Free-Range Kids

26-Year-Old Mom Jailed for Months After Baby's Accidental Death

"I have no ounce in my body that blames my wife at all."


Polk County mughsot

A Des Moines, Iowa, mother had been charged with the death of her 3-month-old baby who accidentally suffocated on the changing table while she went to get her a bottle.

The incident happened in September and the mom, Laci Lynn Taylor, 26, has been sitting in jail for four months while investigators probed the case, because she cannot make bail. I'm trying to think of a more pointless, vindictive, cruel way to treat a mother in the depths of grief after a tragic accident. How is her imprisonment making anyone safer? How is it teaching her a lesson that the death of her child did not?

The Des Moines Register reports that:

According to court documents, Taylor left the child unattended on a changing table. While she was out of the room, the child rolled over, and as a result, her neck was compressed on the ledge of the changing table, cutting off her airway. Police said the incident resulted in the child's death.

Ok, the incident caused the child's death. That does not make the mom a criminal. Here's her husband's take:

Don Taylor said his child's death was a horrible freak accident that could happen to anyone.

"I have no ounce in my body that blames my wife at all," Taylor's husband Don said.

Now, no one is saying it is wise to leave a baby on the changing table. Of course it isn't. The cops claim the mom spent 15 minutes out of the room and perhaps that's so. What I am saying is that I have done things just as ill-thought out, dumb, and potentially dangerous, and that doesn't mean I'm a bad mom. It only means I'm lucky, and Laci Lynn Taylor was tragically unlucky.

The charges against her—which carry a penalty of up to 25 years in prison—are based on the sickeningly simplistic, self-satisfied belief that there's no such thing as fate, only negligence. Our society is eager to pretend that every decent mom spends every second doing everything exactly "right," which includes literally constant surveillance of her kids. If something happens while she's not watching, well, there's your justice: She took her eyes off her child and death swooped in. It's all her fault.

How did we get so vengeful and cruel? A new book called, Blaming Mothers: American Law and the Risks to Children's Health by Pace University law professor Linda C. Fentiman outlines our unconscious reasoning:

Hindsight bias. Once a tragedy has occurred, it's impossible to look back and not think it should have been easy to predict and avoid.

The fundamental attribution error. This is the unconscious belief that bad things only happen to bad people.

The "reasonable man" theory. Negligence was originally determined by what a "reasonable man" would have done in the situation. For example, a reasonable man wouldn't leave a 4-year-old home alone for a weekend. But now that we think about the "reasonable woman," the bar is higher. "A reasonable mother is supposed to be superhuman and always do anything to minimize the risk to her children," says Fentiman. So if something bad happens while a mom is, say, napping, she can be blamed for daring to shut her eyes.

In America, when it comes to crime, we don't blame the victim anymore. But we do blame the victim's mom.