Child abuse is a well-known crime. Many innocent kids become victims. We would like to know your thoughts after reading. Please comment. Let’s start.
“I guess you could say my real-life narrative started when I was sixteen years old.” My mother (who was also my best friend) died of brain cancer unexpectedly. It shook my entire life, and I couldn’t picture ever being happy again. So, when I was 18 years old, I met a man who I thought was the man of my dreams. We dated for a few years before he proposed, I accepted, and we married when I was 22 years old. I was ecstatic to have found the love of my life so young in life. Since I was a child, I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mother. By the time I was 30, my life plan was to have three children. I visualised everything, including the white picket fence. So my husband and I started trying for a baby, and on October 12, 2012, we were blessed with my son Wyatt, who was born healthy and wonderful. My life was playing out just as I had envisioned it, and we were already talking about having a second child shortly after Wyatt was born.
My husband stopped coming home at night when Wyatt was only four months old. It came out of nowhere. When I pressed him on it, he said, “I’m trying to discover myself,” and “I’m not sure whether I’m ready to be a Dad.” I resolved to be as supportive as possible and hoped and prayed that he would return home. Since my mother’s death, I had never felt so alone. This isn’t how life was meant to be lived. How did I end up as a single mother? Before I had a child with someone, I was raised to be married. I followed my parents’ instructions to the letter, and I couldn’t figure out why this was occurring. But I couldn’t wallow in my misery because I had an infant to look after. That was my main emphasis. I began to suspect that instead of ‘finding himself,’ my spouse was having an affair. He denied it and made me feel like a jerk for even bringing it up. However, I had a friend observe him out with another woman and take some intimate images of them. He ultimately admitted to it after I presented him with “the evidence.” That was the moment I realised my marriage was over. In May of 2013, I filed for divorce.
Things became heated as soon as I filed. My ex was verbally abusive to me. He made me feel as if I wasn’t good enough, and he blamed his adultery on my bad behaviour as a wife. Then, suddenly, the son he had abandoned for months demanded visits. Rachel Edwards, the lady with whom he was having an affair, was someone I had only met once. However, she rubbed me the wrong way. I had heard that she didn’t have custody of her children at the time. To me, it was yet another red flag. But she would be there with her three children when I dropped Wyatt off with his father. As a result, it didn’t make sense. Despite this, I couldn’t ignore my feelings for her. Wyatt was the last person I wanted near her. I told my attorney about my concerns and indicated that I didn’t want Wyatt’s father to spend the night with him. I was afraid he’d leave Wyatt with her alone. I tried to find out as much as I could about her. I immediately inquired with DHS to see if she had custody of her children, but they were not permitted to do so. I then looked up her name on Google, OTIS (Offender tracking information system), and the Sex Offender Registry, all available in Michigan. Each search yielded nothing, and I didn’t have her birthdate either. We had our custody hearing, and I expressed my fears and thoughts to the referee, but she granted my ex overnight visits because I didn’t have documentation. The worry I had the following that hearing was crippling. I couldn’t sleep or eat well, and it harmed
On Friday, November 1, 2013, I received a phone call from Wyatt’s father, who was with him for the weekend, informing me that Wyatt had been taken to Children’s Hospital of Michigan because he was ‘breathing weird.’ My ex-husband had stated that he was at work and would meet me at the hospital. ‘Who the hell was Wyatt left alone with?!’ was one of the first thoughts that came to mind. My ex-husband promised me that his mother, not Rachel Edwards, watched Wyatt while he was at work. I contacted my brother, frantic and shivering, to bring me to the hospital because I was in no condition to drive. On my way to the hospital, I called my ex, and he revealed to me that he had left Wyatt alone with Ms Edwards. My gut sank as my heart sank into my chest. I was furious, but my main concern was getting Wyatt to the hospital. I had no idea what I was in for when I walked in. I assumed he had an allergic reaction or a cold, and they were transporting him to the hospital as a precaution.
When I entered the ER at Children’s Hospital, I was immediately stopped by a member of the neurosurgery team. I knew what she was about to say would be unpleasant the instant her eyes met mine. She informed me that Wyatt is undergoing emergency surgery due to a massive brain bleed and a cracked skull, both of which are suspected to result from a non-accidental incident. I collapsed to my knees and burst out laughing. ‘Is my baby going to be ok?’ I kept asking her. ‘Do you think he’ll make it?’ All she could say was that he was in the finest possible place and that they would do everything they could to help him. I wouldn’t wish the experience of not knowing if your child will live or die on my worst enemy.
Before he went into emergency surgery, I got to see Wyatt. I took about four steps into the room before coming to a halt. My newborn boy was unconscious on the floor. He was naked down to his diaper, grey in appearance, with his eyes rolled in the back of his head and tubes and wires protruding from every body area. My joyful, smiling baby son lay still on the couch. Every day, it is a picture that comes to mind repeatedly.
