The sixth in a series of profiles of real people with real challenges…who were helped by SNOO.
Kara is 34 weeks pregnant with her fourth child, and she openly shares that the new baby came as a surprise. It's an important detail for understanding her story, but also, Kara believes that talking openly about her challenges as a mom can be helpful to others.
In that spirit, she's agreed to share the most painful story of her life, that of losing her son Oliver to SIDS, to raise awareness about sleep safety.
"Unfortunately, sometimes it takes something really bad happening in order to revisit your thinking," she says. "But once you know better, you try to do better, and that's where I am today."
The day Oliver died started out as a joyous one, with a morning family photo session at a pretty lake near her West Virginia home. Kara works remotely as a community manager for San Diego-based company Baby Tula, the maker of her favorite baby carriers. The company tapped Kara and her husband Trevor to model their gear with Oliver and Avery, the couple's adorable 4-month-old twins. Kara's eldest son, Henry, just 3 at the time, made his own fun, throwing handfuls of pebbles into the lake. Kara cherishes the photos from that morning, like these beautiful shots with Oliver:
After finishing the shoot, Kara dropped the twins at their babysitter's house, and that is where tragedy struck during Oliver's afternoon nap. Kara and the babysitter routinely put both twins down to sleep on their stomachs—because they slept best that way. And that unsafe practice along with a loose blanket in the pack-n-play are believed to be factors in Oliver's death. "It's likely there was something in there that made it hard for him to breathe," she tells us.
Raising three young kids was challenging for Kara and Trevor and they were struggling with sleep themselves.
"Having twins is difficult-very difficult. I nursed both of them and we didn't sleep, ever," explains Kara. "I knew the risks of stomach sleeping, but as an exhausted parent, you're almost ready to do anything to get the baby to sleep."
Sleep Safety Awareness Is Important, but It's Not Enough
Kara and Trevor are not alone in putting their babies to sleep on the stomach out of desperation to get some rest.
A 2017 report found that 56% of parents who say they will always practice safe sleep (keeping their baby on the back, in a bassinet or crib, without any added soft bedding) break the rules.
"It's critically important for pediatricians to help parents find new ways to boost their infants' sleep," says Dr. Harvey Karp, Happiest Baby's founder and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. "Raising awareness alone is clearly not solving the problem."
The Back to Sleep campaign—started in the '90s—implored all parents to only allow babies to sleep on the back. It was wildly successful, leading to a dramatic reduction in SIDS, dropping 50% in just 5 years. But over the 20 years since that drop, there has been no further progress. Each and every year since 1998, 3500 babies have died in their sleep. About 20% die after rolling to or being placed on the stomach and 70% die after being put down in an unsafe sleep location.
"Even well-meaning parents get so tired that they accidentally make mistakes or get so frustrated they're tempted to do something risky. Back sleeping is definitely safest, but many babies don't sleep well in a quiet, still bed…on the back," explains Dr. Karp. "Tragically, many parents ignore the guidelines because they are so tired and unfortunately doctors have little to offer exhausted parents to boost their baby's sleep other than recommending crying it out!"
New Life After Loss
"When someone does lose a baby to SIDS, most of the time they have no baby in the house anymore. For us that was not the case," Kara tells us, describing how she and Trevor were able to keep going. "We had to come back and still raise a baby."
They credit an excellent grief counselor and online support group for helping, too.
And now, Kara and Trevor are buoyed by the hope and happiness that come with expecting a new baby.
The couple felt sure they could never get pregnant naturally because they had conceived all of their babies through IVF. After Oliver's passing, Kara and Trevor sometimes talked about trying IVF again, but they weren't decided. So, it was a huge surprise when Kara got pregnant, and another surprise to learn the new baby's due date was the exact same as the twins'.
"I'm not a person that believes in signs or things like that," said Kara with a laugh. "But, you have to look at that as—in a way—that it was meant to be."
Preparing for the New Baby
A parent in her SIDS loss support group first told Kara about SNOO, a new kind of baby bed made by Happiest Baby, that keeps infants sleeping securely on the back.
The couple did their research and decided SNOO would be the only place her little girl would sleep.
"As someone who has lost a baby, it gives me peace of mind to know that the baby's not going to roll over, that it's breathable, and that I can put it right beside my bed, and I'm right there," explained Kara. "All of those factors were very appealing because I am nervous this time around."
Nervous, But Excited, Too
At the time of our interview, Kara is in "full nesting mode." She's getting the house ready and buying clothes (she hadn't saved them, thinking she wouldn't have more kids.) And she's already chosen not just one, but two, new baby carriers. She's bringing them to the hospital and plans to start wearing her new little girl from day one.
When asked about how she got hooked on baby wearing, her voice brightens. She tried it out one day with Henry, when she was a brand-new mom: "It was just so nice to be able to kiss his little head whenever I wanted."
Pretty much every mom in the world can relate to that. The biggest joys of parenting are usually simplest ones, those moments of closeness with our babies.
Happiest Baby thanks Kara for sharing her story. We wish her family much health and happiness as they welcome their new baby into her lives.
Photos courtesy of Kara and Babytula.com