Tami Revering, a Coon Rapids mother of three, will never forget Nov. 10, 2010, she told students in the Coon Rapids High School child development and parenting class last week.
Revering’s actions that day forever changed her life and the life of baby Anders, her best friend’s son.
She shook him. Violently.
He had to be airlifted to St. Paul Children’s Hospital where doctors performed emergency brain surgery.
Anders could have died that night. He was in critical condition with cranial bleeding, but thankfully, he survived. He will go through life with learning disabilities and will likely be on medication to keep seizures at bay for the rest of his days.
Now, Revering shares her story, sometimes alongside Anders’ mother Angie, to high school classes, groups of new mothers – anyone who will listen. If the story can save a baby’s life, it’s worth telling, she said.
Revering came to CRHS March 4 to teach students about the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome, the consequences of which are not always well understood.
When a baby is shaken violently, his or her brain moves back and forth, hitting the skull and causing irreparable damage. Many babies who are shaken become blind, develop cerebral palsy and see a host of other consequences.
On Nov. 10, Revering shook Anders, 4 months old, and slammed him down on a bed twice before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and she called 911.
“Something just came over me,” she said. “I couldn’t make rational decisions.”
The years leading up to the tragedy
Something had been coming over Revering for years: depression. She is careful not to make excuses for her behavior, she told students, but her depression and certain life circumstances are how she understands the events that transpired.
Postpartum depression set in after the birth of her first child.
“I ignored it because I was embarrassed,” she said. “I pushed the feelings down and kept moving forward.”
Less than two years later, she delivered her second child, another baby boy.
Her depression lingered, but she couldn’t understand why she was sad. Her children were healthy, and she didn’t deserve to feel this way, she remembers thinking.
Revering stayed home with her children and watched her best friend Angie’s two boys, too.
When Revering became pregnant with her third child, she and her husband planned to move into a larger home, but their finances did not allow it. When she found out they would be unable to move, she and her husband fought, a rarity, and Revering didn’t sleep at all that night.
The day of the tragedy
The next morning, Nov. 10, she was exhausted, but she got herself out of bed and waited for Angie to drop off her two boys.
The morning was fairly routine. She took the four boys to Early Childhood Family Education programming, then brought them back home for lunch.
She settled the three eldest down for their naps, and gave Anders his bottle before setting him down to sleep. Then, Revering collapsed on the couch, wanting to sleep herself.
That’s when Anders started to cry.
In hindsight, Revering forgot to burp him. That’s all, she said.
But something inside her snapped.
As she was shaking him, something told her she was hurting him, but “the dark side won,” she said.
When it was clear Anders was in trouble, she dialed 911 and confessed to what she had done immediately.
Paramedics told Revering the reason Anders is alive today is because she confessed so quickly. “That’s great, but this is 100 percent preventable,” she said.
“No one is immune to shaking a baby,” Revering said. “You need to know your breaking point, and you need to know when to ask for help,” she told students, listing ways to soothe babies and emphasizing again and again the need to ask for help. Never hold a baby when frustrated, she said.
Today, Anders is 3 years old.
Angie updates Revering on his condition and periodically sends pictures, Revering said. Anders has difficulty grasping things, and though he is very verbal, he has trouble understanding some speech, according to Revering. He hasn’t had a seizure since 2010, but if he is taken off of his medication, there is a 70 percent chance they will recur, Revering said.
Revering and Angie keep in touch, but their friendship isn’t what it was.
Before the events Nov. 10, Revering’s and Angie’s families were inseparable. The couples graduated from the University of Duluth together, where all four of them ran on the cross country and track teams. Their older boys were buddies, and they all vacationed together.
“Neither of us [is] ready for our families to meet again,” Revering said.
She isn’t sure what she will say to Anders if she ever sees him again beyond, “I’m sorry,” which doesn’t seem like enough. “What do you say?”
Living with consequences
Angie saved Revering from years in prison, Revering said.
The judge gave Revering a total of one year in prison, a staggered sentence over eight years. Revering reports to jail for the entire month of June each year, the month Anders was born, and for 15 days each November, the month the incident happened. She has five years left to serve.
When Revering was escorted to jail immediately following the incident, she was suicidal and put in solitary confinement. A guard checked in with her every 15 minutes. “I can still hear his keys jingling,” she said. She remembers asking God to take her life and save Anders.
For 20 years, she will report to a probation officer every other week.
Recently, Revering was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she meets with a therapist and psychiatrist frequently.
She continues to battle with depression each and every day, but she knows now to ask for help when she needs it.
Revering and her husband retain custody of their three boys, now 6, 4 and 2.
CRHS students react
Students in the child development and parenting class asked deeply personal questions, and Revering welcomed them. They were curious about Revering’s life at home. How did her husband react when this tragedy happened? Do her children know what she did?
“You guys have really good questions and really hard questions,” Revering said.
Her husband blamed himself at first for not seeing the signs of her depression, she said.
The children do not visit Revering in jail. They tell them that “mommy made a huge mistake” and that she has to go on a grown-up time out. The kids also know that Revering talks publicly about being gentle with babies. The 6 year old is starting to ask more and more questions, Revering said.
“It’s a very difficult, shocking topic,” Revering said, but each time she talks about it, the words get easier to say. The reality of the situation never does.
“I’m sorry it happened to you,” a student told Revering after class was dismissed.
Sue Hofkes, department leader for family & consumer education at CRHS, who teaches the child development and parenting class, brings speakers in often.
Revering has one of the most powerful stories, and students can learn from her experiences, she said.
“Right now they’re just like sponges,” Hofkes said of her students. “They want to know what the future’s going to hold.”
Olivia Koester is at email@example.com