© The Telegram
Part 1 in a three-part series.
Like any loving parent, when Sharon (not her real name) checked on her baby and found her lethargic, she called 911 and rushed her to the Janeway Children’s Hospital.
The five-month old had been crying and fussy that afternoon.
The child was examined at the hospital and then treated for infection. On Day 2, tests revealed bleeding on the brain and behind the retinas of her eyes.
“The doctor asked if she’d had any accidents. Did she fall off the bed?” Sharon said.
“Then the RNC and Child Protection showed up.”
One week later, the child was in protective custody in the hospital.
“Little did I know that all the guns were pointed at me at the time,” Sharon told The Telegram in a recent wide-ranging interview, where she was accompanied by family members.
“I was in shock. For two-and-a-half hours we were questioned by the RNC investigative unit and Child Protection. The whole family got interviewed — anyone who looked after her. … About a week later we were served with the papers that they were taking (the baby).”
Sharon said she knew she hadn’t hurt her child and she didn’t think anyone else had, either.
“I stuck with my gut instinct on that,” she said. “I brought her to the hospital because she was sick.”
A family member who helped advocate for Sharon interjects: “The theory is that you have a frustrated mother and a crying baby, and the mother snaps.”
“Her father and his family had her on the weekend and a few hours during the week. …,” Sharon said. “It wasn’t like I had her day and night with no help. … I had tons of help.”
Sharon was at her daughter’s bedside in the hospital night and day for more than three weeks. At one point she was called into another room, where two social workers and two RNC officers were waiting. That’s when she was served with papers telling her she was losing her daughter.
“I threw up,” she said.
Days later, police and social workers arrived again.
“They took her away,” she said, crying softly. She had no idea where her child was going.
It is the only time during the interview when she loses her composure.
“I wasn’t even told when I would be able to see her again.
“They recommended I get a lawyer. … I had barely heard of shaken baby syndrome at the time.”
It was guilt by association; the last person to have cared for the baby becomes the target of suspicion.
It is a story too often told.
• • •
Because of a medical condition, Sharon thought she would probably never have children. So when she found out she was pregnant in 2010 — even though the circumstances weren’t perfect — she was ecstatic.
She and the father of her child were not together at the time, but as a woman in her 30s who thought she’d never have the experience, she was surprised and pleased to be having a baby.
“I was really happy — I didn’t think I was going to have kids,” she said. “I was thrilled! I wasn’t very happy with my situation — we were broke up at the time. We tried to make it work, and even went for counselling, but it didn’t work out.”
Still, she was looking forward to parenthood. An educated, articulate woman with a professional career, she figured she was well equipped to care for her daughter.
Now, three years later, she is struggling to rebuild her life after going through psychological, emotional and financial hell.
Sharon’s pregnancy was difficult. By the 27-week stage, she had contracted pneumonia. The baby was breech, with its head tucked near Sharon’s rib cage. Sharon coughed violently for six weeks and required antibiotics and hospitalization. Eventually her daughter was delivered by C-section, five weeks prematurely.
The baby’s head was elongated and enlarged, and the fontanel — the soft spot between the bones of her skull — was bulging. For the next three months, she required occupational therapy to correct the shape of her head, which had grown 12 centimetres in four-and-a-half months — a rate of growth you would normally expect to see in a year.
“This was all recorded,” Sharon said, “but nothing was followed up on. They never went back and considered anything in her history. They looked forward from the day she was brought in (to the hospital). They never looked back.”
The fight to regain access to her child would cost Sharon dearly.
The stress of the situation meant she had to take medical leave from work. The staggering cost of her defence led to her declaring bankruptcy. She lost her house.
“It took a toll on the whole family,” she said. “I hit rock-bottom more than once, let me tell you.”
But Sharon had strong weapons in her arsenal. Among them: tenacity, courage and the truth.
Next week: The rocky road to justice
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor.
She can be reached by email at