Drowning Really is Silent

Drowning is Silent

I ran into the ER with mismatched clothes and wet hair. “My daughter was just brought in. She was in a pool accident.” I said.

A pool accident. That’s what they’d called it when my friend’s little girl drowned a few years earlier. I wondered what it meant at the time but now, I couldn’t bring myself to say “my daughter almost drowned”.

We’d celebrated my oldest son’s birthday with a pool party. Everyone had a great time and my 2-year-old daughter loved splashing around in the water in her life jacket. We are careful around water. I thought I knew how quickly an accident could happen. As we were packing up to leave I removed her life jacket, wrapped her up in a towel and put her on a deck chair.

“I go hot tub”, she said.

“No.” I told her. The hot tub was one of her favorite things but I knew that once I she got in it would take me forever to get her back out again. “It’s time to go home now”.

I left her sitting on the deck chair as I packed up a few things. We had 6 adults standing there so I felt like I could relax a bit. Afterall, what could go wrong with so much supervision? The truth is, you can NEVER relax when you have kids around the water. Never.

A few minutes later something jerked me to attention and I looked around for my daughter. She was nowhere to be seen. I scanned the pool first but she wasn’t there. The gate was open so I thought she may have wandered out and worried about cars I nearly went there first. Now I am so glad I didn’t.

There are 4 foot tall bushes between the pool and the hot tub that have grown thicker over time so I ran over there to check the other side before I went looking outside of the gate. What I saw as I came around the bushes horrified me. My daughter was face down in the center of the hot tub . . . and I had no idea how long she’d been in there.

I screamed for my husband, “She’s in the water!” and went running for the hot tub, jumping in fully clothed.

I don’t know if it was the shock of the situation or the fact that I was only a month out from my c-section and hadn’t fully recovered yet but I couldn’t get my body to move the way I wanted. I couldn’t get my daughter’s head above the water fast enough. I’d managed to push her closer to the edge and by then my husband was at the edge. He was holding one of the twins and reaching into the water with his other hand.

They always say that time slows down in an emergency but it’s an odd sensation when it happens to you. What must have only been a matter of seconds felt like an eternity. My husband quickly passed off the baby and began frantically working on my daughter.

She wasn’t breathing.

That image will stay with me for as long as I live. Her eyes were open but there was no life in them.

I’ve taken many CPR classes in the past but it’s been a while since I had a refresher and I froze. What was I supposed to do? What was the first step? There was no room for any thought in my mind except that my child was not breathing.

My husband did a Heimlich maneuver of sorts and pushed some water out of her tiny body. Reflexively, she began to vomit. Finally she coughed and took a breath.

We had 911 on the line and, right or not, since she was breathing we felt like we could get her to the hospital faster than we could direct the ambulance into our community pool so my husband grabbed her and rushed to the hospital.

I followed behind after changing out of my wet clothes and making sure the other kids were settled with my mom. Thank goodness we had help available so I could rush out the door and follow them.

At the ER they took me straight back. My daughter was sitting on my husband’s lap on the gurney in a large room surrounded by a team of doctors. Her oxygen levels were in the 80s. That was bad they told me. Her carbon dioxide levels were high. She had fluid in her lungs.

I was able to give my daughter a quick hug. When she saw me she teared up and with her sweet little voice said “mommy”. The doctor said they needed to intubate her to help her breath while her lungs healed. He kept telling me she was going to be fine but I didn’t believe him yet.

My daughter was sedated and intubated and we were told she’d need to be life-flighted to the children’s hospital. The team from the children’s hospital arrived and after stabilizing her they loaded her up and wheeled her away, leaving my husband and me standing in the hallway holding my daughter’s wet bathing suit as strangers took my daughter to the helicopter that would fly away without us.

drowning is silent

How does this happen? It took only minutes. There were plenty of adults around. None of us heard a thing.

Most moms have seen the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” post that has made it’s way around Facebook. We’ve heard that drowning is silent but until you see how quickly and quietly it can happen it doesn’t really sink in.

My daughter made no noise . . . she couldn’t. She didn’t splash. She didn’t yell for help. We were all standing ten feet away while she drowned.

At the hospital we were told they see their worst case scenarios at family gatherings when there’s plenty of people to supervise. Everyone thinks someone else is watching. Everyone thinks they can relax.


