My 9-Year-Old's Unexpected Seizure Taught Me the Power of Letting Go

One mom explains how her daughter's seizure helped her understand parenting is a series of letting go.

The author and her daughter.
The author and her daughter. Photo: Sharon Arnoldi

I gave up the habit of checking on my children in the middle of the night and listening to the monitor for sounds of life years ago. As they grew, so did my confidence as a mom, and I felt assured their breath was guaranteed. The nightly fears faded, and I learned to trust nothing bad would happen.

I felt secure through the worst days of the pandemic. Not because I didn't understand the risks, but rather because I remained in control. I wore a mask and kept my children home. We practiced all the safety measures the morning news implored us to follow. We had no underlying conditions threatening to make COVID-19 far more severe.

Yet six months into the pandemic, all the security I'd built over 11 years of parenting came crashing to a halt.

Early one morning, I awoke to what sounded like choking. I reached over and shook my 9-year-old daughter. She didn't respond. An hour earlier, she'd climbed into our bed distressed after having a nightmare. Now, the nightmare was mine.

Her eyes remain closed as her body convulsed. I thoughts she was choking on the retainer she wore to keep her teeth aligned. I reached in her mouth to remove it and felt nothing. Her tiny chest didn't move.

"She's not breathing," I thought as I wrestled her body upward. I felt her skin. "It's not cold." The warmth reassured me. My husband fell asleep watching TV in the basement, so he wasn't next to me to help. I switched on the lamp and saw foam seeping through her lips. She couldn't go without breathing much longer. I thought she was dying.

As I grabbed my phone to call 911, her eyes opened and rolled back in her head, and she gasped for air. I stared at her as she fell back asleep as if nothing happened. I collapsed to the floor, overcome with nausea.

Trembling with fear, I crawled into bed next to her. Phone in hand, I Googled "shaking, unresponsive, foaming at the mouth," and out came the answer. Seizure. She had two more seizures lasting around 20 seconds each before I woke her for good.

The drive to the emergency room was a blur. She looked at me watching her in the rearview mirror. "Mom, I'm not going to die" she blurted in her sassiest, roll-my-eyes-at-you tone. The word die made my heart skip a beat. The on-call physician sent us home with anti-seizure medication, no reassurance it wouldn't happen again, and a pediatric neurologist's phone number.

I learned pediatric seizures are relatively common. Febrile seizures, the type caused by a high fever, occur in three or four out of every 100 children between 6 months and 5 years of age, according to

Generalized seizures occur without fever and can involve the whole brain or one part. "Convulsive seizures (a type of generalized seizure and likely what my daughter experienced) occur in about five out of every 100 people at some time during childhood," explains the nonprofit. The child isn't in any danger unless it continues for more than five minutes or they fall from a high surface. Knowing my daughter isn't alone and wasn't in jeopardy provided no comfort.

I don't know if she'll have another seizure any more than I know what tomorrow brings. Yet, I let her out of my sight anyway.

The sadness I felt afterward amounted to a weird sort of grief. How could I mourn something so alive? She remembered nothing of the terrifying episode, and I couldn't explain my feelings in a way that captured the depth of my heartache. Only later did I realize I was grieving the loss of the illusion I'd held. The death of an idea. The one where nothing bad ever happens. I found myself navigating the world like a new mom again. Unsure of myself, afraid to let her out of my sight, and wishing I had a baby monitor.

I wanted to go back to when I carried her in my womb. It was the only time I could protect her with my entire being. Her seizure was a slap in the face. "It's time to wake up," the invisible hand's owner was saying. "You were never in charge. Love them and enjoy the days you have together. Tomorrow is not promised."

I slept with my little girl by my side for weeks, waking at the slightest sound or movement. I thought I'd never sleep peacefully again. I pictured not allowing her to have a sleepover with a friend and the fights we'd have. I searched for baby monitors on Amazon but stopped myself before putting one in my cart.

I eventually let go, little by little. Just as I did when I dropped her off at preschool for the first time, when I waved goodbye as she attended her first summer camp, and when I sent her to stay with my parents while my husband and I left the country for vacation. I know sleeping with her isn't the answer. Like her first night alone in her secondhand crib, she went back to her bright room decorated with mermaids and unicorns and slept soundly while I lied awake wondering if she was OK.

I don't know if she'll have another seizure any more than I know what tomorrow brings. Yet, I let her out of my sight anyway.

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