Maternal Separation Anxiety

I haven’t posted in about three weeks. I’ve been going through some non-mama related things that have kept me unmotivated and blocked my creative thought process. I haven’t been able to think of anything worth sharing. But with Christmas come and past, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the thought of leaving my bebe with someone else. As we head into month 7 I’m starting to think about what my life is going to look like when my maternity leave is officially over. And it’s freaking me out. I know all mamas go through this and everything turns out fine. There are some hiccups as everyone adjusts, I’m sure, but everyone does adjust, eventually. I’m with my baby pretty much 24/7. Non-stop. I hear every whimper, every scream. I change almost every single diaper, I feed him almost every single meal. I’m the only one that sleeps with him. I’m the one that cuddles him the most. I’m the one that plays with him the most. We have our own secret little language that helps us communicate with each other all day long. I’m really struggling with the thought of putting him in daycare so that I can return to work.

But I’m also struggling with the day-to-day possibilities of leaving him with someone other than me. Like his father, or his grandmothers. It’s not that I don’t trust these individuals. They love him beyond measure. I just don’t want to do it. I have, but it really hurts. I feel guilty, I worry, I want to check in every 20 minutes to know what he’s doing, how he’s feeling. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t trust them and be offended, but the truth is I don’t trust them. Not because I think they will neglect him or do him any harm, I just can’t trust anyone else to protect him, soothe him, play with him, like I do. And this drives me nuts! I want so badly to have an hour to myself, but when I do get it, I immediately change my mind about leaving him and have to re-convince myself that everything will be ok. This happens even when I’m upstairs and he’s downstairs with his daddy or grandmother! Isn’t that silly? I sometimes feel a lot of internal and external pressure to leave him, to allow him to bond with other individuals and to take opportunities for self-care. I know these are healthy and necessary things, but I just can’t prioritize them in my brain.

You’ve heard of separation anxiety, but this is usually used to refer to the feelings experienced by the child. Well, it turns out that mamas can experience this too and it’s called Maternal Separation Anxiety: when a mother experiences feelings of worry, sadness, or guilt while separated from her child. Many mothers experience this in the first few months and years of post-partum. However, if left unchecked it can cause significant emotional and physical challenges for the mother and the child including anxiety attacks and unhealthy attachment and development issues.  If you do a google search for this term, you’ll likely only come up with scholarly articles, as I did. These delve into scientific theories and observations, as well as animal studies, about how separation from a child affects the mother. These studies are so important, but they do little to help a mother understand what is happening. A lot of people are quick to dismiss the feelings that a mother has when she is separated from her child as hormonal or something that she can handle, bus as one article abstract adds: “it is the couple that becomes separated and not just the child.” While the child is clearly immediately stressed, they often go on to play with toys or friends and feel a sense of joy and distraction from the absence of their mother. The mother on the other hand, perhaps because she has a higher level of mental maturity and awareness about what has happened, often continues to feel stressed, worried and guilty throughout the entire time that she is separated from her child.

Is separation from your child necessary – yes. They need to independently grow and have their own experiences. They are eventually going to go to school and you can’t go with them. But how does a mama get used to this? Often they are just left to tough it out on their own, day in and day out. I haven’t experienced this yet, but I’ve been told that it is really difficult to return to work. That many mamas are never able to return to their pre-baby efficiency or capacity because there is way to many other things going on in their lives and in their brains. I think this makes sense and i’d love to see how this is addressed in the workforce here in Canada. More to come on that as I explore this in the coming months!

So what am I going to do? For now, not a whole lot. He’s still a baby and I’m still a new mama, learning all about what motherhood is. I’m going to start by focusing my attention on my needs as a new mother and less on what “society” or others might react to how I am currently feeling. He’s my baby and it’s my right and my role to be overprotective of him and want to be with him all the time. I will focus on accepting my feelings and working through them first. In partnership with my husband, we will need to make some lifestyle choices and make decisions about child care. I’m going to try to start dropping him off at one of his grandma’s for an hour to two while I go to the gym or attend an appointment. Then, when he’s about a year old or so, I’ll start playing with the idea of having him sleep over at grandma’s house. What a feat that would be! As he grows more independent and more confident in his own abilities, I’m sure I will begin to relax, knowing that he will be able to advocate (protest, most likely) for his wants and needs and that others will be able to adequately respond.

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