Excerpted from “It Happened to Audrey: A Terrifying Journey From Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer” by Audrey Edmunds with Jill Wellington
Mid-October has long been my favorite time of year, when the green leaves give way to the dazzling reds and fluorescent oranges, the color spectacular of autumn. Fall was the reason I loved living in Wisconsin, and I knew it was much the same in Minnesota. My husband was on his way to our new city, our house had been sold, and the weather was still warm enough to walk Carrie to school. It really was a happy day!
Right on time, I thought, as I raced into the house to get Natalie. My clock said eight-forty, which gave us plenty of time to stroll to the school. I was relieved when I entered the bedroom to find that Natalie was no longer crying. I heard a slight whimper, and as I drew closer, I noticed her eyes were closed with her head tilted to one side. Her bottle was lying on the floor.
Hopefully, she can sleep on our walk, I thought and placed Natalie’s jacket on the floor, ready to put it on her. I gently lifted the drooping child and placed her on the opened jacket, but as I put one of Natalie’s arms into her sleeve, I was startled to see formula dribble out of her nose! Instantly, I picked her up and softly patted her back, expecting her to burst into tears, but she was unresponsive.
My heart hammered and I knew something was dreadfully wrong. Had she choked on her formula? Adrenaline pulsed through me as I raced through the house, the garage and across the front yard with the baby in my arms, screaming for help. I had never been so afraid in my life. It was obvious Natalie was in serious trouble.
My neighbor, Tina, waiting for me down the block with her kids, heard my shrieks and ran up the street.
“My God! My God!” I screamed hysterically and held Natalie upright in front of Tina. “I…I think the baby choked…I was putting on her jacket. She’s…she’s…not responding to me.”
“Go inside and call 9-1-1!” Tina shouted.
I barely remember getting to the phone, and in my overwhelming panic, I sputtered to the 911 dispatcher that Natalie had choked and was now limp. Pant…pant…suck in a big breath. I was now hysterical.
The dispatcher tried to calm me and told me to lay Natalie on the floor. She began to explain the steps for infant CPR. With trembling hands, I followed the instructions and Natalie gasped lightly. I was horrified when more formula flowed out of her small mouth. This cannot be happening, my mind raged. An overpowering force took over my body as I performed the thrusts for infant CPR. I knew I had left Natalie with a propped bottle and I felt the full impact of having that baby’s precious life placed in my hands.
Within minutes, two Waunakee police officers, including Police Chief Robert Roberts, arrived. I was crying so hard that Roberts shooed me to sit at the kitchen table so he could assess Natalie. Shortly afterward, I was hugely relieved when EMT’s Lorraine Endres and Shirley Nelson pulled up in an ambulance to take over and work on the wilted child. Surely, they were experts at this. They would know how to save a choking baby.
I stumbled into the kitchen, collapsed onto a chair at the table and prayed with all my heart. Now I could fall apart, and I did. My body wracked with sobs as I started to pray that now Natalie was in good hands. Safe hands.
While EMT Endres worked on Natalie, I showed EMT Nelson Natalie’s bottles and amoxicillin in the refrigerator.
“We need to contact the baby’s parents,” Nelson said. In a daze, I found Cindy’s number in a file cabinet. Nelson asked me to leave so they could continue to work on the baby. Shock took over and I was on autopilot, feeling very confused, panicked, almost out-of-body. Suddenly my friend Shelley was with me on the back porch, and I remember Nelson ordering us to move the patio furniture to clear the entryway through the master bedroom into the house. I had no idea what was happening inside because the police told us nothing. Soon after, I heard a loud whirring sound above us and instinctively ducked. It was the Med Flight Helicopter swooping in like a giant locust. It landed in the vast field right behind our house, and to me, it felt like a Black Hawk arriving at a war zone.
Shelley led me, stunned, across the street to her house. In my foggy state, I had no idea where the other children were, but learned later that Tina and Patti took them and drove Carrie to preschool.
I remember Shelley pulling me by the arm as I was floating… floating. Next, I remember being on her couch and hearing her talking with Dave on the phone, explaining that Natalie had choked on her formula and was now in a helicopter on the way to the hospital. Was she breathing normally? Would she be okay? I didn’t know.
“Dave is driving back to Waunakee right now,” Shelley said. “Tell me everything that happened.”
I tried to explain the hideous morning but I couldn’t think clearly through my sobs. I truly felt lightheaded and disoriented. Shock is a very strong shield against reality.
Shelley figured they had flown Natalie to University of Wisconsin Hospital in nearby Madison, and we later learned that Natalie was stabilized when they removed her from my house. But when Shelley called, the hospital had no information on her condition. She did her best to comfort me and was concerned about my pregnancy–which I had virtually forgotten.
Just after nine o’clock, Tina and Patti arrived with Allison and Jessica. Everyone was disturbed as we talked about the dreadful morning. The next few hours are a blur of conversation and concern. Someone fetched Carrie from preschool and just before noon, Shelley walked me back to my house, where in my robotic state, I fixed lunch for the kids.
Natalie’s mother, Cindy, finally called me around noon and I told her what had happened. Cindy was kind and concerned about me, and after our conversation, I melted onto a kitchen chair. I was extremely relieved to know that Natalie was receiving the best care possible from medical experts. I told Cindy I would meet her at the hospital later.
Despite the news that Natalie was alive, I felt a deepening gloom, wondering how my perfect morning had deteriorated into a glimpse of Hell.
Little did I know that Hell is a deep, dark hole.