Separation Anxiety: An update


I first wrote a post on Separation Anxiety back in 2016 and I was recently asked to write an update. A year and a half on, here's the journey I've been on and what it is like living (and now working) with Separation Anxiety.

When you have a baby you will be talked to about postnatal depression. I'm lucky. I didn’t suffer from PND. I was hit instead with something I thought only existed in toddlers. Or dogs. I suffered with separation anxiety disorder (SAD) from being away from my daughter.

The How
At ten months old, my daughter was a very happy and healthy crawler. The longest period of time I had left her for in those first ten months was five and a half hours. While I was away, I logged on remotely to her baby monitor to watch her sleeping. In total I'd been away from her no more than six times. Twice was to walk the dog. I could still tell you every time and date and circumstance.

Separation anxiety crept up on me. I didn’t wake up one day and go ‘oh, this is a problem.’ I was a first-time mum and assumed this was all ‘normal’. Two years, reflection and problem-solving have given me an understanding of why it happened and how to live with SAD.  I hope my experience helps others to realise that what they’re going through isn’t just new-mother worry and seek help. Here’s my story:

The Why?
It’s fair to say that most first-time parents spend a lot of their energy preparing for the new baby and focusing on what birth experience they want. I was just the same. I got everything I wanted and our little girl was delivered hiccup-free, until a few hours later.
My husband Mark had been sent home and I was in a side-room, just me and baba. A midwife came to run some checks and said there was a problem with the machine. My daughter was taken away and I fell asleep in a state of worry. An hour later I was woken up, alone, and told she had been admitted to Special Care. She might have meningitis. (I want to vomit just writing this). In an incubator, hooked up to an umbilical IV, I watched her tiny body as someone else changed her first nappy and told me she looked like she wanted a feed. Then someone ordered a lumbar puncture. Then a chest scan. I didn’t tell my husband. In my irrational mind I rationalised that at least one of us should get some sleep.

Fast forward seven days and nights and my daughter and I were finally allowed to go home. Thankfully, my beautiful baby girl, Little R, was fine. A few days later, after the agony of breastfeeding a 90% tongue-tied baby, she vomited blood. Whilst I was at home. On my own. 999 and blue lights and four hours of checks to make sure the antibiotics hadn’t damaged her gut to be told, the blood was mine. (Eww.)

Slowly over the months I waited for the anxiety around leaving Little R to fade. My other mummy friends were starting to do spa days and overnight stays and the like. I kept telling myself: when she gets a bit more independent, things will be different. I was breastfeeding, I’d laugh, I HAVE to be there. But by nine months, I realised it hadn't faded; it had probably only got worse. Just the thought of being away from her would make me feel sick.

The When
Then the topic of returning to work cropped up. I decided to covertly mention the 'not wanting to leave her' to some friends and was met with either "Don't you miss adult company?" or "Nursery is a fantastic thing, don't you see how good it'll be for both her and you?" The short answer was no.

My flexible working request was rejected. I was going to be a stay at home mum. Phew! Me, my daughter and my anxiety would live a happy life, right? Happy, maybe, but not healthy. In hindsight, this is when I should have asked for professional help. Instead, I handed my notice in and my employer refused to accept it. Instead, I was offered an alternative. Two days (as I’d asked for). In a better job. With a pay rise. My dream job on a plate. It made me determined to ‘beat’ this. For the sake of my daughter, and the life me working could give her (and for myself too).

My daughter is now 27 months old. I went back to work when she was 13 months old. Our breastfeeding journey had come to an end and she was walking. I don’t know if this helped, or not, but it gave me some freedom to channel that anxiety into other pursuits. I used mindfulness techniques whilst I walked the dog. I spent more time gardening. I even started writing a novel. And it’s amazing how therapeutic a wallpaper stripper can be.

I still haven’t had a night away from my daughter; it’s something I’m not ready to do, yet. But with the support of an excellent childcare provider, my income helping us to live a comfortable life, and becoming a more confident person (an unexpected by-product of becoming a Mum!) things are much better. I still have bad days and end up crying in the loo at work. But these are becoming an exception, rather than the norm. Most importantly, I've learnt that it's OK to not put a timescale on it, to say no when I feel like I'm being pushed, just so long as I keep trying, one baby step at a time.

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