Mom's confession: 'How I forgot my toddler in the car'

On the day before a 7-week-old baby died in Mary Ester, Fla., and the same day a 3-year-old girl died in Mooresville, N.C., Britta Eberle of Northfield, Vt., left her 2-year-old daughter in the back seat of her car.

The 33-year-old mother of two, who writes the blog This is Motherhood, was attending a get-together with her family Saturday, and as she made sure she got everything inside she forgot one thing.

“Thankfully, it was a rainy and cold day,” she said Thursday. The high in the town of 6,000 people about 10 miles southwest of the state capital of Montpelier was 73 degrees.

The high Sunday in Mary Ester was 89 degrees with a passing shower. In Mooresville, it also was rainy with a high of 85.

"We were going to a friend’s farm," Eberle said. "We were carrying things in and going in different directions, and we just forgot her. She was sitting quietly and everyone thought the other person had her."

"About 20 minutes later, I said to myself, ‘Where is Ada?’ My sister said she was in the car and had just brought her inside. I picked her up and got so upset. She told my sister, ‘Don’t worry, Mommy is coming to get me.’ That broke my heart."

After much hesitation, Eberle decided to share the incident on her blog. Writing helped her pull out of a depression after two miscarriages.

She decided it would be therapeutic to write about her mistake, but she has yet to forgive herself.

"It makes me teary when I think about it," Eberle said. "She (Ada) immediately forgave and forgot. But it was something that hasn’t been easy to share.”

So far this year, 18 children ranging in age from 7 weeks to 6 years old have died of heat stroke because they were left behind in vehicles that began to broil in the sun. The first death of 2017 occurred in February in Pinecrest, Fla., when the day's high was 82 degrees, according to Jan Null, a lecturer in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University in California who keeps track of hot-car deaths.

But a 1-year-old boy perished April 7 in Vestavia, Ala., when the temperature was just 68 degrees, according to his database.

A car, even with its windows open slightly, acts like a greenhouse in the sun, according to the nonprofit child-safety group KidsAndCars.org.

Studies in temperatures of 72 degrees and higher have shown that the heat inside an enclosed vehicle increased by about 20 degrees in the first 10 minutes, 30 degrees in 20 minutes. Even at 72 degrees, perfect when you're outside, the internal temperature of a vehicle reached 117 degrees after about 30 minutes.

“I was writing to process my emotions,” Eberle said. “After that day last week, I was just processing and writing. It was embarrassing to share because I’m usually that super cautious mom, and I don’t take safety lightly.

“But I need to share this,” she said. “People like me who get overconfident (need) to be careful. They don’t think it can’t happen to them."

More than 700 children left in vehicles have died of heat stroke since 1998, an average of 37 a year. Contrary to expectations, the top months for deaths on average are November and December with September and October close behind.

More than half occurred because a caregiver forgot to retrieve the child from the back seat. All were preventable but often happen when a parent is in a hurry and the child is quiet or asleep in a safety seat in the back of the vehicle.

"Even last night, I was up at 4 a.m., and I was thinking about this," Eberle said. "Other parents have shared similar experiences since.”

Some critics have bashed her for making a mistake.

“But nasty commenters aren’t getting the reason I posted this,” she said. “It can happen, … and I want people to know they’re not alone.”

Follow Shari Puterman on Twitter: @shariputerman

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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