The first time I saw your big blue eyes, I felt overwhelmed — excited and nervous all at the same time.
You were perfect when you were born. I know all parents say that, but even the doctors and nurses at the hospital said how perfect you were. I remember the doctor joking you had a perfect 10 on your Apgar score and that you should use that on your college-admission essay. You were such a calm baby — a contrast to your big brother, Owen, who’s a ball of energy.
Owen loved you from the start. When people would ask what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d say, “A big brother.” Not a fireman or a pilot. All he wanted was to be your brother. Even though he was barely 2 when you were born, he was always so careful with you, so gentle. He’d call you “Mowee” since he couldn’t figure out how to make the L sound.
For 10 weeks, Owen, your dad and I were by your side. I’d take walks to the park with you. We’d snuggle you together, and sometimes, I’d just stare into those eyes of yours. I dreamed of all the things you’d do as you grew up — maybe you’d take dance lessons or play the piano. Maybe you’d become a teacher like me and teach a classroom full of first-graders how to explore the world and discover new things. Everything was possible.
But then you were gone.
I want you to know that was the worst day of my life. It was my first day back at work, and I got the call from the caregiver you’d been taken to the hospital. I rushed there to see you, but they wouldn’t take me in right away. The doctor came in with tears in his eyes; he said they’d tried to help you breathe again, but you’d stopped. They said there was nothing I could have done, nothing anyone could have done — sometimes babies stop breathing in their sleep.
For a while, I couldn’t do anything. I barely held myself together — mostly for your brother. He kept thinking you’d be coming home. He’d ask me over and over again where you were and when you’d be coming back. I’d tell him you were in heaven now. We all ached for you.
Life had just found a new normal when they called to tell me what they’d learned. You hadn’t stopped breathing on your own; the blanket you were tucked into made it so you couldn’t breathe.
That sense of loss I’d worked so hard to push to the corners of my mind came rushing back. I wondered what I could have done, what others could have done, so that you’d still be here.
But the truth is hard. The truth is that moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, babysitters and day care workers have all had those times when we’ve put babies to sleep in a way that doesn’t keep them safe. To this day, so many people still aren’t getting the message: Don’t have pillows, blankets or even cute stuffed animals anywhere near a baby when they’re sleeping since those things can suffocate them. Just like it happened with you.
Before that day, I knew I’d heard about these things happening somewhere — but I figured it just happened to other people’s babies. Not mine. Not you.
After that, I realized that I needed to tell others your story — about my little girl with the big blue eyes that should still be here. I needed to speak out and let others know that l, too, thought my baby might get cold at night without a blanket around her. I, too, worried you might not be comfortable without a pillow under your head. It’s hard to imagine how something that seems helpful could be so harmful.
I want you to know we started a foundation for you: The Molly Ann Gries Foundation. We’re trying to let all the parents and caretakers out there know how to keep babies safe when they’re sleeping — and that means nothing but the baby in the crib. No blankets, no pillows, no bumper pads.
We’re spreading the word in your name, Molly, to keep babies safe. We’re working with a nearby hospital, Akron Children’s, to give every parent who comes through their offices a book about keeping babies safe. It’s a book I wish I’d had — that I wish I’d understood. We’re also giving away monitors and breathable mattresses.
You have a little sister now, Molly. Her name is Emma. But somehow, I feel like you already know that. She was supposed to arrive on the anniversary of when you passed — a year later. But she held on for an extra day.
We’ve been vigilant to make sure Emma is always safe when she sleeps. We’ve also made sure to keep your memory alive by telling Emma and your brother so many stories about you.
Molly, I know I won’t get to hold you again in this world, but I’m hopeful that your life, as short as it was, might inspire other families. I hope you inspire them to hold their babies a little closer — and to think a little more about how to keep them safe.
I love you.