This week we are running a five day series in honor of Child Abuse Awareness month. Today is the final part of the story shared by a woman named Tami Revering. She is going to tell you her story of severe postpartum depression and how it led her to abuse a child; an infant. She will share from her perspective how she tragically shook a crying infant and nearly killed him. It is a hard story for many to read and understand, and even harder not to judge Tami harshly for her terrible actions. But for me, it is the story of a woman who could have been me or any other of my mom friends. You see Tami was just like many of us. A young mother, college educated, staying home with her children, and afraid to ask for help. What Tami did in the depths of anxiety-riddled depression is something that I believe many of us are capable of doing without help and treatment. If you have not been following along, you may wish to read the Introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.
The story continues…
May 2011 was the date scheduled for my sentencing. It had been nearly six months since the day I shook someone’s baby. My pregnant belly swelled with my son. I was seven months pregnant. We had been through quite a bit with the court system and were getting to know the ropes quite well. That day, however, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I heard conversations around me, but wasn’t making sense of anything. Other than a letter from the woman who had been my best friend and whose baby I had shook, I had not had any contact with her or her husband since November 2010. When we walked in the court room that morning, it was crowded. I spotted them right away. I instantly broke into hysterical tears. I wanted to reach out and hug my friend, but I also wanted to run away. All of the tears, the heartache, the nightmares, everything came back to memory and hit me like a ton of bricks. But I had to sit and wait. That was not the day for me to speak directly with them. That was the day to learn my sentence.
The trepidation was awful. Under Minnesota law, I could have been sentenced up to 20 years in prison. Prison. Pregnant. Terrified. I couldn’t even imagine being in prison, let alone giving birth in prison. I was terrified of the thought of that but mostly terrified of what would happen to my children. What would we tell them? What would it be like for them having a mother incarcerated for their entire childhood? My mind ran wild.
The court proceeding was pretty intense. The family gave their impact statement in which they described what life has been like for them since the shaking. Several of my family members were also given time to speak on my behalf and I also had a statement to give. I really don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. The judge left briefly before handing down my sentence. (I later found out it was because she needed to compose herself as she was trying to not break into tears herself).
I expected the worst and ultimately I think the judge did her best she could with the sentence she needed to give me. I basically went from having nothing on my record to being convicted of First Degree Felony Assault. I am on probation for 20 years. I report to my probation officer one to two times per month and she visits me randomly to check in on me. I was sentenced to one year in jail which is staggered over eight years. Every June, I am to report to jail for 30 days, and every November I report to jail for 15 days. A staggered sentence is unique and is meant to be a reminder. June is the baby’s birth month, and November is the month it all happened. My first time to report to jail was only a month before my due date. I was very pregnant, and very scared. However, it was not prison. This was the naïve part of me; I had no idea that there was a difference between jail and prison, or at least I had never needed to think about it before. Jail is much better than prison. If that’s even possible. But it is. For that, I was very grateful.
After sentencing I had about two weeks before I had to report to jail for the first leg of my sentence. Thirty days. This was going to be a long one. It was no walk in the park, but honestly the worst part of it was being separated from my babies. I missed them terribly. That, and in the back of my mind I was always worrying about going into labor. I wasn’t due for another month, but that was too close for me to not think about it.
A little back story about my pregnancy during all of this; I had been seeing my regular gynecologist for most of this pregnancy and I hated it. I didn’t trust him and quite frankly, I was done with the hospital experience of birth. It seemed to me that giving birth should and could be different from what I had experienced so far. I was told that my body was broken and incapable of giving birth without medical intervention. When I was about 25 weeks pregnant my husband and I made the ‘radical’ decision to forgo the ‘traditional’ birth and we found a birth center that we loved. I say radical only because we received some negativity from our friends and family. To them, a non-hospital birth sounded dangerous and reckless. While it was disheartening to not have the support from everyone, I had my husband’s full support, and for the first time, I felt in complete control of my pregnancy and labor. On the Fourth of July 2011 Everett was born in the shower. He slipped easily into my and Bill’s hands. For the first time my baby wasn’t whisked away. For the first time I was the first one to hold him. For the first time, there were no monitors beeping, or nurses prodding and poking. Everett is my third child, yet with him I experienced so many firsts. Within 15 minutes of his birth, he was nursing easily, and I was filled with complete joy. I remember every detail so clearly, unlike with my first two.
While Everett’s birth went smoothly, I was terrified of having a newborn at home again. It had only been about eight months since I injured my friend’s baby. And now I was being allowed to have another baby in my care. I had a lot of supports in place, such as my family and the watchful eye of Child Protection a full year after his birth. In the end, despite my trepidation, everything turned out better than I expected. In fact I didn’t even experience postpartum depression like I did after my first two children. I was seeing a therapist regularly and taking medications. I was actively learning how to ask for help when I needed it. Maybe that sounds easy for some, but for me that was one of the most difficult things for me to learn. To this day, I still have to remind myself that it is okay to ask for help.
