Our nightmare started the day Tristan turned four months old, on 25 October 2015. That date is forever engraved in my memory. That morning, Tristan woke up irritable, which was not like him as he was generally a happy baby. My husband, Jeremy, and I thought he was teething and gave him Tylenol. That seemed to make him more comfortable.
I dressed him in his special fourth-month anniversary tie and outfit to take pictures. Like all new parents, we were excited about our firstborn. We took pictures of a slightly fretful Tristan and went out for an early meal. It seemed like any normal day, with me blithely taking photos of Jeremy and Tristan at the restaurant and sharing them on Facebook. We had no idea that in a few minutes our lives would be turned upside down.
When we got home, I nursed Tristan to sleep and went out to work in the garden. Less than an hour later, my husband came out holding Tristan and saying he’d woken up. It was unusual for Tristan to sleep less than two hours, so I thought maybe it was time for another dose of Tylenol. I told my husband, “I’ll be right in”, and finished up what I was doing.
I entered the house about five minutes later to find my husband holding our son in his arms and urgently saying, “Call 911, Tristan is having seizures.”
We rushed Tristan to hospital by ambulance. They did a CAT scan and gave us the devastating news that he had bleeds in his brain. I remember crying because I didn’t know what that meant for our son. A Child Protection Services (CPS) investigator came in to question us. She said that in incidents where the baby is less than 2-years-old, this is the protocol for the type of internal bleeds found in Tristan. We answered all her questions, describing what had happened.
Tristan was kept in hospital for two nights without needing any medical intervention other than a medicine to prevent more seizures. But the hospital put him through various tests which we later learnt were not for finding out what was wrong with him, but to prove that he was “abused”. They did an eye dilation test to check for retinal hemorrhages and a full body scan to check for fractures. They unnecessarily poked and prodded him. Everything came back negative.
As we were waiting for Tristan to be discharged, the hospital told us that they were waiting on the child abuse doctor, Dr S. [name redacted], to go over the records. She came into the room and I remember she was the only doctor that made Tristan cry. I could not believe she was a pediatrician seeing how aggressively she handled him. I remember thinking, how could this be a child abuse expert?! She examined my son for just five minutes and then announced that what we said had happened, couldn’t have happened! She questioned everything I told her: “Why did I pump and not breastfeed?” and “Why didn’t my husband freak out when he saw Tristan having seizures?” My husband is a decorated paramedic. He is trained not to panic in emergencies.
As the doctor stormed off, I shrugged it off as just rude behaviour.We had conceived Tristan after years of trying, my undergoing many surgeries and two cycles of in-vitro fertilisation. Our son was longed-for and loved. It was unthinkable that anyone could accuse us of abusing him.
A few hours later, the CPS investigator came in and said that Dr S. had told her Tristan’s bleeds had to have been “inflicted”! I was shocked. We had been expecting to get discharged all that day from the hospital. Then the CPS investigator said we needed something called a “Safety Plan” if I wanted to bring Tristan back home with me. Under the Safety Plan my husband would have to move out of the home and I was to supervise any time he spent with Tristan. I could not believe what was happening, but we agreed on the plan so I could bring Tristan home. At this point one of my friends told me we needed to get a lawyer, and it was at her urging that we did so. She warned us that this is serious and we were naïve to think that us being open to anyone and letting them come into our home for any type of investigation knowing we had nothing to hide, was going to clear things up.
The next morning after Tristan was discharged, we had local police detectives calling us on the phone to come to the station. We then told them we were going to get a lawyer and their reply was, “You need to let us know if you are”! We told them we could not come in that day as we had Tristan’s four-month shots scheduled and had booked a consultation for an attorney that same afternoon. As soon as we left the attorney that evening, we got a call from him asking us where we were and saying that there was a warrant for my husband’s arrest! This nightmare was getting worse. We decided that my husband would turn himself in with his attorney present the next day.
When Jeremy turned himself in, the police captain said he had to tell the news about our case. My husband is a fire fighter paramedic for another department and they wanted to plaster his picture all over calling him a “child abuser”. That day the story was broadcast with Jeremy’s picture on every local station. He was made to sound like a monster. But this, unfortunately, was not the worst that was to happen.
The worst came a fortnight later. We got home from multiple follow-up medical appointments with Tristan at the hospital. My mother-in-law was with us. When we got home, my husband went to feed the animals, and I was helping him around. My mother-in-law took the baby to his room for a feed. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. My husband answered and came back saying that the CPS investigator was at the door wanting to take Tristan as we had broken the Safety Plan!
I was in shock, and to see five police officers standing outside our door was even more intimidating. I came out to find out what we had done, or what the CPS investigator was accusing us off. But she kept saying she had different sources telling her things and that they needed to take Tristan. We were crying and shaking. Jeremy called his criminal attorney who said it was better to work with the CPS or it would end up worse. And then the CPS took my baby away.
To be continued next week
Vivianna Graham is a special education teacher in Florida, USA