With the good times, come the bad times. It’s been a month since it happened, and although a lot of our friends, family and neighbours already know this story, I think it’s time to write it out. I tried earlier, but it just wasn’t working. Part of me thought that if I didn’t actually say it, talk about it, or write about it, it wasn’t really real. But it happened, and now that it’s over and it’s been awhile, I feel like it’s a story I can tell now without having a breakdown.
Long weekend in July, our family went to visit friends for the night. We had a great time, and when we got home, we unpacked and headed to our favourite place – our pool area. It was sunny and hot, and we were exhausted from the previous night and the heat. I took the three kids into the pool for a swim. When we got out, I was busy with getting everyone out of their bathing suits and floaties. I unclipped my youngest and was working on the other two kids. In the meantime our friend showed up. He was there to pick up his trailer, the one we had borrowed the previous day. It seemed like a minute, but maybe it was 2 or 3. I looked, and couldn’t find Amelia. “Where’s Millie?” I said… and just then turned around and saw what I may never ever forget in my life. Millie was at the bottom of the pool. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so silently in my life. The breath had been knocked from me in an instant. Nick jumped in the pool and pulled her out. She was blue, bloated and lifeless. Just typing that, brings tears to my eyes. I ran for the phone, to call 911 and Nick started CPR on our baby. By the time I came back to the area, he had already brought her back to us. It felt like hours and hours of me thinking we had lost her, but in reality it was mere minutes, maybe even seconds. I remember telling the 911 operator that she was unconscious, and thinking that we had lost her forever. Lucky for us, our neighbour is a first responder, who was there in a flash. Watching her in her father’s arms, vomiting up water and screaming, was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. The ambulance came along with volunteer fire fighters and police. Everyone was telling me that she was OK, that it was going to be fine, but I was shaken to the core. I’ve never felt so much fear, sadness and guilt in my entire life. Her brother and sister were crying hysterically, not understanding what was happening. My baby and husband were in the back of the ambulance, while I tried to calm the other two kids down, and get myself together enough to figure out what to do next. Lucky for us, our neighbour (the first-responder hero) took Natalie and Jack back to his house to play with his kids, while our friend drove me to the hospital. That was the longest drive of my life. Not being with her, not knowing what was happening, fearing something had gone wrong almost killed me. When we got to the hospital, I saw her laying in a bed, with her father on his knees at her side. Nick has always been the strength in our family. He’s the one who ALWAYS keeps it together. Seeing him in tears, without words was beyond scary. We were told that we were very lucky because most kids her age die in these incidents. We were also told that she was OK. That she would be fine, and that we did everything right in saving her. We felt the opposite though. We had failed our baby. A few hours later, we carried our baby out of that hospital, wrapped in a blanket. She was still sleeping, and when she woke, she stood in the parking lot puking. We were afraid to take her home. Afraid that she wasn’t fine, that we’d lose her again. That we’d mess up all over again. When we got home we sat on the couch as a family, Millie in her father’s arms. We were all crying. Jack asked if Millie was going to be OK. When I told him that yes, she was going to be fine, and that it was all over, he said “that’s because Daddy is a hero.” Even though he felt anything but a hero, he really was. I know both Nick and I felt (and still do) that we failed in being parents. We failed to protect our kids. In what seemed like a minute, we almost lost one of the most important things in our life. Previous to this incident, I had often read about water safety, drowning, secondary drowning. I felt like since I had done the reading, that it would never happen to us. I felt I had things under control. Many times in the past, I had been much more careless than I was on that day. It was a minute. I turned my back for a minute and everything changed.
That night we watched her sleep, with our hands on her chest, afraid that if we took our eyes off of her we’d lose her. It was by far the worst night of my life. My head swirled with thoughts of how it happened, why it happened, was she afraid when it happened? I couldn’t stop. When I closed my eyes, I saw her at the bottom of our pool, in her bright pink swim shirt. I saw her lifeless body pulled from the water. I still re-live it in my dreams, over and over, every night. It’s her, it’s her siblings, it’s my nieces, nephews, kids I know, kids I see in grocery stores. Over and over. I cannot get it out of my head. I’ll be driving along and all of the sudden I am in tears, hands clenching the steering wheel. Anytime I sit idle, I think about it. It has gotten better. We have been in the pool since, a few times, usually with friends and family. We just had a party at our house, and there were a ton of kids in the pool. My heart was in my throat the entire day. I was petrified, with all the gates open, people freely wandering around the one place that I am most afraid of. At the end of the day, my good friend said to me “I’m so glad no one was hurt today.” She was my pool police for the day. She was afraid that she had offended people by insisting babies wore life jackets around the pool. I’m so grateful that she was there, possibly offending people. Better to offend, than to ever go through that again.
I fear that it will happen again, to one of my kids, or any of the other kids I know. I live in constant fear of where my children are. In the days after the incident I couldn’t let them out of my sight. One of them would be in the bathroom, without telling me and I’d be running in circles screaming “WHERE ARE YOU??”
In the minutes after the incident I insisted that we fill in the pool. That I’d never go out there again. Never let my kids swim, or play like we used to. Nick and I decided that we can’t do that. That we have to teach our kids to swim and be safe with water because it is a part of life. It scares the shit out of me every single day, but we are moving forward. We may be overly-cautious now (Is there such a thing?), but we have to move on. We are just so grateful that we didn’t lose a child. So grateful that we have been given a second chance. Grateful that Amelia is still with us, and unharmed. She woke up the morning after and asked if she could go swimming. We are so lucky, and we know it.
All I can really say is that if you have kids, don’t EVER take your eyes off of them when you are around water. It really only takes a minute. I’ve heard it so many times, and now that I’ve gone through it, I can tell you that it’s very true. I’ve read and heard terrible stories about kids dying or surviving only to live with brain injuries or other health problems. It is terrifying. Don’t let it happen to you. Be safe with your kids. Please.