Over the next few years, the baby’s mom and I had done some speaking together publicly. She has a demanding work schedule and is never able to get out speaking as often as I do. Once, we were contacted by the local news station asking to interview us. We both agreed, hoping to get the word out on Abusive Head Trauma (also known as Shaken Baby). What I was not expecting, was to meet the baby for the first time in over three years. I was scared to death to touch him (in fact I didn’t.) I was scared to talk to him, and I said just a few words. On top of those feelings, I was being recorded for the public to see. What I loved, and will be forever grateful for, was that his mom allowed this visit with him. I was able to see him run, play, and laugh! Keep in mind, the last time I saw him he was having a seizure and was unresponsive. The last time I saw him, I was being handcuffed as he was loaded into the ambulance. That image of him was all I had of him playing through my head like a movie stuck on repeat for the last three years. To see him like this was beyond description. My heart still skips a beat thinking about that meeting today.
I was slowly starting to come to peace with my life. I know for certain that I had not forgiven myself yet. I was slowly starting to believe that I was not the monster I thought I was. The person who did that was not who I really was. That person was someone suffering silently and alone.
Bill and I were both starting to feel that our family wasn’t complete. I was ready to turn the page and begin the next chapter of my life. I found out I was pregnant with our fourth child in April 2014 and due sometime in late December. This time, I was not worried about having a newborn in the house again – rather, I was worried about what other people would think about me having a newborn in the house again. This time, while I still had family and friends, it was different. I had been putting myself in the public eye quite a bit with speaking and I was getting more and more self-conscious when I would speak about hurting a baby while being pregnant again myself. I couldn’t help but worry about what others were thinking.
We chose the same midwife we had before. We were prepared for a quick labor, with this being my fourth child. It certainly started out quick. My water broke and the contractions came on quick and hard. When we arrived at the Birth Center I was surprised the baby wasn’t already born. (Poor Bill thought I was going to give birth in the car….) However, this little girl (yes, a girl after three boys!) had decided she needed to teach me something. The contractions never really slowed down at all. For 16 plus hours we tried everything to get her to move. I started telling them that I needed an epidural. Actually, I may have been screaming….either way, being at a Birth Center, and epidural would mean a transfer to the hospital. They were able to hold me off another 2 hours (those were my wishes) but after that, I became adamant that this was my new plan. In the back of my mind, I had a feeling that a transfer wouldn’t be for just an epidural. It would be Pitocin, and ultimately a C-section. I was hopeful the epidural would be all I would need, but my subconscious seemed to be preparing me for another outcome. Emelia was born via C-section on January 4, 2015. She was eight pounds. This time the outcome of the C-section was different. Emelia taught me that I had come almost full circle. I had a C-section and I was okay with that. No, it wasn’t planned. It’s not what I wanted, but I felt that I had done everything I could have done. I learned that ultimately, I needed to hand over all my fears, anxiety, and brokenness over to God. It took four different labors, four different births for me to learn that. This little girl had to show me how to put all my trust in God. I needed to hand over everything to Him so I would be able to release the years of darkness and sadness I had been living with. I was finally able to do that, and it felt beautiful.
Could all of this been prevented had I not been afraid? Yes, absolutely. Had I not been so afraid to tell someone how I was feeling, I truly believe I never would have gotten to the point that I did. It takes a village to raise a child and I was trying to do it all alone.
Postpartum Depression does not have prejudice – it can affect anyone. I considered myself middle class, with a huge support network, faithful Christian, volunteer, and a typical stay-at-home mom raising her children…and I was not able to hide from PPD. It found me, and it found me hard. It came on ever so slowly and I ignored it long enough that I burst. And I hurt an infant because of it. No mother should feel so ashamed and embarrassed about ‘scary’ thoughts they are having that they are unwilling to share them with someone else. I want to make it NORMAL for women to talk with anyone when they are feeling or thinking anything like that. I want it to be so normal yet treated like the disease it is before the mother starts feeling like the walls are going to close in on her, or when she starts thinking ‘I don’t love this baby’, or when she feels so anxious she is never able to leave her baby alone with anyone else. Those are normal thoughts that need attention! Every woman needs to know that she is not alone and she needs to ask for help and accept help when it is given.
To this day, the doctors cannot believe the baby’s recovery. They say when you look at his brain scan he shouldn’t be doing what he is doing. He should be almost in a vegetative state. He is a miracle. He is such a great example of God’s grace. And for that I am eternally grateful. Today, he walks, he runs, he is currently in Kindergarten. Looking at him, you would never know his history. However, the brain is complex and we may never know if any future problems he may run into are the effect of his injury. I continue to work on allowing myself to move forward from this fact difficult as it is.
Contact: For those who would like to contact Tami with more questions, or for interview/speaking requests, you may reach her by email: tami.revering[at]gmail.com