Baby's Rare Disease Mimics Child Abuse & Devastates Family

baby feetNobody likes to be accused of something they didn't do. My 6-year-old gets mighty indignant when I point the finger at her for something the dog was responsible for (or at least she says it was the dog). So imagine the false accusation was child abuse. And it was levied at you.

Even in the context of a hypothetical, the thought makes me angry. But for William and Tiffany O'Shell, this wasn't a hypothetical. Their sweet baby girl Alyssa had been taken away and placed in a foster home because X-rays found 11 broken bones in her 3-month-old body. Only it wasn't child abuse ravaging her body. It was a rare disease.


Spinal muscular atrophy eventually killed little Alyssa O'Shell in October 2008. But four months earlier, burdened by the accusation that he was the type of evil creature who beats an innocent baby, her dad had killed her mom and then himself.

The story is back in the headlines this week as Tiffany O'Shell's family fights with child protective services to admit they were wrong and change their practices to prevent future tragedies. And it's put a new spin on the mommy wars. Why do we fight so much? Because the job of raising and protecting a human being is a privilege and being called a bad parent is a hurt that cuts deeper than any insult.

I want to be clear here. I mean no disrespect to those who choose to be child-free. But even they were raised by people who had an incredible responsibility. They -- we -- were sent home from the hospital with a little person who was completely unable to fend for themselves. This isn't a goldfish that can die and be flushed down the toilet, replaced with an identical fish before the kids wake up.

This is a human being, and what's more, we created this human being. We are to blame for putting them on this planet, knowing full well that they would be dependent on us. It's a job you sign up for knowing full well you can never quit.

Now imagine yourself in William O'Shell's shoes. You have done everything right. You are a loving, giving, devoted parent. And not only is there something wrong with this precious person, but people think you did it, that you brought this life into this world and then did the unthinkable. You failed.

The O'Shell murder-suicide was a horrible tragedy. But I don't know a parent out there who can't understand why it happened.

What is the worst thing you have been accused of doing to your kids?


Image via Jen and Jim S/Flickr

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