Learning to share something with someone else is an age-old lesson we are all taught as kids. You start off being taught to share your toys and your snacks then eventually your friends, your time and more than likely your family TV. By the time you reach mid-childhood you share pretty much everything – especially if you have siblings! By the time you hit your twenties you’re now The Queen (or The King) of sharing life so what actually happens now that you’re grown up and have a child of your own… How on earth are you supposed to know how to share an actual human child!? The very person you’ve waited so long to meet, that your body has grown and carried for 9 months, that you birthed in a long, intense and difficult labour; How do you learn to share your baby when it seems like everyone wants a piece of them?
After a traumatic labour and birth that was followed by a gruelling recovery, it has unfortunately become second nature to spend a portion of each day battling with the on going fear of ‘what if something goes wrong’. You feel your baby needs you to survive and that is the very thing that terrifies you when being apart – as a breastfeeding mother this is especially the case. You get nervous anytime you have visitors, you feel jealousy when someone else holds your baby followed by overwhelming guilt when you get handed them back but being without them is 100% out of the question.
‘Separation Anxiety’ is yet another thing I never expected to have to think about and wasn’t something I was generally aware of until the idea of being without my son left me with a terrifying gut-dropping feeling. The instant dread of not having him within arms reach consumed me: ‘How on earth would he survive without me‘ quickly spiralled into ‘But I’m breastfeeding him and expressing is hard and he sometimes only stops crying when I hold him and soothe him and what if he needs me and I can’t get there!?’ – this very nearly turned into serious hyperventilation. It was and sometimes still is very hard to try and see past my fears and get to a state of logical thinking.
When I began trying to ‘share’ my son, I realised I had began to become rather defensive. For me, it felt that 99% of the time I was the only one who knew what was best for him: what makes him smile, what soothes his cries, what helps him sleep, etc. When being with someone else, they were going to do something different and my instinct overwhelmed me into outright interrupting. I couldn’t help myself and, well it’s far from an ideal situation when you’re surrounded with friends or family. Noticing it became the very thing that triggered the matter of fact thought: ‘I am going to have to find peace with sharing my son‘. Yes, of course there is certain ways I would like to raise my son but it is NOT the end of the world if he is away from me for a short amount of time, it is NOT the end of the world if he spends time with other member of the family without me, it is NOT the end of the world if my son is enjoying being with other people and it is NOT going to hurt if someone else does something a little different to how I would. I just need to keep remembering that everyone in the family is equally entitled to spend quality time with my child, even if I won’t be able to help feeling it’s only me that can be fully responsible for him. It’s hard to think even though you know this; it does not mean that it is going to be any easier to be apart. My latest wave of anxiety seems to have stemmed from someone asking me when or if I am going back to work. The insane pressure from society to become a ‘Working Mum’ is unreal and is just another worry to add my seemingly never-ending list of things that terrify me beyond belief. In all honesty, I would rather not be without my son, however in todays current economic climate it is not a realistic situation – especially when your maternity pay is statutory and awful and you need money to survive. Despite childcare often costing more than what some women are paid, I have some hard decisions to make going forwards; I may not have a choice and going back full-time may be compulsory… Perhaps a topic for another time!
I do lead a very anxious life, which unfortunately lends itself to the need to hold onto things, fear of letting go and a tendency to latch onto objects and/or people. Whilst I am not entirely sure what triggered this lovely personality trait, I have realised it’s important I have acknowledged it and am working towards it being less of a brick wall in my life. Looking at my relationship with objects of much more materialistic value, it’s no surprise that I have become attached to the much less materialistic wonder that is my son. So what have I found/done to help me through this constantly uncomfortable situation? I’d like to say to start off: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER – there is help out there. As intimidating as looking for help online is, there are some really useful websites out there.
Heather Turgeons’ article for ‘Babble’ was unbelievably accurate. Her words really reflected how I felt and made me realise I was far from alone. Despite being written in 2010, her tips for best ways to deal with anxiety speak honestly about the fears and worries that separation anxiety can cause. One of the top tips I’ve taken on board is that sometimes being apart is good for you (repeat after me ‘ITS GOOD FOR ME’). You do have to give yourself time to recover and rejuvenate, as after all, being a mother can be exhausting and full of routine so taking a relaxing evening off is the perfect prescription. To make things easy ‘Made for Mums’ has constructed a super quick ‘7 top tips for leaving your baby for the first time’ outlining the key things to consider and do that will help set up a healthy relationship with being apart from your baby. My favourite numbers are 3: starting small and 6: leaving instructions – both I believe are the absolutely imperative when starting to spend time apart from your baby. You’ll slowly create step-by-step guides of your own as your children grow older but starting small is always a great way to ease into it. In addition to others personal experience and quickstep guides to minimising anxiety, I remember that ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’ exists. This could be considered the Holy Grail of pre-conception, pregnancy and motherhood advice. The fantastically extensive website is always full to the brim with advice on absolutely anything always including the good, the bad and the ugly. Their approach to discussing separation anxiety is more of a step-by-step guide to feeling OK on a level that could really help you get that first foot out of the front door. Their ability to back up their steps with science makes it much easier to be matter of fact about leaving your little one with your chosen caregiver. Things like ‘At this age (2 to 3 months), being out go sight pretty much means being out of mind, so your baby will usually stop thinking about you and be quite content with any sitter who provides gentle, attentive care’ can make you feel much more comfortable or at the very least a little less panicky than you may have been! As well as looking for helpful techniques and logical reasoning online, I have found that even tedious rituals can help temporarily ease some of the stress. Things like taking a deep breathe or taking a step back and counting to three before accidentally breathing fire at everyone in the room can make the world of difference. If you have more time on your hands you could try relaxation meditation or yoga to help keep calm and collected in every aspect – always appreciating that having a child may not allow you to have time to fit this in but whatever you can do, remember to be kind to yourself.
Overall the most important thing to know is that it’s OK to feel anxious sometimes and being apart from your baby will make you a little edgy but it’s that unconditional love that is part of what makes us human. When you finally take the plunge and do spend some time away from your daughter or son, don’t spent all your time worrying and remember you left them with someone responsible and someone you trust so sometimes you have to just let go of those fears – even if its just for one night!
Love to all,
One Curious Mother x
PS. We had our first date night a few weeks back and nothing went wrong, we had a lovely evening and our son didn’t even notice we were gone. I did spend a bit of the evening panicking and checking my phone every five minutes but as the night went on I relaxed a little more. I did feel much happier when we got home and he was sound asleep. How would I rate it’s success? A sturdy 8/10!