Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
Tragedy and Working Women
November 21, 1997
I shudder to think how many majestic trees have given up their lives to
keep the panting populace informed about O. J., the Menendez brothers
and Susan Smith. The public loves reading about other people's
tragedies, and the trial of the au pair, Louise Woodward, is only the
We have been watching a judge and a jury determine the fate of the young
English woman. Did she or didn't she? Should she go free or to
prison? Did her lawyers goof up? Was the Judge influenced by mob
hysteria and vicious talk radio?
But the name, Matthew Spellman Eappen, is not known to many of us. That
is the name of the dead baby, nine months old, son of physicians Deborah
and Sunil Eappen, brother of Brendan. That is the heart of the tragedy
and we have not heard much about it.
This case goes far beyond the legal question. The emotional impact on
the parents has been virtually ignored, and the social issues will be
fought over long after Louise Woodward returns to England and is heard
from no more.
There are politically motivated people in this country who are willing
to use any tragedy to further their cause. They are the ones who, as we
approach the 21st century, are still saying that all mothers should stay
home full time with their children. This baby's death, they say, is the
Those of us who have not been there, can only imagine the agony of the
parents losing their baby. In this case the pain is compounded by the
possibility that someone they trusted was responsible. Now the mother
is being accused by many of "murder" because she was not there. And
all working mothers are under attack.
When this story broke, probably every working mother in America
shuddered and said "My God! That could have been me." It could have
happened to any of us.
We are in the middle of major societal shift. We have gone from being an
agricultural nation to being an industrial one.
Once upon a time multi-generational families living under one roof made
it possible for mothers to get out in the fields and help with the job
of farming. Then there was a time before the second World War when
most women had left the farm and stayed home with their children, like
my mother. Today most mothers do not have either alternative.
We can't turn back the clock - and we don't want to. Life has become
much too complicated to expect women or men to return to the life style
in which most women were expected to be full time mothers. Women are
now in the work force in huge numbers, doing everything from driving
road graders to brain surgery, and most of them are mothers.
Women have finally earned the right to make choices in their lives.
For those mothers who choose to or must work outside the home the
availability of well trained, well paid child care providers must be
greatly expanded. All we have to do is convince Congress.
Most of us are doing the best we can. Working mothers are not by
definition neglecting their children, but they make mistakes. And
stay-at-home mothers are not usually June Cleaver. Biological mother
Susan Smith put her children in her car and pushed it and them into a
We all know that child abuse is epidemic in America but it is being
committed by mothers and fathers and baby sitters and strangers. We
have to stop it.
Yes we need to strengthen families, but individual families cannot
solve the whole problem by themselves. We must either admit that women
are in the work force to stay, and expand family services, including
extended child care facilities, or take the consequences. We can't turn
back the clock. But let Deborah Eappen try to carve out a life with
room to contribute both as a mother and as a doctor, and let a dreadful
accident happen, and we go into an attack mode against her and all other
Children are the responsibility of all of us. In the 1990's they
cannot be raised in a vacuum, whether they have-stay-at home moms or
working moms. They are exposed to too many influences outside the
In this society , even as in the agricultural one, it literally takes
a village to raise a child.