‘Did you hurt my baby?!’ My ex replied, ‘No!’ I looked into my 3-month-old’s eyes. Blank stare.’: Mom ‘heartbroken’ after ex-husband’s abuse causes newborn Shaken Baby Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, blindness

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“My world came crashing down on May 26, 2017. The night before, her father, whom I was separated from, picked her up and took her home with him. I was at work the next morning when my boss came up to me and told me to get to the hospital because my baby was there. I got in the car and realized I had missed about 20 calls from my mom. As I drove to the hospital she called again and when I answered all I can remember hearing was her yelling and crying.

I arrived at the ER by myself very confused. The night before I had asked her father how she was and each time his reply was she was doing well. As I walked toward the ER I heard the worst noise I had ever heard in my life. It was a moaning sound and I remember thinking, ‘there is no way that’s my daughter.’ It was. Doctors and nurses were running in and out asking me a hundred questions that I had no answers to. I looked into my 3-month-old’s eyes and all I saw was a blank stare. The smiling happy baby that I just held the day before was not there anymore. The doctors were able to get her stable enough to be transferred to a Children’s Hospital. I still had no idea was what happening. They told me I couldn’t ride with her and to head to the Children’s hospital.

Baby with shaken baby syndrome lays in hospital with pink hat on
Courtesy of Sierra Hunt

By that time my mom had shown up. She drove us to the other hospital. On our way, I received a phone call. I answered and a nurse from the hospital we had just left said, ‘I need you to come back.’ I was angry and said, ‘why!?’ I was thinking, ‘Oh I must’ve forgotten to sign something.’ The reality didn’t hit me until she replied, ‘I can’t tell you that over the phone.’

She didn’t have to tell me – I knew my daughter was gone. That was the moment that broke me. I began sobbing and screaming ‘she’s dead!’

We arrived at the hospital and were met by two police officers. They took us in a little room, if you’ve ever lost someone you know what room I’m talking about. The nurse bent down and said ‘your daughter coded as soon as they got her onto the ambulance. I wanted you to be able to tell her goodbye. They have been doing CPR for 20 minutes and they are going to stop soon.’

I replied ‘No! I don’t want to see her that way.’ Something told me to go. As I walked into the room all I can remember is seeing white except for her tiny blue hand that was bouncing up and down as they were doing compressions. I wanted to just lie down and die with her.

Mother lays on her back smiling in selfie with her daughter who has shaken baby syndrome
Courtesy of Sierra Hunt

I ran over, dropped to my knees and grabbed her hand and began to pray out loud which I had never done before. It was about 2 minutes later when the doctor said, ‘I have a pulse,’ and I watched as color came back to her hand. They were able to once again get her stable enough to be transferred.

Once I arrived at the hospital, her father joined us. We were questioned by the hospital forensic doctor. We were finally able to go back and see her. I asked the PICU doctor ‘what happened?,’ and he replied, ‘shaken baby syndrome.’

I looked at my then husband and said, ‘did you shake her?’ He replied ‘no!’

I was in complete shock. A few minutes after hearing that and seeing my baby lying there completely lifeless on life support, we were all questioned by DCS investigators. I felt like I was in a nightmare. Like I would wake up the next day and it would all be back to the way it was less than 24 hours before.

I was in denial of what happened to her. I argued with the doctors saying, ‘there is no way she was injured.’ I researched day and night trying to figure out what ‘really happened’ to her since there wasn’t a confession.

My daughter was on life support for two weeks. The doctors told me she would most likely never come off of it, and if she did, it wouldn’t be during her first try. She came off of the vent her first try after being on it for two weeks. They also told me that she would most likely never move or open her eyes. After a few weeks she opened her eyes and began moving her arms and legs some.

Baby girl who was shaken lays in hospital crib sleeping
Howell Photography

She was discharged after 4 weeks and I was given custody of both children. DCS had asked both me and the father to take polygraph tests. I finally began to come out of denial after I was told her father failed his. He has never confessed to anything, but DCS investigators fully believe he shook her. The investigators told me they believed he was not acting right after they had told me, ‘we think you hurt your daughter,’ and I burst into tears and cried, ‘there’s no way, I would never hurt her!’ The investigator said, ‘I am sorry I had to do that to you, that is how we expect someone to act when told that, and your husband isn’t acting how we would expect him to.’