We got off very, VERY lucky. The doctor told us my daughter likely had another 30 seconds before her heart stopped. When I think of how close things were I get chills. After 24 hours on the ventilator and another 24 hours in the hospital for observation my daughter was able to come home with us, but not before yelling at her nurse for pulling off the tape that held her IV’s in place.

Today she’s every bit as stubborn, smart, and wonderful as she was before her accident. Whenever I work up the courage to go back to the pool with my kids, you had better believe that I will not be taking my eyes off of them for a second.

You cannot relax around kids and water. Drowning can happen in seconds. It’s quick and it’s quiet and it can happen to your child. Fortunately our experience had a happy ending but we’re all feeling a bit traumatized and that experience is going to stay with me forever. The water is never going to look quite the same.


Have you ever had a close call with your kids? What precautions do you take with your kids around water?

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  1. 1

    Kristin Goodson says

    Thank you for sharing! I’m always so nervous around water and I feel like I’m careful with my toddler, but this really could happen to anyone! I’m so thankful your daughter is okay! Hopefully this post can let others know how fast and quickly this could happen to them.

  2. 2

    Ann B. says

    Thank God she is okay.
    We had a built in pool when the older girls were little and I took CPR courses just in case. It was a constant worry that they would slip outside when we were asleep. The older one knew how to open the door, so we installed a lock way up high that she couldn’t reach. I have to say, I worried constantly about the pool and the kids especially when we had company because you are so easily distracted. Wow…I’m just glad you got to her in time.

    • 5


      Emily, I’m still feeling a bit traumatized. I feel guilty for letting it happen. We are always so careful around water but apparently not quite careful enough. We have some bushes between our pool and hot tub that fortunately our HOA is now planning on removing but it’s no excuse for not having her right next to me when there was water nearby. It’s going to take me a very, VERY long time to get up enough courage to go back to the pool. I can’t imagine being at the pool when the twins are mobile. Having 3 non-swimmers scares me to death.

  3. 6


    I am so sorry. I saw your photo last week and then we came to my in laws this week. They have an indoor pool with doors that cannot be secure from the inside to access the pool as it’s a main exit from upstairs.
    Last year when we were here one if my twins tried to walk on the flimsy pool cover and got wet up to her waist. Thankfully someone was close by.
    This year, the day we arrived the other one (who also loves the water and has no fear) got in at the stairs and then fell over with a splash. My husband heard her from the yard, they’d left the outside door open.
    It freaks me out more to be in a large gathering because I know everyone assumes someone else is watching. I can’t ever relax unless I know I’ve assigned someone specific to watch and even then I’m paranoid. This house is too big and there are too many people staying here. So scary.
    Krista´s last blog post ..Blue Lake Camping with Friends

    • 7



      That would scare me to death. I always thought I’d love to have a pool in the backyard but I really don’t think I could do it now. It’s bad enough having a community pool with no lifeguard to be a second set of eyes. My boys have been swimming for so long so the pool had been a relaxing place to hang out. Now with non-swimmers it’s stressful.

  4. 8

    kymi a says

    Oh my what a story, I was crying reading this because I know how scared you all must have been! We are surround by water in the islands. I was am & always will be a freak, before I wouldn’t let them take off their floaties till we reached the car because I can’t keep my eyes on all of them at the same time, if one goes in atleast I know they will have a chance to float up till I or someone can help them. It may not be the best solution but it does work to keep them safe. I’m so happy your daughter is happy and doing so much better. God Bless you all

  5. 9


    Oh Rachel, I’m crying for you! I’ve written about this on Right Start every year and truly, until you’ve had any scare you don’t realize how silent it is and how quickly it can happen. I’m SO sorry that your scare was so very scary and such a close call!! And, after just having the babies – I can’t even imagine! That mom intuition that caused you to look up is a very real thing. I’m SO so so glad she is ok!
    Sara @ Mom Endeavors´s last blog post ..DIY Small Space Command Center

