I’m a cautious, smart mom and my child choked. And it was my fault.
I didn’t lose him. Thank God I didn’t. But it was as real as real comes, and it was terrifying.
It was textbook choking. He was silent. He didn’t make a peep. He wasn’t coughing. He wasn’t gagging. He wasn’t flailing his arms. He was still. He was quiet. And he had an expression on his face that I’ve never seen on that precious little face before.
That’s how I knew it was real.
The sound of my sister’s voice. I knew. The way she said my name. It was quiet but it was different. Just hearing her tone, I immediately knew something was wrong with my son. I looked at him. I knew. There was no sound. I knew. His eyes were big and there was a look of worry. Helplessness, panic and worry. I knew.
My child was choking.
I shifted him forward in his chair and hit his back very hard several times.
I looked at him. Still no sound, still the same look in his eyes.
I felt the panic and the “Oh my god that didn’t work” wash over me.
I stood him up and slammed my hand into his back as hard as I could. Over and over again.
I didn’t know what else to do. And at the same time I knew the next thing I had to do was bend him over the chair in front of me or try the Heimlich.
I’ve never actually done the Heimlich. I know what you’re supposed to do but I wouldn’t say I know how to do it.
I’d lost my voice a few days earlier so I couldn’t even scream for help. I needed my sister to yell for a doctor or nurse.
My mind was racing a million miles an hour. And yet it was like everything was happening in slow motion. Slow enough for my mind to process the gravity of what was happening even as it was happening.
I was still beating his back as hard as I possibly could. I wasn’t worried about hurting him. I was worried about saving him.
Finally, I heard him cry my name through a weak sob.
I pulled him into my arms. I couldn’t breathe. Oh my God, I could’ve lost my child. Losing a child—or them losing me—is my biggest fear in the world. And I almost had.
My child choked.
I’d managed to get it up. Or out. Or at least shifted it so he could breathe.
I had done the first thing I could think to do. I don’t know if it was the right thing. Yes, it worked, but what if it hadn’t?
I send my regular babysitters to get trained in CPR & the like, but I hadn’t gone myself. It had been “on my list” for a long time. But I hadn’t done it. How arrogant of me to think I’d know what to do just because I’m the Mother.
I’m vigilant with their safety.
I use “leashes” in huge public settings. I’m scared of them running into the road. I’m terrified of kidnapping. I have them in survival swim lessons.
I worry about what they eat. What’s in the food I give them. How it impacts their growing bodies.
I’m the Mom who cuts my kids’ grapes vertically every single time. And when those grape halves look too big, I cut them again. I’m wary of whole bananas. I don’t like my children to eat with a sitter when I’m not there.
I’m careful. But still, my child choked.
I’m smart. But still, my child choked.
I’m a good Mom. And still, my child choked.
And it would’ve been my fault.
I made the mistake. I’m the one who thought a peanut M&M would be okay. I made that call.
We were at the theater. I don’t let my kids eat popcorn because it’s one of the main choking hazards for young kids. And yet I somehow thought peanut M&Ms would be okay.
I thought it would be okay because I’m careful. And because HE is careful. He chews. He tells his little sister to “take bites.” He is an excellent listener and a cautious child. So I thought it would be okay.
I had even momentarily hesitated and thought about it. And I ultimately decided it was okay.
I was wrong.
In one instant, everything could have changed. And I was almost completely helpless to save him. I’ve never felt so powerless in my entire life.
Even a medical professional might not have been able to save him if I hadn’t been able to. There are no guarantees.
Yes, I know “anything can happen to anyone at anytime.”
But that’s not what this is about. This is about me as a Mother making a mistake that could’ve cost my child everything. A Mother who loves her children more than she could have ever dreamed. A Mother who guards them with her life. A Mother just like you.
I’m just trying to say—it can happen to any one of us. Even the “careful” ones.
I took a CPR class the first chance I got. I hope with my entire being I never feel that helpless again.
And as careful as I am, I can be more so. I hesitated about the peanut M&M. My mom gut questioned it. And my mom brain or heart or who knows what overruled it.
Such a tiny little thing could’ve destroyed my entire world. I’m sharing this so others can think twice. And so we as parents can make sure we are as trained/prepared for an emergency with our children as we can be.
