It was a typical Saturday morning. My husband took our son to swimming lessons since it was his week to do so. I was sitting on the couch, enjoying the quiet for a minute before I planned to get up and do a bunch of stuff around the house, the things that are so much easier to do without a toddler trying to explore or a husband who good-naturedly, but sometimes annoyingly so, asking what I was doing.

Mom embracing toddler - Parenting After Loss: Living with Fear Just Under the Surface


I got off the couch, picking up some toys and things on the floor, when my eyes caught something on one of our chairs.

It was a round plastic tin with two pills in it. I recognized it as one my parents had used, and since that chair was unofficially my dad’s chair when he came to visit, I assumed it was his. I took it and put it on the kitchen table to give to him during his next visit, and as I did, the panic inside built up. That curious toddler of mine, my LL Cool T, loved to climb up and down those chairs. Did he take one of those pills? Were the two that were in that closed container the only ones that fell out?

I took a picture of them, texted it to my dad asking if it was his, and then searched that chair high and low, making sure no loose pills or other containers were there. When my dad didn’t text back, I called him, and he calmly said, oh yeah, they’re probably mine, let me check. The silence that the phone emitted was deafening. All I could think about was my baby, who left excited to go swimming, and who I was leaping forward in time to him having an overdose and reaction to taking unknown pills. I hung up and called my dad back, getting his voicemail. In the meantime, I was pacing, sending my husband messages, asking him not to get in the pool with our son until he heard from me, and not getting responses from my husband because he had left his phone in the car to avoid it getting wet. I finally got a hold of my dad, who said, yes, they were his, and they had probably fallen out of his pocket when he sat there. I asked him and the two that were in there, that’s all that was there?

He answered, “Yeah, probably,” and I screamed, “I NEED TO KNOW IF IT’S PROBABLY OR YES. I NEED TO KNOW IF I HAVE TO WORRY IF MY SON IS GOING TO DIE.” At that, he responded, “Yes, there were only two in that container.” Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I heard my dad as he tried to explain what happened, and unable to bring myself to comfort him, I just hung up.

I sat down for the first time since that moment, my heart racing and feeling completely drained.

I knew that my dad had made a mistake, a totally understandable could happen to anyone kind of mistake. But, for me, who has already lost a child, that simple mistake triggered something inside me and sent me straight back into trauma mode. Calling and talking to my dad felt just like it felt talking to doctors in the NICU when Colette died, wanting answers, wanting the happy resolution, and waiting for such. Not getting confirmation that things were okay felt like that moment when the world seemed to stop along with Colette’s heartbeat. I jumped between the scenarios of driving like a madwoman to yank my child out of the pool, calling 911 on the way and having them meet me at the pool, to getting the call that he had died. And in all of that, I felt powerless, useless, and like I had once again failed as a parent.

My mom called shortly after and asked me if I had been able to calm down, apologizing for my dad dropping the pills and telling me that she was going to make sure to find him a childproof container and check the chair when he got up to leave. I told her that I understood it was an easy mistake, but when I saw that, I saw the worst, I felt like I was right back there. She supported me, saying, I know, I know, and I get it. I told her I felt bad that I had hung up on dad, and she said, he understands.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that hour or so that they were gone, but I remember Mark messaging me, apologizing for leaving his phone in the car and saying they would be home in a few. I remember hearing them and going straight to pick up LL Cool T, to hold him, to feel him, and check that he was okay. And it was only then that I could feel my heartbeat regulate. He was alive, healthy, active, and probably wondering why it was that mom was squeezing him tight and crying.

Being a loss parent is exhausting and intense. Being a loss parent actively parenting a rainbow baby is even more so.

While I love being his mom, I also grieve my daughter. Seeing him accomplish a new feat is amazing, but it comes with a panic and worry that as he grows and moves and gets into things, the risks increase. Knowing that he has grandparents who love and adore him makes my heart burst, but it also means that more people are involved in his care and that more things could potentially go wrong. Being able to have a break because he sleeps three-plus hours in a nap is intoxicating, but it comes with the fear that the extra-long nap may mean he is not going to wake up.

At the end of the day, with the pills, I reflected on everything that happened. I am proud of myself that I was at least rational enough not to jump in the car and pull him out of the pool. I am proud that while my panic was perhaps out of control, I did not pass along that panic to my son. I am grateful for my son’s health and for the safety measures in place to continually protect him.  I am grateful that I was able to get the answer quickly as to whether there was something to worry about or not. And I am perhaps most grateful for the family and community around us who supported my reactions, free of judgment.

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