  6. 14


    My daughter was nearly 3 when she survived after drowning. I was sitting on the steps, looking past her to watch my then 11 year old son swim laps. My toddler son crawled off my lap and as I turned to grab him, she (who was splashing on the steps inches from me) floated off the step and lost her footing. She made no sound. We didn’t know she was drowning and she was quite literally right under my nose.
    I’ll never recover from that, thankfully she did. It’s been almost 3 years and I still can’t catch my breath around water. I can’t let it go and I will always feel that piece of me that has so much guilt but it can happen to anyone. I’m an ex lifeguard, I performed CPR and drove her to the hospital in my bathing suit with my two other kids, in a town I was visiting. It’s all such a nightmare, one that is 100% preventable. Accidental drowning should be shared, it should be talked about because we are programmed to think drowning is loud and chaotic.
    I’m so sorry for your experience but am touched and in awe of your bravery.
    I wrote about my daughters drowning you can read it here http://yeshernameiselvis.blogspot.com/2013/08/she-went-under.html?m=1

    • 15


      I’m so sorry you had that experience. It’s scary how common it is. Since my daughter’s accident I’ve had people come from all over the place and tell me they’ve had a similar experience. Some of the stories I’ve heard are heartbreaking and I’m so glad ours had a happy ending. I’m probably going to be nervous around water for the rest of my life. Stuff like this tends to stick with you. I’m not avoiding water though but every time we go to the pool or the beach is so stressful for me.

  7. 16

    Cate says

    Thanks for this. It happened to us too, also with a happy ending although we were told by the hospital that our 3 year old daughter is one of only 2 children who had survived from that point. When we found her face down in a pool on holiday in Spain there was no pulse, she was grey and spongey and we believed she was already dead. My husband wouldn’t give up on her, tipped her up (which isn’t he best way but we were doing whatever we could think of), got the water out of her lungs and breathed into her mouth over and over until she coughed, vomited strings of brown viscous fluid and began grunting. We thought she was brain damaged at first but she gradually recovered. We had a night in a small Spanish hospital which deals with 2 drownings a week. Most not with a happy ending. I didn’t speak enough Spanish to handle the detail but called a doctor friend in the UK who told me what they were doing was exactly right. She was on a drip for 24 hours and we had to be assessed before we could fly home due to lower oxygen levels in her blood. She had pneumonia from the dirty water in her lungs and it was a couple of weeks before she was back to normal. The image of the child we believed was dead, that we believed we had found too late, will never leave us. We now live near the sea and all our kids have swimming lessons. I never relax on the beach but I encourage them to swim, understand the water and try to teach them how to be as safe as possible because we won’t always be around. Swimming is such a fantastic, fun and healthy activity. Our nearly drowned child is 11 now and adores the water. She gets angry with me for calling her back in more than other parents. But those memories are horrific. And our story is one that ended happily. We were close by while our baby was dying in the water – our daughter had crept outside in her pjs while we were cooking dinner in a holiday villa. And yes, it is a silent death. Knowing the risks and what to do when you find a drowning person can make a massive difference. Every single second matters. Thanks for raising this.

  8. 17

    Lisa says

    I guess I’m fortunate in a way I never knew. We haven’t ever been able to have a pool. We just couldn’t afford one. Thankfully none of the kids have ever had a close call like that. Two of mine one being my baby she’s 3 now are terrified of water. So they don’t like to swim much. The others already know how to swim. I taught my youngest son starting at 3 and he is 5 now and I still watch him like crazy near water.

  9. 18

    Anna says

    My 34 month old daughter drowned almost 9 years ago. It was/is a heartbreaking loss , my heart has yet to mend from.

  10. 19

    Danelle T says

    I am so glad your daughter is okay. A few years ago we had a close call with my older daughter. we were all playing in the local aquatic center together. Since our kids can’t swim yet we always try to keep both of us in the water with them and keep them close. My husband was taking our son to go down the slides and my older daughter was following them, I thought he knew that. I bent down and picked up my youngest and went to follow them and when I looked up I saw my husband and son getting out and my older daughter was no where to be seen. I was looking around frantically in the crowd when I saw a life guard helping her to the side. She had gone a little to deep and went under, she was fine though thankfully because the life guards were close.
    When my youngest was little we were at the beach playing in a little stream of water where a creek goes in to the ocean, only about a foot or so deep. My youngest was standing right next to me and playing as I watched her when my husband walked up and I turned to say something to him and he asked me if I was going to get her. I looked back down and in the spilt second I had looked away she had fallen forward and was face down in the water. I grabbed her quickly and she was fine but it scared me so bad.

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