A Mother's Biggest Fear: My Daughter & I Almost Died

Mom Moment 37

little girl in poolWhen my daughter was born, my biggest fear in life changed. It became, as it does for most parents, the fear that something would happen to my daughter. But until this weekend, I didn't know what that really meant.

I almost died this weekend. That's not hyperbole. I was underwater, struggling to come to the surface and screaming for help, and I thought it was all over. I thought I was going to die. I thought my daughter was going to die.

It was the scariest experience of my life. Scarier than any of the car accidents I've been in, serious car accidents that pre-date motherhood.

They were dangerous, even life-threatening. But the fear that coursed through my veins as my car tumbled down a river bank with me inside cannot compare to the fear of clutching at my daughter as we both went underwater.

This was scarier because the little life I carried in my stomach for 9 months, the life I cradled in my arms, the life I've cuddled and kissed and watched grow over the past 8 years was slipping away from me.

Let me back up. It was a pool party, and my daughter had brought along her life vest. I made her wear it. Of course I did. That's what moms do.

But the wet vest had begun to chafe her delicate skin. When it was time to reapply her sunscreen, I found angry red rashes on her cheeks and arms. So I let her take it off, opting to get into the pool with her to keep her safe.

When she asked to go down the water slide, I said "sure." She'd done it at least a dozen times already during the party with no problem. Why not this time?

But when she hit the water behind me, rather than in my arms, she began to panic. She wasn't used to hitting the water without the life vest there to push her back up. It took me no more than a second to grab her, but by the time I did, she was already in full flail, pushing at my body in a desperate attempt to surface.

I brought her up, but it was at a cost to myself -- she kept pushing me down, even as I yelled for her to stop pushing, to just calm down, I had her. It wasn't her fault. Panic happens to the best of us.

Still, unable to get my footing in the deep pool, I was no match for her desperation. As I began to sink, I screamed for help, still clinging to my daughter, refusing to let her go. 

I could have surfaced if I'd let her go, but that wasn't an option. A mom doesn't let her child go under.

I screamed with what breath I had left, still holding tight.

Fortunately, there were other adults in the pool. My friend's brother and his partner swooped in. One grabbed my daughter, the other shoved a boogie board into my hands, and when I couldn't get on it, helped pull me up.

They saved my life. More importantly, they saved my daughter's life.

How do you repay that?

I've been thinking on it since Saturday, replaying the moments over and over again, the scent of chlorine filling my nostrils, the sound of the water again in my ears. I'm overwhelmed by feelings of failure, of stupidity, of helplessness.

Before Saturday, I thought I knew what love was. Today, I'm sure I do.

This must be it, to feel that your life matters less than your child's; that your scariest experience is no longer a threat against your own life but one against your child.

I do everything most mothers do to protect my child. I teach her to look both ways before she crosses the road -- and still hold her hand just in case. I apply sunscreen and make sure there's a responsible adult around when she's in a pool.

But my daughter almost died on my watch, and it scared the very loving hell out of me.

Technically, I almost died too. I get that. That hasn't left my mind, but that's not what has made this whole experience so hard to shake. I'm consumed by just how close I came to losing her, and how powerless I was at that moment.

Bring on the hurricanes. The earthquakes. The terrible tornadoes. Nothing could be scarier than what I have already been through. I have faced my biggest fear.

What is the scariest thing that's ever happened in your life? Has motherhood changed what you consider "scary?"


Image by Jeanne Sager

activities, family, safety


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ashjo85 ashjo85

That's terrifying! I'm glad you both are ok. What a wake up call to what's important, huh?

And I know it's not the point of the article, but the best skill you can teach your daughter after that is to swim by herself. It's easy to give them flotation devices, but they become dependent on them. Then when they are in a situation without one, they have no idea what to do, how to stay afloat. And her reaction is very, very typical of a drowing victim. In lifeguarding, you're taught that a drowing victim will claw and pull at any rescuer. That's why they have those floating sticks, and are taught not to grab directly onto a victim, but to offer the device and tow them to safety.

nonmember avatar Kay

An 8 year old should know how to swim, or at the very least float. If she doesn't, she shouldn't be anywhere near a pool without a lifejacket, adult supervision or not. Swim lessons are cheap, invest in them. What happened to common sense?

bills... billsfan1104

I am sorry you went through that. I guess swimming lessons are in order at the local YMCA. I would get her in fast. Because when she gets those lessons, she will learn not to depend on the life jacket and also not to panic, and learn how to swim and tread water. :)

I hope she will be ok. Because I bet this was terrifying for her. I hope that this will not keep her out of the water either n

bills... billsfan1104

People, I disagree with Ms Sager all the time. Give her a break. We have all for things before, and we usually don't make the same mistake twice because we learn from it. Which I am sure that Ms Sager will.

runne... runnergirl888

It's easy to judge the author and say oh your daughter should have had swimming lessons. I don't know what kind of level your daughter is at swimming-wise, but when I was younger, probably 12 or 13, my sister and I almost drowned. My mom is a former competitive swimmer and lifeguard, both my sister and I can swim very well. But we were in a pool horsing around, and my sister was on my shoulders, and I misjudged where the deep end dropped off and lost my footing. My sister panicked and wouldn't let go of my shoulders. Luckily my mom was sitting right there and jumped in, because I was underwater and couldn't yell. You can say all you want about not panicking, but you can't judge unless you've been in the situation. I'm glad you and your daughter are all right.

early... earlybird11

I am not judging but this was the reason our swim instructor said no swimming with the life vest. The dependance on it for the swimmer causes panic when not available. I understand her panic, but I think at 8, you need to invest in swim lessons asap

fleur... fleurdelys3110

Wow, that's terrifying! Thank goodness everyone is ok. Although there is a valuable lesson to be learned about taking swim lessons.

Coles... Coles_mom

If anything like that we're to happen again, let go of your child for the five seconds it'd take to swim up and scream for help. Then dive back down and grab...at least then you'd know help was on its way. And to the people yapping about swim lessons. I had them as a kid and am completely freaking mortified of the water. I haven't been near a pool or anything for years. My kids haven't had swim lessons.

CLM3345 CLM3345

I knew how to swim well at 8. But, my brother and I were swimming at a river we'd swam at 100 times before. I slipped on a rock and the current swept me away. My brother shouted for my mother and she jumped into the current to save me. I didn't realize the magnitude of what had happened to me, I was more concerned I had lost one of my Little Mermaid jellies! I guess my point is, it's a fleeting memory to me, but my mother will never forget that day so long as she lives. Take comfort in knowing this probably will not haunt your daughter. I never have forgotten how brave my mother was that day, though. She'll always be my hero.

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