Eli fell down a flight of stairs yesterday. I just. I don’t even know how to discuss this because what kind of mother lets her kid fall off a bed and get a brain injury and then somehow, also lets him fall down a flight of stairs? This kind, apparently. Eli is fine, like completely and totally great, has no lingering marks at all and tried to climb down the stairs again 4 hours later. He could not be better. I continue to be broken into many screwed up pieces and this was just about the last thing I needed.

It happened at a family member’s three story house. The living area on the second floor and is gated from the rest of the stairs. Eli had been hanging out near their gate most of the time since there are toys there and was playing happily. At one point, the gate was left open and in literally the 10 seconds I zoned out and assumed he was playing with toys quietly, I heard thump thump thump thump cry. I was less than 5 feet from the gate, there was just a chair in the way, so I couldn’t see him directly. 5 feet and 10 seconds away.

I can’t begin describe how awful it was. Knowing what was going on and racing to get there, fearing with every fiber of my being about what condition he was going to be in when I got there. It was probably 2 seconds from when I heard it and when I got to him, but it could’ve been 20 minutes for as long as it felt and as far as my mind was able to race.

I flew down the stairs (10? 12? of them) and found him on the tile landing and scooped him up, trying as hard as I could to stay calm for everyone involved, but inside I was crumbling into a million tiny pieces. How did this happen to us again?

I got him upstairs and checked him over. Everything was moving fine and painlessly. He had one small red mark on the side of his head and small goose egg on the other. He stopped crying in under a minute and demanded to be put down to play a few seconds later. I watched him like a hawk all afternoon and he’s fine. He’s totally fine. I can’t understand why I am not.

It’s funny, because I harbor absolutely no grudge or anger against the person who left the gate open. It was an accident, Eli is fine. And yet, I am so angry at myself for not keeping my eyes on him. I am his mother, my job is to protect him and I failed. Again.

I just keep picturing over and over again what it must have been like. His favorite thing is to step off his bed and I keep imagining him taking that first step down all happy and proud and then falling ass over tea kettle down all those stairs. I cannot imagine how scary that must’ve been for him and how close he came to injuring himself significantly. Again.

I feel like the first time was an accident, a mistake and whatever, it can be forgiven. But again? Really? I don’t know. I struggled to forgive myself the first time and I just don’t see how I’ll be able to this time. At one point, many months ago, I felt like I was the safer parent. I didn’t do risky things, I never tossed Eli up in the air, never dangled him upside down, watched him closely all day long. And now, twice, my son has been in serious danger while in my care. I just don’t know how it keeps happening. How I can be so vigilant, so hyperaware and intensely worried and yet, he fell down a flight of stairs while with me. Just. I don’t know.

My weariness is growing daily. My therapist wants me to try medication to treat the PTSD and I’m just not there yet. I have a hard time with that type of medication and side effects and I just don’t want to deal with titrating up and tapering down. And maybe I also feel like I deserve to feel kind of shitty about this. I’m sure that sounds crazy and it probably is, but my kid got a brain injury, came out of it okay and then I let him fall down a flight of stairs. There is a lot of crazy here.

I have never felt less competent than I do now and it’s probably the hardest thing. I love this little boy so deeply, but I keep feeling like I’m the biggest risk in his life and that is impossibly difficult to handle.

20 Responses to “Again”

  • kimybeee:

    my son went to the er so many times one year I was glad I knew somebody at cps cause I was afraid they were gonna call. one of those was a ride in an ambulance with a back injury! it scares the crap out of you and then they are okay.

    I had a cousin that died at about age 14. It appeared to be a drowning in the pool at her middle school. She had to be unplugged after several days of no response and it was horrible for her mother. She had a much younger sister. My aunt wouldn’t let her go anywhere or do anything for fear that something would happen to her. One day when the cousin was about 14 or so she went in her room one afternoon to take a nap and never woke up. Turns out the problems was a congenital heart defect that nobody knew about until the girls sibling from their dad dropped dead at work at about age 16 or 17. my aunt spent all that time keeping her daughter from living to protect her – and in the end a nap took her away.

    my point of all this is that you know you can’t put your kid in a bubble – crap happens. no matter what you do or how careful you are you can’t prevent every accident – if you could they would not call them accidents.

    if it were me – I would take the meds and continue the therapy so I could enjoy my babies life without nightmares and anxiety attacks. maybe if you are less distraught you will be more relaxed and calm and your focus can shift from disaster mode to living normally mode. eli deserves his momma to not be freaked out all the time. and if my kid fell down the stairs I would freak out too – that is normal. I just wouldn’t spend all my time thinking it was my fault and he could have been seriously injured. I would be counting my blessings that he is fine and move on. only you can choose what to do – but what you are doing is obviously not working for you!!