I wasn’t trained. And I sure wasn’t prepared.
I’m not afraid to say that I’m a great Mom. I am. But I almost failed my child. And in a way, I did fail him. Because I guide what is “okay” for him to do, eat, watch—you name it. He looks to me. And I thought it was okay. So, so did he.
It’s been weeks and I’m still reeling. He recovered quickly so we stayed at the show that night. He’d been so looking forward to it. The second I tucked him in and shut the door that night I just sobbed and sobbed. I went into our bedroom and told my husband what had happened. That our child choked. I couldn’t stop crying.
I was carrying the shock that I could have lost him. And the guilt that it was my fault that my child choked.
And I was carrying the weight of wanting to tell everyone in the world so it wouldn’t happen to them, yet not wanting to tell anyone because the heaviness of it was too much to repeat. It was the closest call of my life.
The day after it happened I called my sister to make sure it was as real as it felt. She told me it was. And that it had been shocking and she’d gone home and taken a long shower and cried and thanked God over & over that he was okay. I asked her to tell our mom and sister what happened because I couldn’t bear talking about it yet.
A few days later I spoke to my son about it. He remembered it. He remembered being scared and he remembered that I really hurt his back. No, he hadn’t been playing or jumping up and down or being silly. He’d been sitting calmly waiting for the show.
My child choked not because he was moving around or playing at the table or being silly or talking with his mouth full.
The truth is he choked because I gave him something I shouldn’t have. It’s important to remember that it can happen in any circumstance.
We now talk about choking safety and eating safety all the time. And how we can all be more careful. In true big brother fashion, he is now exceedingly worried about his little sister choking and taking too big of bites.
I remember talking to my husband about how inadequate I felt that I had no training on how to save my choking child. About how I was going to take a CPR/Basic Lifesaving Skills class immediately. He’s a surgeon. He told me the Heimlich is very effective. I asked “How effective?” His answer: “About 85% of the time.” My mouth dropped. I blurted out, “That’s it?! That’s all? That’s not good enough!”
Did you know that a child dies from choking every 5 days in the US? I didn’t. My child choked. He could’ve been a statistic.
So what can we do?
We can educate ourselves about the main choking hazards for children. (*Keep in mind that my son was 4.5—just because your child isn’t 2 years old anymore doesn’t mean he or she can’t choke.) We can take the life-saving skills classes & know what to do. Heimlich is one of the ways to save the life of someone choking. There are others. Like the back blows I did. And CPR. And we can make sure our babysitters and schools and day cares are trained.
We can make sure we don’t take any of it lightly. Because I can assure you, if your child is choking, it will feel anything but light. It will feel like the heaviest terror you can imagine.
Think of it this way:
It’s like preparing for the biggest test of your life—don’t you want to be as prepared as possible? Especially when it could mean life or death?
I let my kids eat popcorn until I read a post a Mom wrote about almost losing her 2 year old son to a piece of popcorn. I let them eat nuts until I read a Mother’s article about how her child choked to death on an almond. Reading those things breaks my heart into a million pieces but also makes me even more aware.
Mamas, I’m not trying to guilt you. Or mom-shame you. But I might be trying to scare you.
Scare you into getting the proper training and scare you into thinking twice. About the lollipop in the car (guilty). About the hot dog or piece of ice. Or maybe the spoonful of peanut butter. Or the latex balloon.
Because your child could choke.
Even if you’re a careful Mama, like me.
Update: I took a CPR/Basic Life Support (BLS) class. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I know it’s tough to find the time. I know it’s tough to find the money. But, the peace of mind it gives you is worth every penny & every minute. You will not regret it. I cannot believe I didn’t do this sooner. I feel so much more secure in my Motherhood. Do it. Look for a class in your area asap. We can raise our kids, we can mold & teach our kids, we can love our kids…but we also need to know how to save them when we can.
Has your child choked or have you ever had a choking scare? Do you have any pointers? Tell me more in the comments.
Want more on Motherhood? —> Are you a Stay at Home Mom? Or scared to fly since having kids? Do you have Mom Burnout? (I did, so I found a cure)
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