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