  • I’m so sorry to hear this happened again. Not because of Eli (who I know is and will continue to be great), but for your sake and your recovery. I have faith in you as a good mom- you will come through this guilt and fear and PTSD.


  • I’m sure your therapist has told you that both good mothers and bad mothers make mistakes, it’s not the mistakes that make you one or the other. You are a good mother. xo


  • Kathy:

    Seriously consider the drugs. Please. Just being an observer to your mental anguish is hurting me. I can’t imagine what it is doing to your family. Good luck.


    Katie Reply:

    @Kathy, The medication thing is complicated. Partially I don’t want to take them because 90% of the time, I’m fine, and I dislike the idea of being on a medication for that 10%. I know I don’t do a great job of representing my daily life here because I don’t always capture the good 90%, I share the 10% I’m struggling with, because that’s what I need support for or advice on. I do have fast acting medication for the (thankfully) very few times I’ve had outright panic attacks, but during the day, especially the days I’m home with Eli, I’m almost always in good shape (and if I’m ever not, which hasn’t happened yet, my husband is blocks away and my sister is only 30 minutes. I have a pretty amazing support system.)

    The other reason I don’t want to go on medication is because historically, I’ve not handled anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications well in terms of the side effects. I will be seeing a doctor the week I come back from the beach and will discuss what options I have in terms of medications (it’s been nearly a decade since I started a medication for something like this), but I’d really rather tackle this with therapy if possible. Basically, I’m not completely shutting the door on medication, but for now, as long as I’m functional and able to be present with my son and present in my job, I’d rather wait.


    Katie Reply:

    @Kathy, Also, I actually replied to you days ago, my comment got stuck in my comment moderation. I’ve never had that happen before. It made me laugh and laugh.


  • Shauna:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever commented before but I’ve been reading for a while. This makes me really sad because you are a GOOD mom, and I hate seeing you beat yourself up over this! Obviously, you don’t want to either, but it’s still not fair that you are dealing with this.
    I have no kids yet but have watched my niece and nephew for 2 days a week since they were newborns and have made a lot of mistakes with them and they aren’t even my children! I know you know that everyone makes mistakes, so it probably won’t help you to hear that again, but I hope it might comfort you a little bit to know you are NOT any worse of a mother because Eli’s injury. I promise you that everyone has these kinds of mistakes. When I was two years old I opened the front door (my mom said this all happened in under a minute, and I believe her, kids are sneaky little things!) and fell down the concrete steps head first! I was fine, and I know she felt guilty at the time, but listen, my mom is amazing and I would never, ever think she is a bad mom or anything close because of that! I could list countless of injuries my sister and I had as kids, but this could go all day! I’m sure you get my point anyway.
    Of course you need to be ready before you go on meds, and I’m not pretending to act like I know every detail of the situation to be like “go on the meds!!!” but I wouldn’t completely write it off. I can’t imagine how bad I’d feel for my mom if she felt this guilty over my (normal, and so are Eli’s injuries) childhood injuries. You deserve to really, really enjoy Eli’s childhood without feeling like this. I’m not downplaying what has happened to Eli at all either. It’s just that you are a good mom and don’t deserve to feel like this.


  • I know how traumatic yesterday was for you and I know that the previous accident was horrific for you. But I feel like I need to correct one thing you said. You said it was your job to keep Eli safe. Actually, it is your job to try to keep Eli safe. You can’t do more than try because you can’t control the world.