Once she was released from the hospital, I took my two kids to live at my grandmother’s home. I was completely drained emotionally and physically. I was thrown into a completely different life and I was terrified. I had no experience in caring for a special needs child. I had to learn day by day and made many mistakes along the way. I was so angry. I was angry at my then husband, I was angry at God for allowing that to happen to my child, and I felt sorry for myself. There were so many nights I laid awake with my child who would be screaming in pain and choking constantly, and I would eventually cry myself to sleep. I thought to myself, ‘I want my daughter back. This is not my daughter, I just want to see her smile again and hear her coo and hold her without tubes connected and without her storming and contracting her muscles.’ I quit my job to care for her. I didn’t know that a child like her was able to get private duty nursing care until months later. So it was just me and her. She required several different doctor’s appointments and therapies. After months of getting the hang of things, I finally got more used to a ‘new normal.’

Mother holds baby, who was on life support for two weeks, close to her chest
Howell Photography

I began to stop worrying about the things I had no control over and focus on the things that I did and still do have control over. Nothing ever came of my daughter suffering shaken baby syndrome other than the father was ordered to be supervised around the children, and for a while I was angry. I then learned that forgiveness is more for us than it is for the one we need to forgive. Once I decided that no matter if that person was sorry nor not, I’m still going to forgive and move forward, I felt such a weight lifted off of my shoulders. It has now been over a year since my daughter was injured. Although she has been diagnosed with blindness, Cerebral Palsy, Gastroparesis, and the doctors refer to her as severely disabled, she is a complete miracle in my eyes. My daughter’s father visits with her every few months under my supervision. I have grown to be okay with that and not let it get to me. We were married for almost four years, and throughout that time he struggled with addiction and I suffered from the consequences of those addictions. I got married when I found out I was pregnant with our first child in 2014. I quickly learned that is not a good enough reason to get married to someone. I can’t say it was all bad, but please, if you’re in a relationship that doesn’t feel right, get out before something bad happens, because eventually it will.

Baby girl with blindness, Cerebral Palsy, and Gastroparesis lays on back in hospital crib
Courtesy of Sierra Hunt

I still feel down from time to time about her situation. My heart still feels the loss. I hurt when I see a child her age who is doing so much more than her, and when I see two sisters playing together and think about how I used to daydream about that when my daughter was still in my belly. When I feel upset, I lean on my faith and remember that she’s still here and that’s what truly matters. This past May, exactly a year after her initial injury, I took my daughter to the ER because she was acting sickly. They told me they were going to admit her for a few days and then we could go home just to watch her. The next morning, doctors came running in saying she needs to go for a STAT CT scan because she appears to be in organ failure. After the scan, the doctors told me she is passing away and they are taking her back for emergency surgery and to not expect her to come out alive. I told her goodbye once again, and did the same thing I did the first time, dropping to my knees because they buckled and I almost passed out knowing that was the last time I would see her. Once again, she pulled through and survived. We were able to leave the hospital after an 88 day stay and several highs and lows and facing the unknown.

Mother smiles in selfie in hospital room as she sits holding baby with blindness, Cerebral Palsy, and Gastroparesis
Courtesy of Sierra Hunt

This life of being single mom to a shaken baby survivor is tough, but she is a fighter and she wants to live, and I will always be fighting right beside her. One thing I would like for people to get out of my story is, if you are in a relationship with someone who has been abusive towards you mentally or physically, never leave them alone with a child. Especially if there is a possibility they may be under the influence of something. I have my ideas about what happened to my daughter, but the reality is I may never know for sure other than what doctors and investigators tell me.”

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Mother smiles in chair with one daughter hugging her and other daughter with blindness, Cerebral Palsy, and Gastroparesis sits in her lap
Courtesy of Sierra Hunt

This is an exclusive story to Love What Matters, for permission to use, email Exclusive@LoveWhatMatters.com.  This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sierra Hunt, 24, of Knoxville Tennessee. Learn more about baby Christa’s journey to recovery here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more stories like this:

‘When I was a tiny 5-week-old baby my biological dad became angry at me for crying. He shook me violently and threw me against a wall.’

‘I knew right away, her father had hurt her really bad. I found him standing in the doorway, holding a lifeless baby.’: Granddaughter suffers from shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her father, grandma works to pass Child Abuse Registry bill

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