I write this today with Dr Phil on in the background. A mother is recounting the story of how her own mother picked up her two babies from day care (aged two, and six months), and took them home to her house where she shot them both dead before shooting herself.
I watch, with one hand to my mouth and that awful train-wreck feeling – it is horrible, unimaginable pain and suffering, yet I cannot look away. Both my children are alive and breathing and nobody has shot them dead. But for one split second, I almost feel the overwhelming grief of what losing them would do to me. A feeling I could never fully describe because there are no words. There is no neat explanation of what it must feel like to have your child die, particularly in such a violent way.
In the course of my work, I describe the story of little Deirdre Kennedy to a room full of university students. Deirdre was killed in the 1970s and the man charged with her murder walks free today, after two successful appeals of guilty sentences. Deirdre’s mother actively advocated for the law of double jeopardy to be changed if fresh and compelling evidence comes to light after someone has been found not guilty of murder, so they can be tried again. Dental records show Raymond John Carroll was indeed the man who abducted the 17-month-old baby before dressing her in women’s underwear, sexually abusing her, biting her thighs, and flinging her onto the roof of a toilet block in Ipswich, Queensland. He will never be punished for his crime.
I started teaching about this particular case way back before I was a mother. Then I taught it again when my own baby was 17 months old. It hit so close to home that I struggled for a bit before pulling myself together and getting on with the lesson.
Last semester, though, having been a mother slightly longer, and also after the birth of my second child, I was setting up my class for the day. I opened a bunch of links to website stories that I use as examples of the points I make throughout the lesson. I opened this link to a story about Deirdre, and when I scrolled down I gasped and frantically fumbled to close the window. Even now I cannot bear to look at the picture of a chubby Deirdre sitting on the grass in a pretty dress, bracelet around her dimpled wrist. For I know now the body of a toddler, and I could not bear the thought of this happening to my own. To find a baby abused and killed and thrown away like rubbish.
A few days after Daniel Morcombe’s remains were finally laid to rest I was driving to my mother’s house. The route passes the spot where he was abducted and I always think about it when I’m near. This particular day I drove past the spot and thought about him like I usually do, and continued on. Two minutes later when I passed the cemetery where he now lies I spontaneously and without warning burst into tears. I sobbed like an idiot halfway to my mum’s, recalling the things I’d read about what that man is accused of doing to that clearly terrified boy. Every time I pass the road where he was taken, I think of him.
I can’t live my life in fear of something happening to my children, for that is no way to live. In fact, it’s almost so horrible that I can’t comprehend it, so I don’t try. But boy, I have never felt anything so deeply in all my life, and I can’t help random thoughts from sneaking in from time to time. And I can’t help feeling keenly the pain for others who must endure it.
When I first fell pregnant, I was chatting to a friend who has three grown children. She told me I’d never listen to the news the same way again, never watch a movie where something happens to a kid the same way. Author Elizabeth Stone said “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”, and it’s true – they make up such a part of me now that my heart will never be the same. Which is both good and bad. And it means I now carry a hanky with me wherever I go!
so yeah… motherhood has made me a sensitive soul, and a big, fat sook. But I dare say I’m not alone.