I'm a 'Trained' Heart Mom, But I Panicked When My Baby Choked on a Goldfish Cracker


My 9-month-old baby (who I should mention is a two-time heart surgery survivor) choked on a goldfish cracker a few days ago and I did things wrong. I panicked and stuck my finger in her mouth, thereby pushing the cracker further into her throat.

If you have ever taken an infant CPR class, you know if you try to pull out the piece of food, or item, with your finger you could potentially lodge it further into their mouth or throat. That’s exactly what happened. (Thankfully, my baby, Nylah, is OK.)

A baby girl sitting in a high chair with toys.

I want you to know I didn’t give her the cracker to eat, I know she is too small for anything besides purees and formula at this age. But I should mention I am also the mother of 4-year-old twin boys who love their goldfish crackers. No matter how many times I explain to them to never give their baby sister anything (because at this age she puts everything in her mouth), I watch them like a hawk because they are 4 and do not fully understand. I still don’t know how she got that goldfish cracker, but from here on out they are no longer a part of my grocery list.

It broke my heart to watch Nylah turn purple and struggle to gasp for air. The tears were streaming down her cheeks as I picked her up. Her eyes were scurrying around in fear. She was conscious so I quickly turned her over, placed her face down on my forearm and starting giving her back blows. Watching her struggle to breathe tore me apart. All I could see was her little head moving left to right, her tiny arms and legs flailing as she struggled to catch a breath. Along with my terror, I was also feeling so much anger at myself for not being able to stay composed for her and my twins who were right there, watching me scream, cry and panic.

“Mommy, why are you screaming? What’s wrong mommy?” my twins kept asking.

I knew better than that. I feel so bad that I scared them so much, that in that moment they did not feel safe.

While Nylah was choking my phone was still upstairs (this happened minutes into us waking up, so I was still disorganized and not yet prepared for the day). I had no way to call for help. All I kept thinking while administering the back blows was, “she has survived heart surgery time and time again, please God let me save her from this.”

I don’t know exactly how long it took, it felt like an eternity and I had given at least 10 back blows, but the goldfish finally popped out of her mouth. She let out a huge scream and collapsed her head in my chest in exhaustion. I was so grateful she was OK, and I spent the rest of the time crying in private and hugging all three of my children endlessly.

The anger I feel toward myself is still heavy. I have taken infant and child CPR training so many times. It was a prerequisite before the hospital allowed me to take my preemie twins homes from the NICU. It was also required before Nylah was discharged into my care from the cardiovascular intensive care until at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles this past April. So believe me when I say, I knew better. I knew what to do, and I can’t help but still think I failed by panicking in front of my children.

The woman and mom I am today is in stark contrast to the “strong” woman I prided myself on being before I became a mom. I am a ball of anxiety and nerves most of the time, and I hate it. As a mother to a medically-fragile baby, my tears are constant and my worries are always present right beneath that public smile I have mastered. Still, I always felt like I was on my “A game,” yet that morning I know I made mistakes that could have cost my heart warrior her life.

Nylah choked, but she is OK. She survived, like she always does.

Today I have decided to get this off my chest, so I can move forward and regain confidence in my mothering. All I can do is learn from my mistakes.

For more information on infant CPR, visit redcross.org.


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