Yvonne Abraham

A parent’s child-care nightmare

Somebody was hurting Rehma Sabir.

Too late, her tiny bones told the sickening story: compression fractures in her spine; a fracture in her left ­elbow; two in her left leg. The injuries could have been from two weeks earlier, when the baby was overseas visiting family, or inflicted two months before, when she was being cared for in her family’s Cambridge apartment by her nanny, Aisling McCarthy Brady.

Prosecutors believe it was the latter. They say Brady’s abusiveness reached a height on Jan. 14, Rehma’s birthday — that Brady violently shook the 1-year-old and struck her head, bringing on seizures and, two days later, death.


Brady’s lawyer says she loved Rehma and would never harm her, that the ­baby might have been injured on one of two recent trips away from the nanny, to the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. She says a doctor pronounced the baby malnourished upon her return from overseas.

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“There are more facts that will come out to show that Aisling had nothing to do with this,” Melinda Thompson says. “She would never hurt that child and didn’t hurt that child.”

How fervently legions of working mothers want that to be true. For us, the prosecution’s summary of its case, released Wednesday, is especially gut-wrenching reading. It is not 1950. For most of us, not working is not an ­option. And so we struggle to find ­decent care for our kids, in a culture that seems determined to make that as difficult and costly as possible.

Some lucky parents find spots in stellar, licensed child-care centers, open long enough hours to make full-time jobs possible. Some can afford to hire nannies for $15 to $20 an hour, from agencies that will do thorough (but never foolproof) background checks for several thousand dollars. Most aren’t that fortunate, or that ­affluent. They put it together as best they can, choosing cheaper options, and less well-vetted ones. Whatever their choice, they stay vigilant, always on the lookout for warning signs.

But if the prosecution’s version of the facts is true, some warning signs cannot be seen. The picture emerging of Brady is of a volatile person, the subject of two restrain­ing orders. But her employers would have no way of knowing about those unless they went looking for them at a specific courthouse. Brady, one of 10 children, had been a nanny for 13 years. She was close enough to the family to have been ­invited to the ­baby’s first birthday party. She and her husband joined ­Rehma’s extended family, some of whom had come in from overseas, to celebrate at a restaurant the Saturday before the baby was ­injured.


Two days later, with Rehma settling back into her day-care routine, the family’s apartment seemed like Grand Central. The baby’s mother left late, at 9:30 a.m. A neighbor who heard Rehma crying, her wails louder around the time her mother left, pounded on the door. Another mother, whose infant son shared the nanny, dropped off her baby. Other relatives of ­Rehma dropped by around the same time, leaving for lunch around 1 p.m. and clearly planning to come back afterward. A couple of hours later, a member of the family called Brady to check on the baby.

If you’re a working mother, this is exactly what you hope for: A situation where people are dropping in on the person caring for your child through the day, making them less likely to slack off, or worse. And yet here, too, this was not enough, if prosecutors are right. Nobody could be in the apartment all day. Prosecutors say Rehma was injured sometime between 1 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The abuse that killed her might have taken just seconds.

Apart from whoever did this, the ­only person who knew such horror was possible was someone who could not tell anyone.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@
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