I have decided that it is time for me to talk about what happened this summer to my beautiful 2-year-old, Anya. Ultimately, my hope is that if I share our story, somewhere another child will be protected from the same scenario.
My daughter drowned because she figured out how to open the back door and slipped outside while everyone was busy.
The truth is a child can drown at any time. When you think they are napping, playing, being watched by someone else and most importantly, even when they are not supposed to be by the water. Toddlers are quick and resourceful, they find ways to get out of the house without being noticed. It happens so fast! In fact, Drowning is the # 1 cause of accidental death in children between 1 and 4. And it can happen to even the best parents.
In the past few months I have spoken to so many loving parents and grandparents who have lost a child/grandchild to drowning. Drowning is preventable, adding guilt and shame on top off our already fragile grieving hearts. We will always feel empty and sad, and always wish we could go back and do everything differently. So, the judgement is unnecessary.
The point of writing this, is to make everyone aware that you never think it will be you. But at any moment, everything can change. We can only physically control so much. As a mom, I’ve always been vigilant to take every step I could to keep Anya safe. To the point where some thought I was being crazy, or a helicopter mom. My other children, Tony and Alex, are older and my youngest, Asher, isn’t mobile yet. So, I didn’t worry as much about them being hurt. Anya on the other hand, at 2 years old, was a smart and determined to get what she wanted. I had to make my own baby gates to keep her off the steps. Any normal gates we bought and tried she could climb over in 2 seconds. I still cut her food into tiny microscopic pieces because I always feared choking. I made sure to still rear face her in the car and to constantly remind Luis (her dad) about having the chest clip on her chest. No bulky coats in the car seat. Restricted others from feeding her candy or letting her have too much juice. I never let her sleep with blankets or stuffed animals, even though she could climb out of her crib. Many nights I stayed up late researching cold symptoms and milestones, always trying my best for my children. You can take every precaution you can think of, and sometimes it’s not enough.
You always hear these funny parenting stories about toddlers who cut their own hair, draw pictures on the walls, make huge messes, or play in makeup. These stories seem cute and funny. Except, it only takes a few seconds for you to use the bathroom or to change a load of laundry for your child to get into trouble. Sometimes that trouble is getting outside and to a body of water. I know it is nearly impossible to have your child with you every second of everyday. The problem is when you are in the comfort of your own home, you feel it is safe, and you let your guard down. It doesn’t matter if you don’t own a pool. Children have drowned in their neighbor’s pool, ponds, creeks, streams, buckets of water and even the bathtub. Floatation devices, such as puddle jumpers, and traditional swim lessons give children the false security that they will always float.
The thing is, we listen to advice from pediatricians and learn from the stories we hear. Even my own parenting has been shaped by this. I did things so differently in the past two years with Anya and Asher, compared to 11 years ago with Antonio and Alex. I learned more because of other parents sharing their experiences. In the days after Anya’s death I read several stories I came across on Facebook about childhood drownings. I read an article on Scary Mommy about a boy named Levi who, on June 10, snuck away for 2 seconds only to be discovered in the pool sadly losing his life. Then I learned of Emmy, the daughter of Olympic skiing champion Bode Miller and wife Morgan Beck, who drowned around that same time. These tragedies happened just a few days before the same happened to our family. I kept thinking if only I had seen this sooner, I know it would have heightened my paranoia and I would have taken extra precautions.
So, my plea for every parent of a toddler/infant is to make sure you have working door and window alarms, pool safety knowledge including fences and self-locking gates, ISR swim lessons, learn CPR, and most of all understand the need for constant supervision. I was aware of pool safety. We had an above ground pool. The ladder was always removed and hung up where she couldn’t reach. Knowing that we took those precautions, it was never a fear of mine that she could find another way. Every time we would play in the backyard Anya went right for the pool. Trying to scale the sides to reach the water. She was curious and fearless, and of course too young to understand the danger.
As parents, Luis and I, are with our children 24/7. Luis leaves the house only for work. I work from home and only ever really go out to the grocery store. An event that typically involved Anya because I loved taking her everywhere with me. We don’t have hobbies or do date nights. We don’t hang with friends or go to a gym or bar. In the 11 years since having children, it has always been that way. Everything revolves around our children and their needs. Making sure they are loved, happy and safe.
Anya absolutely loved water. She would pile up toys and climb on them to reach the sink and play in the water. Or she would use the water cooler to fill up her fake cups and pots to give her toys a pool. She was not opposed to splashing in the dog’s water dish either. She loved bath time and always did! She was learning that I would stop her whenever she played with water. But she improvised and began putting roadblocks in my way to slow me down from catching her. Before she would attempt to get to the sink, she would put her toys, table, chairs and chalkboard in the way to buy herself some time.
