Mammy gone! And other tales of separation anxiety to make a mama’s heart ache

There’s that great quote from the writer Elizabeth Stone…

Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

…it makes me catch my breathe because it resonates so strongly with me. That’s exactly what it feels like – a vital, beating heart running around you in circles that makes you ache when it aches.

It’s interesting though, I never think of the quote when times are good and I’m watching my son reaping all the joys of life and revelling in new experiences. It only comes to mind when something bad happens and I feel like I’m watching helplessly, knowing that try as hard as I might, there will always be some things in life that I can’t protect him from. Those unknowns that just appear on the horizon without warning. All I can do then is love him and let him know he is loved and safe,  as safe as I can possibly make him.

I unexpectedly found myself a guest of one of our fine Dublin hospitals last month. Something that should have just taken an afternoon manifested itself into an unplanned four night stay. Nothing serious but mildly unpleasant and, most importantly, all over now.

In any other circumstances, my short visit would have just been a minor blip in an otherwise routine life work balance which would have returned to normal as quickly as it had occured. But this time, a little 22 month old boy’s mama disappeared into thin air for four long days without so much as a by your leave or a kiss goodbye.

Poof!

We thought everything was fine though. He hung out with his dada and they had great fun messing around the place. He asked for me a few times but  seemed happy enough that I was somewhere else. Then a Skype phonecall, that I thought went well from my side, ended in tears and a long night of settling to bed for Dad.

After getting special permission for a normally forbidden visit, he toddled in to see me the following afternoon. We had lovely cuddles and he sat tightly on my knee for about ten minutes but then the curiosity of his surroundings got the better of him and we decided it might be best they head off before they were escorted out! But there were no tears and a big bye bye kiss and a hug.

The night I was discharged, I got some serious silent treatment. When I arrived in the door, I got a look and then he proceeded to chat away to his grandparents and his dada but looked right through me. Of course I completely understood this, I’d be fairly miffed myself.

But the next day, when he realised I was home for good, everything changed. We had a lovely relaxing bedtime where the three of us hung out singing songs and having chats on our bed to wind things down. I was still quite weak so T was going to put him down for the night.

That’s not how it worked out though. Each time one of us softly suggested giving mama a kiss goodnight, he jumped out of his skin across the bed at me and clung to my chest with a little whimper, saying “mama?”.

Oh then how my heart ached and the silent tears flowed.

photo credit: Monroe's Dragonfly via photopin cc Mammy gone! And other tales of separation anxiety to make a mama's heart ache Mind the Baby blog www.mindthebaby.ie
photo credit: Monroe’s Dragonfly via photopin cc

And I was angry with myself because I didn’t want him to see that I was upset too. I wanted to be strong for him but I couldn’t hold it in. I don’t think that he noticed, but it does make me worry for when he’s older and more aware of these things. I have no memories of my own parents being upset or vulnerable when I was a child. I only have memories of strength, confidence and support. I’m sure this wasn’t actually the reality but I think is it reassuring for children to not feel they have to “mind” their parents and that being with mum and dad means you’re safe and everything is okay.

I put him to bed that night and it took hours. For the first time that night, he woke several times, crying hysterically and shouting out “mammy gone! mammy gone!”

Crushing.

It’s been like that ever since, well not so many night wakes but at least one with the screaming and calling out. Although it is improving slightly. Even during the day, if I make a move to leave a room or if his Dad wants to take him downstairs for breakfast: “mammy gone? mammy gone?”

The thing is, we know its separation anxiety and we know we can link it to the simple fact that I disappeared suddenly. I went on a business trip for four nights when he was 17 months old and it wasn’t a problem. Okay, I got a half hour of silent treatment and then some angry kicking and screaming when I got home but that was it out of his system then. The difference is he was prepared for my leaving. I spoke about it often before I left and we had regular Skype calls at the same time every night I was away. He might’t have understood literally but he certainly understood on some level.

This has been going on for much longer.

We’ve been giving him lots and lots of attention and I’m taking extra care to ensure he knows where I’m going, when I’m going and when he can expect to see me again.  We’re reassuring, try to build up his confidence and his trust.