    Yesterday’s incident was representative of how things are going to go from time to time. Eli is going to tumble head first and he is going to get into more things than you care to think about. He will ride a trike or a bike and will wipe out. He will roller skate and maybe break a wrist or two. He will mistakenly eject from a swing and will fall off the monkey bars. I hate to say it but someday (don’t shoot me for saying this), he might knock out a tooth while skateboarding. Yesterday, you got to see that not every serious tumble leads to dire consequences. The first episode was a fluke and nothing more. When he is older, only you can decide how much freedom you are going to give him which might in turn lead to his getting hurt. Keeping him safe at all times is not the ideal by any means. I sounds like you are on extreme overload right now.

    When you practice the mantra that it is your job to never let anything bad happen to him, you are setting up the absolutely black and white “perfect mother/terrible mother” categorical thinking that it not leading you anywhere but to unhappiness and stress. I really recommend you rehearse some positive self talk that leads you to realize your competence. Practice some affirmations such as “I am a thoughtful and caring mother” when you are in the shower or in bed at night. Do this forever and often. Don’t allow yourself to rehearse untruthful derogatory statements about yourself (unless you are venting here or when you really need to vent) because these are harmful to you and ultimately to Eli. Your brain needs for you to practice saying positive things about yourself and ultimately will thank you for it.


    Jamie Reply:


    Completely agree that you need to change the tone of your self talk – it really does make a difference. My therapist told me to start with small things but I had to say/think something positive about myself throughout the day AND if my self talk turned negative. Over time I have become way less critical of the things that used to make me cringe. I don’t say I’m “bad” anymore (which was my main hangup in life), when I’m emotional about things I only think in facts, not emotions. If dinner was terrible I think – the hubs still ate it, he said it wasn’t bad, I know it wasn’t that great but the recipe just needs to be tweaked or whatever… No more thinking I’m a terrible wife, that I can’t cook when it was this ONE time it didn’t turn out.

    Katie – it PAINS me to read how hard you’re being on yourself <3 Don't take the meds off the table – keep it an option. The first incident was a fluke. He's a child and will learn things the hard way – like stairs aren't that easy – and that's part of being a child. You are a wonderful mother! WONDERFUL! You can't base over a year of parenting on a few days. Think of all the times he's smiled or laughed or snuggled or flirted. Think of all the things that little man has accomplished because those things were also on your watch <3


  • Katie, I don’t comment (ever) often but this stood out for me:

    “And maybe I also feel like I deserve to feel kind of shitty about this.”

    Okay. You can feel that way.

    But does Eli deserve to have a mom who is feeling shitty (in regards to him) at all times, based on events he doesn’t even remember? He will eventually notice.

    Please stop saying such terrible things about yourself. You’re doing your best and nobody is perfect – and in expecting yourself to be perfect, you’re missing out on so much.


    Katie Reply:

    I totally see your point, but I do want to be clear that I don’t, at all, feel shitty toward Eli. I feel shitty toward and about myself. I work hard to try not to let him see it (obviously it’s not entirely possible, I know), but it’s a big part of why I’m doing therapy. I don’t want him to see it or ever think that it’s because of him.


    Louise Reply:


    I just re-read what I wrote, and I am sorry I worded it wrong. I know (and I think everyone knows) that you don’t feel shitty *toward* him, but in relation to something that happened to him.
    I was just trying to say that kids do notice, as much as we try to hide things from them. For example: I was a sensitive kid, and I felt badly about having asthma because (although she never said anything in front of me) my mother felt guilty about it.
    I also totally agree with Joanna and Jamie (and all the others), who commented above me – yes, two bad things have happened on your watch, but think about the thousands of great things that have also happened on your watch!


  • This is not a problem with you as a mom or Eli as a baby. It is a problem with how you frame yourself as a mom. I opened up my twitterstream this morning to see Jonniker talking about Allie walking into a swimming pool and Alexa’s kid walking off a couch into thin air. Kids are dangerous, horrible little things. They will find every single wrong thing on earth and plunge right into it. That your kid does it too does not make you a bad mom, it makes you a MOM.

    Anne Lamott said being a parent means never drawing another peaceful breath. You’ll always worry your head off about your kid, even when you’re 90 and he is 65. So yeah, take the meds if you have to. But give yourself a break. You’re a great mom.


    Nikki Reply:


    Love this comment and the sentiment behind it. I don’t have kids, but I’ve watched enough to know that they will find trouble – and quickly, I might add.

