How leaving my baby for the first time was like ripping off a Band-Aid
It was an inevitable sojourn on my journey of motherhood, like spit-up baths, fighting with my husband about who should get up with the baby at 4:30 a.m., or trying to watch The Bachelor when my screaming child has other ideas of how I should spend my time. I knew this day would come; and unlike my spit-up bath, I was overjoyed at the prospect.
See, I had the baby who screamed for weeks. Good news: He is unyielding, tenacious, undeterred... all qualities I will treasure one day when I want him to get accepted to a good college or go pro as a left-handed pitcher. Bad news: I was about one breakdown away from being a character in a Virginia Woolf novel. When you are on week three of a six-week baby bender, all you can think about is "Calgon, take me away." I was ready for a little me time. Or, at least I thought I was.
When I was told our show (Awkward) was going on-location for a few days, I knew my moment had arrived. Usually, when a production goes on-location it's like summer camp for grown-ups... if summer camp was going on tour with the Rolling Stones circa 1965. For me, I just wanted to sleep and take a bubble bath without my newborn in the tub with me. This news of heading out of town for a few days was better than Christmas morning 1991 when I got a pink moped from Santa Claus. Then, as I came closer to my "much-anticipated" retreat, something strange happened... something unexpected. I began to freak the (insert expletive of your choice) out, people! Nightmares, panic attacks of a mom's worst fears, and moments of paralyzing dread became my daily norm. It crept up on me like an unwanted birthday age or IBS. Before my head had time to catch up to my emotional outbursts of sheer insanity, I found myself pulled over on the side of the road bawling my eyes out, unable to catch my breath. Then it hit me. I was suffering from separation anxiety... and I hadn't even left my 4-month-old baby yet. To make matters worse, I had no coping mechanism for the level of anxiety I was experiencing. But, like most things in my life, I stumbled my way through it. It wasn't pretty, but I lived to tell the tale. Here's how it went down.
I downloaded, upchucked, cried out, and came one step closer to figuring it out. If you don't have a therapist, counselor or pastor in your life, a professional that you can talk to, then find one. They can arm you with coping mechanisms and resources. A professional is unbiased and your sessions are confidential. You can let it all hang out without fear of the judgment police.
Nothing beats the love and support of your nearest and dearest. Sometimes we are scared that we will be met with judgment and ridicule. I used to be terrified of not being perfect. Fact is, I am so far from being perfect that I am an expert in not being perfect. The moment I reached out to others, I received the greatest gift: a community of awesome women who have my back.
In many parts of the country, this is where aunts, uncles and grandparents become really helpful. Unfortunately, mine live in Georgia. Luckily, I have Mimi, the world's best caregiver. Referrals are an excellent way to find a great caregiver. I suggest bringing your caregiver in soon after the baby is born, even if it's just a few hours a week. That way, both baby and mama have time to acclimate to the caregiver.
A wise mother told me to make it quick and painless, as if you will see them in a few hours. I am many things, but sometimes wise is not one of them. I was sobbing for over 20 minutes when Mimi said, "I know how you feel, Nikki. I had to leave my kids to work in the U.S. so they could have a good life back in El Salvador. I haven't seen them in 13 years." Hi, let me introduce myself. My name is Nikki DeLoach, and I am the mayor of Foot-in-Mouth City. Like a big girl, I dried up my tears, kissed my baby, got in my car... and then proceeded to cry in the comfort of my own solitude.
Mimi sends me pictures and updates throughout the day. Just when I start to go to that dark, irrational, paranoid mom space, a picture of Hudson grinning from ear to ear pops up. I breathe a sigh of relief. Encourage your caregiver to do this for you. Also, Skype and FaceTime are a godsend.
If all else fails on your journey of separation anxiety, I highly recommend self-medicating. Find the nearest bar or bottle of wine and pop that cork, baby! You could probably use a drink anyway.
Keep in mind that sometimes, time away makes you a better mom. You come back refreshed, revitalized, and ready to take on that middle-of-the-night awakening from your little one.
For all you moms out there who are strapped with an impending departure from your little one, my heart goes out. Whether it's going back to work full time or an overnight stay, whether your baby is 4 months old or 4 years, separation anxiety is real and distressing. Don't let anyone tell you differently. I hope this helps.
I wanted to write this blog for several reasons. If just one mom reads this and no longer feels alone on her own journey, then it was worth sharing mine. Two, I want to hear how other moms are dealing with mommyhood and issues like separation anxiety. So please let me hear from you. You are inspirational. You are humanity at its finest, and I am grateful that we can take this journey together.