Mom Convicted for Not Heeding Co-Sleeping Warnings

Vanessa Clark's mugshot, taken 11 months after the death of her infant son Tristan.It's hard to find much emotion beyond blame and outrage when it comes to the case of Vanessa Clark. The Texas mother lost a baby, son Christian, in 2009 after he was reportedly suffocated while co-sleeping with her and her husband. In 2010, her 2-month-old son Tristan died in a nearly identical manner -- while co-sleeping in bed with her and her husband. How could she let something like that happen twice?

Now, according to the Houston Press, she's been convicted of felony child endangerment, and faces two years of prison time for what the defense called SIDS deaths. The autopsy couldn't determine the specific cause of death, but there's no evidence that either was anything but horrific accidents. So doesn't she deserve some sympathy?

While her grinning mug shot, taken 11 months after Tristan's death, is almost too much to take, there's another part of me that thinks that beyond our outrage, we should have some compassion for this woman who lost her babies doing what so many others do -- as difficult as it may be to muster. It also raises some serious concerns about protecting a family's right to co-sleep.

Prosecutors say Clark should have known better, that after the first infant's death, she was warned about the dangers of co-sleeping. And I can't imagine how she could do so again after losing her baby the same way. But all parents are warned about the potential dangers of co-sleeping, and yet many still do. Should anyone who loses a child while co-sleeping be convicted? Even though I didn't co-sleep with my children and find the practice frightening personally, I'm not sure we want to go there.

Prosecutor Dale Summa told the court, "It may not be illegal to sleep with your child, but it is illegal to put your child in imminent danger." I agree, but does that mean all co-sleeping is considered imminent danger? Just where are the lines drawn? There are guidelines and suggestions for safer co-sleeping, but when does it become a criminal act?

The fact that Clark lost two babies in this manner is tragic and highly suspect, but I don't know that it should make it any more criminal in general that she had such bad luck (for lack of a better word) twice. Charging her for what is by all accounts an accident while co-sleeping feels like a pretty big threat for the many proponents of the practice.

Do you think co-sleepers should be held criminally responsible if an accident occurs?


a mom's life, baby first year, baby health, sids