The four and a half hours he spent in surgery were the longest of my life. Instead of being able to sit with my family and be consoled, I was interrogated by CPS agents, physicians, and others. I realise that was merely protocol, but it wasn’t exactly what I needed at the time. At the same time as I was being interviewed, I was also trying to pray. I couldn’t let go of my little kid. I was allowed to visit Wyatt in the PICU after he had recovered from surgery. He appeared to be the same person I saw before his operation, except he now had a large incision on his head from the procedure. He was on life support, and the doctors warned me that the next 48 hours were crucial. All I could do was sit by Wyatt’s bedside and pray. According to the physicians, Wyatt had broken ribs and bilateral retinal haemorrhages, in addition to the brain bleed and shattered skull. His injuries, they said, were consistent with the shaken baby syndrome. What I was hearing was unbelievable.
Wyatt’s case was classified as a homicide by the prosecutor’s office, and he was not expected to survive. The police then informed me that my ex-girlfriend, husband Rachel Edwards, did, have a criminal record. She was convicted of 3rd-degree child abuse in 2011 and 4th-degree child abuse in 2013. Both times, she received only probation and penalties. Even more depressing is that she was sentenced on the second charge just ten days before she nearly killed Wyatt. She wouldn’t have been able to get Wyatt that day if the judge had only sentenced her to 30 days in county jail. It made me sick to my stomach, and I knew I had to do something about it right then and there. ‘How come those who sexually abuse children must register, but people who physically abuse children do not?’ was my first thought.
Since being disturbed, Wyatt has had four brain surgeries and two eye surgeries. The numerous doctor’s visits, pokes, tests, and outpatient physical, speech, and occupational therapy sessions. He is permanently blind in his left eye, is developmentally delayed, has mild cognitive impairment, and has seizures. He is, nonetheless, alive and well. He’s my miracle child. And I had no intention of allowing what had happened to him to happen to another child. That’s what inspired me to write Wyatt’s Law.
In 2014, I discovered that no state in the country had a public child abuser registry after conducting some research. My mind was boggled by it. I know Wyatt could have been protected if this had existed while I was going through my divorce. So I started a petition on the internet. I started writing my local politicians once I had 500 signatures, and the rest, as they say, is history. The first set of ‘Wyatt’s Law measures were introduced in the Michigan Legislature in October of 2015. I’m quite delighted to say that Michigan was the first state to introduce legislation of this nature. Wyatt’s Law will create a public registry for those found guilty of physically abusing a kid. Unfortunately, politics has hindered the passage of Wyatt’s Law. As a result, in 2017, we introduced new bills. The Michigan Senate unanimously passed the bills in December. This is a tremendous win. However, it was a lame-duck session, and we could not complete it on the House side. We’re about to propose Wyatt’s Law measures for the third time in the coming weeks. I’m not going to give up until this is over. Every time someone tells me “no” or “you’ll never be able to do that,” it motivates me to work even harder.
The state of Michigan has seen a 30 per cent increase in child abuse. According to the Michigan Kids Count, which is published every year, Michigan had over 39,000 CONFIRMED child abuse and neglect incidents in 2016. How can anyone read that figure and not feel compelled to do action? The cost is the main reason for opposition to Wyatt’s Law. What do I say in response to that? In terms of health care expenditures, missed worker productivity, special education programmes, child welfare services, and criminal justice proceedings, child abuse/neglect survivors cost the United States $124 billion each year. That money would be enough to send 1.7 million youngsters to college. Isn’t it incredible?! I’m tired of politicians putting a monetary value on the safety and well-being of our society’s most innocent and vulnerable members, our children. Child abuse occurs in all ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic levels of households. It makes no distinction; it happened to my child and may happen to yours. We must halt the pattern of abuse before our country is destroyed. It is already the case.
It’s not easy being a single mother of a child with special needs. Wyatt’s father is barred from seeing him and has not attempted to reintegrate him into his life. ‘What would Wyatt be like today if he hadn’t been shaken?’ is the thought that plagues me the most. But I try not to think in that manner. I’m very grateful that Wyatt is still alive. That is something I never take for granted. Wyatt’s abuser received a sentence ranging from 33 months to ten years in prison. Every year, we go up before the parole board to speak. It isn’t easy to relive everything every year, but she’s been fortunate enough to be denied three times. And I’ll keep going up there to keep her locked up. Rachel Edwards, for example, can give a kid a “life sentence,” but she does not receive one. That is why, if we can’t keep these criminals behind the prison, we must at least know who they are to protect our children away from them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether your next-door neighbour had been convicted of child abuse? Please join Wyatt’s Facebook Group, ‘Wyatt the Warrior,’ if you wish to follow his tale and get updates on Wyatt’s Law.”
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