How Laundry Caused my Scariest Motherhood Moment

Hi, I’m Amber, and I’m an overprotective mom. I come by it naturally. My own mother has done home daycare for 30 years and plays by the ultimate safety rule books. So when I had Oliver, I followed suit. I read every safety tip. I childproofed. I locked cabinets. I used outlet covers. I stuck corner cushions to my tables. I memorized the choking hazards list.

And other than some bumps and bruises, one minor burn, and unintentionally locking Oliver in the car on a hot summer day, we were fairly accident-free. But all it takes is a second. One distracted moment. And suddenly, just four days shy of Oliver’s second birthday, I was facing the scariest moments of my motherhood journey.

All because of a laundry detergent pod.

Oliver loves laundry. Like, weirdly loves it. He’s been helping me do laundry since before he could walk.

But, he never handled the soap. I’m “Super Safety Mom,” remember? Also, I’ve seen soap trauma. A few years ago, my mom’s small dog licked some detergent from the dishwasher and almost died. Her throat and tongue were stripped, and the severe chemical burns almost killed her. So no way was my toddler going to find a way to come in contact with detergent of any kind!

We loaded the clothes. I tossed the detergent pod in. And I was about to close the door when Oliver joyfully announced he was going back for more clothes. While I waited, I got distracted, forgetting the pod was already in the open drum of the washer. I was gone for only mere seconds. And when I directed my attention back toward the washing machine, I saw my toddler standing there, a surprised look on his face, super-concentrated detergent splattered everywhere. Time all but stood still as I watched a blob slide from his eyebrow onto his eyelid in slow motion. As I reached for Oliver, he brought the entire fistful of detergent from the hand he had squeezed the pod in straight into his eye.

My heart stopped. It restarted with Oliver’s ear piercing screams of pain.

Caustic chemicals were in my son’s eyes. Blinding him. These were the only thoughts racing through my mind as I scooped him up and ran for the bathroom. I tried to shove his head in the sink. Dumb. He kicked and things went flying. So we jumped in the tub fully clothed.

I didn’t think about the forcefulness of the bathtub faucet. I just thought about my son’s eyesight. I assumed the chemicals were eating his corneas. So, I straddled him, put one hand on either side of his head, and forced him straight back under the full flow of water. I avoided getting it in his nose and mouth, but it didn’t matter. He gasped in, held his breath, and his eyes went wide. Granted, it was the exact thing we needed to truly get a good eye flush. But it was also sheer terror. He stared THROUGH me. I have never seen terror like that before. Those were the eyes of a drowning victim. And they were my own child’s.

And I was responsible for it.

I could only manage to keep him there for a few seconds, then I pulled him back up and hugged him tightly to me. He was sobbing, “Please, Mommy… sorry, sorry.” But we had to do it again. Over and over and over. Until neither of us could take it anymore. My whole body shook harder than it ever has. We huddled in soaked clothes in the tub for a long time afterward, and I prayed out loud for his eyesight and to calm his fear. Several times I stopped, but he said, “more prayers,” so I kept going.

When I felt like I was steady enough to stand, I called poison control… and they said to do it for 10 more minutes. I did so, but more gently this time. It didn’t matter. That drowning look of terror was there again. I ended with some gently syringed water and he still fought and screamed, until I think his brain just shut down. He whispered “uh-doo” (love you) and passed out in my arms.

We ended up calling an on-call ophthalmologist after his eyelid started to swell. They met us in the office and did a pH test and an exam to look for chemical abrasions and corneal burns. He had neither.

Children often mistake laundry detergent pods for candy or toys.

Children often mistake laundry detergent pods for candy or toys.

The doctor said that we were very lucky; many kids who have incidents with laundry pods end up in ICU. Corneal burns are likely. And kids that inhale or swallow the concentrated chemicals sometimes end up with respiratory distress, changes in mental status, or worse. This article from The Poison Review points out the dangers of these pods, as does this notice from the CDC. The worst part? These pods are not only more dangerous than non-pod laundry detergents, they are also MUCH more appealing to toddlers. They’re colorful. They’re squishy. And they look like candy.

I was emotionally traumatized for days. I couldn’t get that image of my sweet baby’s terror-filled eyes out of my mind. I even drank a glass of wine during his afternoon nap once to try to shake the image. Sweet Oliver had problems with water for months. Bath time was always a fight. He would shake and scream, and the only thing we could do was hold him close after baths, rocking him until he was calm.

I dealt with the guilt long after the emotional trauma subsided. My husband lightheartedly gives me a hard time about the “worst” of Oliver’s injuries happening on my watch. He’s not wrong. But I’ve come to the conclusion that these injuries are not happening with me because I’m forgetful, neglectful or careless. It’s because Oliver spends most of his time with me – and I’m only human. If moms are the primary caregivers, then moms are going to see the majority of the slips, falls, and bumps.

So the next time you find yourself patching up another preventable wound, before you let yourself spiral into a pit of afternoon wine-drinking and guilt-wracked self-loathing, remember:

Even Super Safety Mom sometimes leaves the soap within reach.

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