Four years after her baby died in a parked car, Montreal mother has a message


It’s been almost four years since Anaīs Perlot got the call that shattered her life, and it’s taken all this time for her to consider speaking publicly about it.

She’s doing it now, though, because she hopes it will save another baby from the same kind of accident that cost her son’s life.

“That 22 of June, 2018, I received a call at the end of the day from the father of my child, telling me to urgently come and meet him at daycare,” she remembered.

“And by his voice, I realized something wrong [had] happened.”

That day, Perlot’s then-partner forgot to drop off their six-month-old baby, Cassius, at daycare. Instead, he dropped their daughter at school and went straight to work, parking their SUV in a paid lot and leaving Cassius strapped into his car seat all day.

The baby boy died of overheating, repeating a tragedy that happens about once a year in Canada, and Perlot says it’s all avoidable.

“There’s so many technical apps and stuff that are developed nowadays,” she told CTV News.

“And if we’re capable of not forgetting our phone when we go outside the car… ‘Oh, do I have my phone or my keys’ — why can’t we do that with a human being?” she said.

The Quebec coroner who studied Cassius’s death agreed, urging the federal government in her report to follow Italy’s lead and mandate alarms on young children’s car seats.

This kind of alarm can detect a child’s presence after the car is parked and make a sound loud enough to alert passers-by, or make an emergency call to the driver.

“It’s a terrible tragedy for a parent and for all of society” when such deaths happen, wrote coroner Julie Blondin.

“We must to equip ourselves with societal means so that such a catastrophe doesn’t happen again.”

Barring such built-in solutions, many parents use more informal techniques like putting their cellphone in the backseat of the car to make sure they never forget to look there.

‘IT’S REALLY HARD TO DESCRIBE THE PAIN’

For Perlot, it has taken all of the last four years to recover, at least up to a point, from the loss of her “perfect baby,” to “gentle baby,” as she described Cassius.

The fact that the couple also had an older daughter is what saved her, said Perlot, though at first it wasn’t clear how she would cope.

“How will I survive every day without my son?” she wondered at first, she said. “How can I be a mom to my daughter when all I want is… crying in bed every day?”

That stage lasted for the first “year or two,” she said.

While she ultimately managed to go back to work, and to parent her daughter, her relationship with her ex-partner ended much more quickly.

“I wouldn’t have survived if I wouldn’t have had a kid,” she said. “I honestly would have done something terrible to the father, maybe. And maybe that would mean being in jail today.”

Without her daughter, “maybe I would have not been able to grasp something as important as the love I have for her in life, to be able to survive that, because it’s really hard to describe the pain, the loss of faith in life, she said.

Perlot still has a lot of questions about the events of that day and how the baby’s father could have made such a mistake, she said.

“At some point you’re trying to get answers — and you do not get answers, not from the father of my kids, not from the police itself.”

On that day, her former drove to the daycare after work, arriving at about 5:15 pm, and asked for his son, only to be told by the daycare staff that his son had never been dropped off.

Running back to the car, he found the baby’s lifeless body in the backseat, and despite attempts to resuscitate the infant, he was declared dead soon after.

Perlot wants to know about her ex-partner’s state of mind and the exact timeline of his day, she said. Her efforts by her to find out whether the Crown was considering laying charges – and why or why not – have n’t gone anywhere.

LAPSES IN MEMORY

The coroner found that Cassius’s father had been under a lot of stress and was overturned at the time of his son’s death.

It’s times like these, experts testified to Blondin, that people’s memory can go off-kilter, especially when it comes to their short-term memories.

“In times of stress, a stress hormone is produced that affects general memory,” Blondin quoted Sonia Lupien, a neuroscientist, in her final coroner’s report.

“In times of stress, often all that remains is procedural memory — for example, the memory of habits.”

This is the kind of long-term memory that allows people to go to the grocery store, ride a bike or commute to work while barely remembering having done it, since they’ve done that exact routine so often.

“For example, it’s difficult to learn to ski, but once you’ve learned to do it, you can pick up the skis 20 years later and your brain will have retained ‘the memory of the procedure linked to the fact of skiing,’ “Blondin wrote.

In baby Cassius’s case, he was just being introduced to a daycare routine and only going two or three times per week, so the routine of dropping him off wasn’t well worked into his father’s daily, well-established routine of commuting to work, the coroner found.

Otherwise, he would likely have dropped the baby off while commuting, still on near-autopilot and barely thinking about either task, the coroner wrote.

She ruled the accidental death and also concluded that with parents of young children, often tired and struggling with work-life balance, it’s crucial to develop mechanisms to prevent these lapses in memory.

Cassius’s daycare never contacted his parents to say he was absent because he was on a part-time schedule, she said, and this is also something that needs to be reconsidered across the province.

Unlike schools, Quebec daycares don’t oblige parents to communicate when their kids will be absent — it’s more of an invitation to do so, Blondin wrote. And that also means the daycares don’t always call to check in when kids don’t show up.

Her report recommended that this system be changed as a way of protecting kids’ safety.

Perlot, who describes herself as “a mother of two kids,” says she’s a different person now than she was four years ago, or even two years ago, since the grieving process changed her so much.

Now, she’s working on trying to be able to be happy without feeling guilty about it, which she knows her surviving child needs, she said.

But for the last four years, “when I had a good time with my daughter, there was always a person missing,” she said. “And you can’t escape that.”


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