February 14, 2018. Valentine’s Day. I was home with my then 3 month-old son, on my day off from work. My husband and I planned to meet up to have a bite together on his lunch break. We had a “fancy” lunch at Honey Baked Ham, and I headed home with our youngest. When we got home, we were preparing to take a nap when I got a text that completely changed our day – and the weeks and months to follow.
My cousin texted me asking “Are you all okay?” I responded with “Of course. What’s going on?”. And that’s when she told me all about the events that were unfolding right in our own backyard. There had just been a shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, which is only a few miles from where we live. And the worst part was that it was only a few miles from where my four other children were still in school. So, like any mom would do, I jumped right back in the car and headed to pick my kids up. Even though the situation was still unfolding and the gunman was still on the loose, I was determined to make sure my children were safe.
At that point, I had no idea how massive this tragedy was.
Although their schools were on lockdown because of the nearby tragedy, my children were all okay. My younger children were confused about what was going on. They knew that “something” happened since they could not play on the playground or even go out into the hallway at school. But they had no idea what just happened. My older children knew and understood what happened, but still had lots of questions. It was not a conversation I was prepared to have with my children that day (on Valentine’s Day of all days). We got home and tried to have a normal day in spite of it all.
It was hard not to follow the news that day. I followed the Facebook pages of some of the affected families. Their posts started with pleas to anyone with information about their missing loved ones. Some of the messages eventually turned to the heart-wrenching news that their loved one was among the 17 killed or 17 injured in this tragedy. I could not imagine being in their shoes.
For months after this tragedy, our lives were not the same. Our schools had strict safety procedures in place. There were police officers at the school gates during student drop off and pick up. We could no longer go on campus to have lunch with our kids. We also could not volunteer in the classrooms. As a Pediatrician, I talked with so many children who suffered with anxiety and depression because of this tragedy. At home, as a mom, I also had to help my own children through their nightmares, anxiety related to going to school, and all of the emotions that came about in the aftermath.
Although so many of us were physically unaffected by this tragedy, the emotional effects are still long-standing.
Situations like this are still happening far too often around our country. Sadly, I vividly remember the news coverage from the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings. And those are the images I had in my mind as I raced to pick my own children up from school that day. I also cannot forget the Las Vegas, Virginia Tech and Orlando nightclub shootings. The shootings in malls and movie theaters. The mass shootings we hear about almost everyday in our country. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Mass shootings have been around for decades, and it seems our society is becoming numb to their effects. The United States has the highest rate of gun violence of any other developed country. According to the American Journal of Medicine, an American is 25 times more likely to be a victim of gun violence than someone from any other developed country. We know that something must be done to prevent the senseless loss of life, but we can’t seem to be able to figure out what to do to truly make them stop.
We have to do our part to prevent these tragedies from happening. We can start with these basic steps:
- Write to your government representatives and urge them to enact legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of those who are considered high risk. Background checks are a great start.
- Advocate for mental health access and coverage for everyone – especially those who need it the most.
- Talk about gun safety in your visits with patients.
I do not want my children to grow up in a country where mass shootings continue to be the norm. Something must change. We have to work together to ensure that our families are kept safe physically and emotionally. The thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families involved in these tragedies is a great gesture, but we have to be more proactive at preventing them in the first place.
Petra McEwan, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, is a practicing Pediatrician and Lactation Consultant in South Florida, where she lives with her husband and five kids. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. On her website, https://www.wifeymommydoc.com, she helps working wives and moms balance their many roles. She can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @wifeymommydoc.