I was that new mom who was excited for all of her baby’s firsts. One age and stage that stands out the most, as I recollect, is the transition from exclusively breastfeeding onto purees and solid foods. I knew I was going to make her purees and follow the guidelines as closely as possible — Wait until four to six months of age, single-grains, pureed fruits and veggies, soft finger foods when ready, introducing meal times and avoiding “the list” that would inevitably give my baby webbed feet or a whacked out allergy.
You see, my first baby followed what I had hoped for – she came out teeny tiny and then grew into a chunky love bug with thigh rolls I could just eat up. I swear it was her healthy size that allowed her to be one of those babies that slept 12 hours a night at a very early age. It also came with a growing appetite. She took right to those purees I so carefully made for her and she almost immediately showed signs of interest in finger foods. We began it all just before she was six months old.
Her coordination was not the greatest at first, but it was so cute when she missed her mouth and ended up entirely messy. I cut up every piece of everything into the tiniest bites for fear of choking as well as steamed all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before giving them to her. We got comfortable with her new food consumption and as parents, were so proud that she was eating like a champ. She quickly fell into a meal and snack time routine, and I took the step as the mom to give her more choices. Still cautious of allergies, I assure you.
The Night It Happened
My husband was on a work trip and as a full-time working mother, I had picked my daughter up after work and brought her home to quickly eat dinner, take a bath and put her to bed. We arrived home and I plopped her in her highchair as usual. She was happily eating those glorious puffs that are essentially overpriced, air-infused cheerios, but I trusted Gerber when they said these puffs would melt in her mouth and plus, it kept her little fingers and tummy occupied while I prepared food.
I had an overripe pear to give her that night. It nearly squished in my hand, so I made the executive decision to not steam it this time. I cut it up into pieces, quickly, as she was loudly demanding more than those beloved puffs. She loves pears so she picked up the slippery, squishy pieces and gladly ate them. I was watching in delight when it happened. She picked up one of the pieces, put it in her mouth, swallowed and winced with teary eyes. She coughed a little. And then kept eating.
I was talking to her and asking her if she was okay. I apologized if it went down the wrong way and encouraged her to gum them well while quickly scanning to make sure all the pieces were cut small enough. As she was breathing, I noticed her eyes were still watering and her breath sounded a bit raspy. Mom-mode took over and I immediately tried the finger swipe in her throat to get anything out that may be back there. Nothing turned up.
She wasn’t in distress and seemed okay other than the teary eyes and raspy breathing. It didn’t seem like an emergency, so I called my sister who is a physician to ask for advice. She talked me through it, understood my concerns and stayed on the phone as I did the finger swipe again. When it didn’t work, my sister suggested offering her more to drink in effort to get a harder swallow that may help move the piece down her throat. Again, it didn’t work. I got off the phone, determined to keep trying, when there was a very tiny little gasp.
I panicked. I trusted my instinct and performed the baby Heimlich, pounding her back and praying the lodged pear would come out. It did not come out, but it must have moved, because she seemed just fine when I brought her up and looked at her face. I wasn’t able to reach my husband as he was in a different time zone and still in meetings for the day, so I called my sister back. She was going to stay on the phone with me while I drove to urgent care. I knew we needed intervention, but I was nervous about putting my little girl in the car seat behind me and not being right next to her should she actually choke.
But that moment DID happen — when she actually choked.
We were still at home. I was just gathering our coats when I saw her choke. I flipped her over to try the Heimlich once more while immediately calling 9-1-1. Though it was only a matter of seconds to get the call answered and explain what was going on, I kept thinking “By the time anyone gets here it will be too late. She can’t go that long without breathing.” I was shouting yet trying to remain calm and following directions from the dispatcher to perform the Heimlich for another time.
I would do anything to save her. This couldn’t really be happening.
I don’t think it was until I reached that true panic moment that I was performing the Heimlich with enough force to dislodge the piece of pear. When I did, it came right out of her mouth and fell on the floor.
I shouted to the dispatcher and turned my little girl around to look at her, thinking she would sob uncontrollably from the experience. She just looked at me and smiled, breathing normally and acting as if the world was just as it should be. Which it was, except for the fact that I was a wreck. I was crying like crazy and still was when the fire department arrived.
They pulled up with sirens on our tiny street just a minute or two later, blocking the entire road. I was a little embarrassed at this point that all the commotion was for us when it was no longer an emergency, but also grateful for how amazing this team was. They came in my house — to me in tears, assuring me I did the right things and that I should call anytime. They didn’t leave until they had uplifted my spirits and of course, after noting that my happy, smiling baby was a-okay. Seriously, she didn’t look or act like anything had been wrong.
That piece of soft, squishy pear. It was so small! How could it be? I felt like a terrible mother at first and didn’t want to tell anyone about this horrible, traumatic experience. How could I let my child have anything that would allow her to choke? They say, “accidents happen,” and it’s true. They can happen to anyone. Even the overly cautious, new mom who wants to do everything by the book. It is so important to be prepared when those accidents do happen and to understand the techniques that will truly allow you to save a child’s life.
Take it from me. If you don’t already know CPR or the Heimlich, sign up for a class today. You will never regret that you did. Though there’s no way of really knowing, I believe the fact that I was the one to perform the maneuver on my daughter is likely what saved her life.
We never want to think it will happen to us, but sometimes it does. Our hope is that you will never need to use this training on your own child or someone else’s but you just may end up saving a life if you do. If you’re looking to get trained in these life-saving techniques, check out your local Red Cross for a variety of classes that will help you find the one right for you.