June 21, 2018 started as a normal day for us. Luis worked overnight Wednesday and headed home at 5am Thursday morning. I had sent him a text with a list of things I needed him to pick up at Walmart on his way home. I had a day of appointments and other errands that needed to be accomplished. On the list was chemicals for the pool. My father was helping get the pool and yard cleaned because we had an early 4th of July cookout planned for that weekend. When Luis arrived home that morning I was just waking up with Anya and Asher. I made breakfast and then told Luis to go get some sleep. He was only able to sleep maybe 2 hours, after his 12-hour shift, because I needed his help. This was normal for us, because having 4 kids, two of which have special needs, I always feel like I’m short on time. Time to cook and clean and grocery shop, therapy appointments, activities. But Thursday was his day off, so he usually could manage with minimal sleep. I took Alex to a therapy Appointment around noon. Came back home just to pick up the dog. Then Antonio and I took him to his vet appointment. Dropped the dog back at home. Then I headed right back out to grab Chinese for dinner. Anya loved broccoli and garlic sauce, the whole reason behind that choice for dinner. Meanwhile this entire time Luis was home caring for Asher and Anya. When I got back we all sat and had dinner. I had to leave shortly for an appointment I had at 6pm. But Luis wanted to take Anya for a walk to Walgreens for a snack. She loved to go for walks and explore. I waited for them to get back and then I snuck out the door, so Anya wouldn’t be upset to see me leave again. I was headed to my hair appointment. An appointment I rescheduled because I realized my original date and time clashed with my brother’s wedding. Little did I know at that time, but that decision would cause me to attend my daughter’s funeral on June 30th, instead of my brother’s wedding.
So, I get to my appointment and as I was waiting, I text Luis and ask how everything is at home, and what Anya was doing. He replied she was playing with her kitchen set and having fun. I said back, Aww she’s the best. I put my phone away and went about my appointment, chatting and laughing with my friend and hair stylist, Brenda. Less than 45 minutes, later the phone kept ringing at the salon. She was just about to rinse my hair and she answers the phone. She came over to me and said, “Kim you must go home now.” Immediately I thought something was wrong with her children and I said, “Is everything ok, what happened?” Brenda looked at me and said, “no Kim it was Luis and I don’t know what’s wrong, but he said come home now.” She’s trying to hurry up and rinse hair dye out of my hair, which never happened because I was panicking. I just ran out of there.
My car was parked a couple blocks away and my gas light came on when I arrived, but I figured I’d just stop for gas on my way home. I can’t even recall getting to the hospital.
Frantically driving trying to find out what had happened. Luis couldn’t even speak the words to me on the phone. I stopped and put maybe $3.00 in my gas tank and drove from Olyphant to CMC not even knowing how I made it there. When I arrived at CMC they took me to a room with an advocate, nobody could answer my questions. At this point I kind of knew what had happened, only because I saw a Facebook notification on my phone from the scanner page that reported an accident at my address. When I finally was brought to see Anya, my heart broke into a million pieces. I couldn’t keep it together. They kept telling me she was very sick, and they were trying to stabilize her to life flight to Danville. Many people started showing up asking questions, and I had no answers. I wasn’t home, and no one had told me anything at this point. Luis wasn’t at the hospital yet and showed up about 15 minutes after me. He was answering questions and waiting for someone to come watch Asher. The doctors knew that CPR was done for more than 30 minutes at my house and they finally got a pulse. But from the looks on their faces, I knew there was very little hope of her making a full recovery. I focused on talking to Anya hoping and praying she could hear me. In the days that followed, we knew she suffered severe brain damage. She was struggling to breathe on her own without the ventilator. Her heart was only pumping because of medication. She went into cardiac arrest twice in the ICU and each time they would ask if I wanted them to keep trying. When it became clear she had no brain function we were approached about donating her organs. I knew it was the end. We consented to organ donation. Many family members were around but I could barely speak to anyone. Everything else is a blur. Still not knowing exactly what had happened.
When I finally had a chance to ask, Luis told me she was playing with her kitchen set in the next room while he was getting Asher fed and dressed for bed. Next thing he knew he couldn’t find her. He looked in the backyard and saw her floating in the pool. No one had any clue how she could get in the pool and assumed she managed to climb up the side post.
About a week later I began piecing everything together. I know I made sure the doors were locked before I left, and I reminded everyone to keep them locked. But someone must have left the back door unlocked and Anya got outside. Alex was outside jumping on the trampoline and Anya joined him. Being 9 years old, he saw my father working in the yard and assumed he was watching Anya. So, Alex goes back inside. Unfortunately, at this point my father had already gone around the front to cut the grass (later telling me he thought Luis was on the porch watching her). Anya was left alone in the yard. Even worse, while my father was cutting the grass, he had moved her standalone slide towards the pool. She ultimately used the slide to reach the pool and fell in. When my father returned to the back yard he moved everything back in place without even thinking and proceeded to put the lawn mower away in the shed. This is the same moment Luis came out looking for Anya.
My life is forever damaged by this tragedy. So many ways this could have ended differently. This accident shouldn’t have happened. It’s all I think about obsessively. I had planned on getting higher locks for the doors that weekend because Anya had started to mess with them. Because of the normal chaos of life, I didn’t do it right away. I thought I had time. I was her primary caretaker and I always knew exactly what she was doing and where. She was never out of my sight. I trusted that she would be safe at home that night when I left. I never could have imagined this nightmare that I am living now. She was my only girl. She was so special to me. My beautiful, smart, perfect little girl. I love my 3 boys the same, but I never knew how much I wanted to mother a girl until Anya.
Everyone tells me I’m so strong, but I’m not. I guess I’m just good at hiding it. Losing Anya took away everything I hoped for. She gave me the strength I needed to get through each day and every new obstacle. Now I’m left with so much anger towards my father and spouse, trying to decide if I can forgive them, because I know they are hurting as well. Being honest with myself, I know that hating them won’t change the outcome. What if I had been home and this happened? I surely wouldn’t want to be blamed by my family. We do a good enough job of that ourselves. I’ve never given much attention to religion, but now my only hope is that we get to spend eternity with our loved ones.