    I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog & twitter and know that you love Eli completely, entirely and more than anything else in the world. I truly hope that you are able to find peace so that you can enjoy your baby’s toddlerhood. Are there other therapies or different types of medications that could supplement the therapy you’re currently in? You deserve to be happy and relaxed, Katie, so please hang in there.


  • Kids fall down. Often on their heads. A lot. I cannot even hazard a guess as to how many times just in the past week alone that Lucy has either run full-steam into some immobile object or fallen down or something. “Mama, I hurt my [whatever body part]” seems to be a constant refrain at my house.

    Eli is fine. You are a good mom. I promise. You cannot be hypervigilant every second of every day and prevent every injury for the rest of his life. These things happen. I can almost guarantee you it won’t be the last time he hurts himself in a way that makes you jump out of your skin. All you can do is comfort him when he gets hurt, kiss the boo-boos, and then try to shake it off.

    I would echo the other people who say that medication would probably be a good start for you. Eli needs you healthy. If you’re constantly racked with anxiety and fretting over his every move, that isn’t helping him. Side effects may suck, but it sounds like it’s worth it in the long run.


  • Susan:

    I vote for taking the meds. You are kind of making this all about you in (sorry to say it) wallowing in all these terrible feelings. As your son grows older and continues to be adventurous and explore the world, he will get hurt. But do you want him to be able to shake off the hurts as much as possible and keep going, or look to you because he knows you’ll need comforting more than he does? Maybe i’m not explaining this well, but when I was growing up my mother freaked out about everything b/c I had a head injury as a child (walking on a broken wall, fell off, hurt my head). So from then on, every time I got hurt, I felt that I couldn’t just feel my own pain. I had to make sure she was ok and comfort her. But no one was comforting me. So stop wallowing and get on the meds. This is not for you. This is for your son.


    Katie Reply:

    @Susan, that’s actually something I’ve been working hard on because I want him to get back up and be fine. I rushed to him when he fell down the stairs of course, but day to day I keep my gasps to myself and only give him love and hugs when he really needs it (after a fall, he gets love as hugs all day without cause). I’m sure he sometimes senses my panic, but I try very hard to let him be a kid, even at the cost of my own mental distress.


  • Sally:

    It’s obvious you’re one of the world’s most amazing mamas and that Eli is thriving. But it’s also obvious that you’re not thriving… Would it be so wrong to take yourself out of this situation that’s hurting you so much? You’re always going to be Eli’s mama, and you’re always going to worry — all mamas will — but maybe staying home with him is hurting you even more than it’s helping him.


    Katie Reply:

    @Sally, unfortunately, my husband staying home is not at all an option, not even part time. He’s in his last year of fellowship and his days/time off are limited. I am working part time and can’t go full time both due to my work not having the need and use not having adequate child care. For me, being home actually feels the best. Being at work is stressful because the unknown element is scary to me. I do greatly appreciate the suggestion, and I do need to make an effort to get us both out of the house more, but for now more work just isn’t an option.


  • Elise:

    “I keep feeling like I’m the biggest risk in his life and that is impossibly difficult to handle”

    Katie, l’m struck but your last sentence, and reminded by something my BFF’s husband told her when she was struggling with PPD and anxiety, that “living is risking”. Being alive is the most perilious, most fragile, excruciatingly temporary state of existence. Shortly after my girls were born I remember being struck breathless with panic when I realized that there were only two possible outcomes to this parenting thing, and neither were good. Either I was going to die and leave my children alone in this world (hopefully after a long a wonderful shared life with them) or something unimagineable would happen so that I would outlive them. Thankfully, these moments of panic are rare for me, but I do have them.

    Living is risking. Every minute of every day we are putting ourselves in some danger that we don’t know about. We do the best we can and some days, our best won’t be enough and we will fail. Being a good mom means that we get back up and brush off the dust and do it again. What’s that saying about perfection being the enemy of good? There are no perfect mothers, but there are a lot of good mothers who are spending so much time obsessing over their failures that they are missing the everyday pleasures. Frankly, that’s the biggest risk to your child, is that you will miss seeing him and enjoying him.


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I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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