It’s feels so awful that I created this situation for him. My poor baba.

I also think it might just have happened at a particular time in his development when it would have such an impact, but I don’t know.

Last night for the first time, we got “Daddy gone! Daddy gone!” It wasn’t very nice for my husband to hear but at least it seems change, and hopefully improvement, is underway.

In the grand scheme of things it’s just a very small thing. But sometimes the small things are distressing, for everyone involved.

Has anyone else experienced something similar?

17 thoughts on “Mammy gone! And other tales of separation anxiety to make a mama’s heart ache”

  1. We’ve experienced a couple of strong cases of separation anxiety in our house in the last couple of years. (http://mama.ie/?s=Separation+anxiety) Each time, the only thing that worked to help him past it was the love bombing technique. The trust will return, I’m sure of it. It may just take a lot of reassurance first. Poor baby. I know exactly what you mean about only thinking of that quote when they’re hurt. I’m the same. If I could take away his pain, I would.

  2. Yes. Oh yes. Similarly I ended up in hospital for a week unexpectedly when he was 2 & a half. Up until then his life revolved around me. Then I was gone & no visits either as I was so sick. I had to get him a big boy’s bed as I wasn’t able to lift him in/out of the cot. I think that added to the anxiety. It took about a month to pass. But it did pass. It will get better. Remember it’s a stage of development too. Just unfortunate your bad spell happened at the same time.

  3. Oh, so sad, so distressing for you (and him). But I think you’re spot on that it unhappily coincided with a separation anxiety phase that probably would have happened anyway, though maybe not so severely. Keep on keeping on, and he’ll come around.

    1. Thanks Christine. I think he definitely would have gotten some form of it anyway. When I went back to work and he started in creche, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight, even if he was with his Dad. I think he’s just a sensitive little soul.

  4. Oh dear that sounds like a miserable week for the whole lot of you. The nice thing about littles is their faith in mama so I’m sure that balance will be restored before long. I stumbled across your blog a few months back and you seem like such a lovely caring mother…nothing can really damage that bond with your son. Rachael .

  5. Oh lord, you poor poor things. After Michael was born, I didn’t see Matthew (then fifteen and a half months) for three weeks. Like Pip, he was fine while I was away, playing with his grandparents, aunts and uncles, but when I got home it was utter devastation. Every time I left the room he would spin into a whirlwind of panic. One morning, just after Michael came home, he was out playing in the garden with my Mum and the public health nurse came to see Michael. He tried to come back in, but mum tried to make him stay. We both saw this flicker – ever so subtle – in his eye. It was a tiny tiny shut down. So, I decided to love him through it. For us, that meant leaning into his panics and worries.It took almost two weeks of constant hugs, kisses, handholding and no alone time, but today he bears no trace of trauma. Not a jot. And neither will your little petal. It’s the mama’s who bear the battle scars of these episodes, not our kids. That, I can promise you. You are an amazing mother, and this is a phase that will be long forgotten by your son. xxx

    1. Oh Ciara! What a journey you guys have had. My heart breaks when I think about it but so glad to hear that Matthew has no trace of trauma. You’re so right, it’s the mamas with the battle scars. xxxxx

      1. Never ever waste your heartache on us bird! We are STRONG because of it, and it is absolutely well and truly behind us. No wounds here, healing or otherwise, thank god. The advice you have gotten is so great – but I hope you take the message of what a great job you are doing out of it. That is why you are feeling it all so strongly. xxx

  6. awww the poor little guy, he needs love bombing (I imagine that’s what he’s getting)

    I have been the not-strong mama, and cried many times in front of my little boy – when work was awful, when pregnancy was overwhelming physically and emotionally, when I couldn’t find any biscuits (okay all of these were probably pregnancy related), when a new baby & a 2 year old was Just. Too. Much.

    If it helps, all he ever asked, with a cocked head, and a quizzical look, was “is your finger/arm/leggie/eye sore mama?” Sometimes I ask him to get me a plaster and then it’s all better. I don’t think he’s going to grow up thinking his mother was an emotional wreck. I remember strong parents too, but they can’t always have been.

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