by some action we could have taken (or not taken) at home.

We knew that, logically, but it was also helpful to hear that from those who looked into it. Further, the pediatric pathologist who examined Sawyer to try to determine the cause of death also ruled out any external causes, and ultimately focused on his heart stopping, likely due to a genetic, undiagnosed arrhythmia. (It’s still a working theory, but it’s the best any doctor can say at this point.)  The pathologist was compassionate and helpful in trying to get us not to blame ourselves for Sawyer’s death. She explained things so we could understand them, and she spent extra time meeting with us, emailing with us, and even went above and beyond to help us get Sawyer’s DNA in a study at the Mayo Clinic looking for certain arrhythmias that she and some other scientists believe may account for many of the SIDS and SUIDS deaths that still occur far too often. She also happens to be quoted in the article — taking a sane, rational, scientific-supported view of the case, unlike the Mississippi pathologist out to “get” this girl.

I cannot fathom how this girl must feel having had not help and comfort from investigators and a pathologist, but blame, condemnation and being charged with “depraved heart murder.” It must be like a second sledgehammer to her own heart. First, her baby dies. That is heart-crushing on its own. Then, she is accused of killing her child and must fight for her own freedom and future. That guilt and feat must be not just heart-crushing but soul-smashing. For a sixteen-year-old girl from poverty probably few of us can truly comprehend.

I am not excusing her drug use. As a mom, protecting our children is of the utmost importance. I’d never do something that might harm my children. She made that mistake. But I cannot judge her for that, because I do not know her or her true circumstances, or why she did that.

What I do know is that science says she did not kill her child. What I also CAN understand is the depths of despair and guilt a mom faces when her child dies. No woman should go thru that. No girl should face that, let along without care and support of those around her. To blame her for her child’s death here, to prosecute her for murder, to claim to the world she has a “depraved heart,” must be causing her unimaginable pain.

I can barely make it though losing Jake and Sawyer even with being told by everyone that I did everything right, but that some things cannot be fixed or prevented. Without that love, caring and support, and in the face of accusations of killing my own child (no matter how wrong-headed, illogical, unsupported by science and politically driven they might clearly be) I don’t know how I would be able to go on.

 

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6 Comments »

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  1. Wow. That is simply evil. Even in our supposedly civilized part of the world, there is so much prejudice and malice. My heart goes out to that girl. You are absolutely right. How does a person survive all this? Thank you for posting this.

  2. That poor girl. I can’t imagine anyone having to go through this.

  3. Wow–what a story–it’s impossible not to feel for the young woman many times over.

  4. Thank you for writing this

  5. Your post touched me so deeply, I had to follow up on it. The case against Rennie was dismissed. She should never have had to endure the treatment and condemnation she was dealt. Thank you for your compassion for her.

    Also, we lost a great-niece to SUIDS a few years ago, on her first day at part-time day care. She was 3 months old. The day care was thoroughly investigated, and found to be not at fault. Her mother still suffers greatly, so I will recommend your blog to her. Thank you for speaking out. I have had a miscarriage, so I never got to meet my baby, and attach to him or her. Your experience has to be so much worse. I can’t imagine the pain you have been through. Godspeed in your endeavors to help others through this insurmountable pain. Thank you.

  6. […] the spring I wrote a post about a Mississippi woman who was accused of murdering  her stillborn baby.  Rennie Gibbs was 16 […]


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