Meagen Gries shares the tragic story about the death of her infant daughter, Molly Ann, every chance she gets. It’s her way of impressing on parents the importance of safe sleep practices. Just maybe, when a parent hears about how Molly died, a light will go on.
Many loving and caring parents don’t appreciate the risks of sleep practices that at one time were accepted — sleeping infants on their stomachs, placing bumper pads and blankets in the crib, having babies in bed with mom and dad.
Meagen said she made her share of mistakes, too, with Molly and with 4-year-old son, Owen.
“Everything you’re not supposed to do, I did,” Meagen said. “I didn’t think the Pack ‘N Play was soft enough so I put down a fleece blanket and a sheet on top of it. I put Owen to bed on his belly before he was rolling because he slept better that way. With Molly, I had her sleep next to me. I was nursing her and we’d both fall asleep in bed.”
But it wasn’t her mistake that led to tragedy. Two-month-old Molly died at a babysitter’s house on May 4, 2015. It was Meagen’s first day back to work as a first-grade teacher after maternity leave.
The sitter put Molly down for a nap, swaddled and propped her on her side atop blankets. Molly rolled onto her belly and suffocated.
Meagen and her husband, Jeff, initially believed Molly was a victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), that it was not preventable. But in August that year, the coroner told them “positional asphyxiation” caused Molly’s death.
The Hudson couple didn’t know Molly had been in placed harm’s way because of blankets in the Pack ‘N Play at the sitter’s house. They had never checked out the sleeping environment. In hindsight, Meagen says parents should absolutely find out how and where their babies are put to sleep under someone else’s care.
“After we heard from the coroner, I went on Facebook so friends and families would see what happened, so anybody using unsafe practices would make a change,” she said. “Within a couple hours, the post had been shared a couple thousand times.”
The reaction and proceeds from a GoFundMe account started by her Stow school colleagues inspired Meagen and Jeff to create the Molly Ann Gries Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting safe sleep practices.
Meagen’s twin sister, Kelley Deal, designed the foundation logo and its website. The foundation urges parents to place infants on firm mattresses with fitted bed sheets; to sleep them alone — never with mom and dad — and place them on their backs. Cribs should be free of stuffed animals, pillows, blankets and bumper pads.
The foundation also distributes movement monitors and breathable crib mattresses to families of infants at risk for SIDS. It gives away 2 free Snuza movement monitors every month.
Soon, the foundation will provide board books about safe sleep practices to 27 pediatric offices of Akron Children’s Hospital. Akron Children’s will give the books to parents of newborns at their first medical appointment. The foundation expects to donate about 8,500 books a year.
Meagen gave birth to a daughter, Emma, on May 5, 2016, almost a year to the day Molly died.
“I’ve never had anger or judgment toward the sitter, because it could have happened to me at my house,” Meagen said. “It’s too common. That’s why it’s important to talk about it.
“The biggest thing with sharing Molly’s story is it’s a chance to make a connection with somebody, a chance to let Molly’s legacy live. It’s hard to talk about, but you hope the more you say it, more parents are going to make different choices.”