Leaving her makes such a commotion in my heart

03Apr16

My love for her seemed doomed, hopelessly unrequited. There should be songs for this, but if there were I didn’t know them.

– Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

The best way to deal with separation anxiety is to give your baby reassurance – over and over again – that your absence doesn’t mean that you have gone away forever … Even if your baby’s distress is upsetting you, it’s not necessary to give up plans to go out or return to work. It’s part of her emotional growth to learn that others can care for her as well, and she can trust you to come back soon.

– NCT leaflet

i.

She is 10 days old. I leave her with her dad, I walk out of the house and around the park in front of our house. It feels terrible and wonderful to go. I cry on a really, really uncomfortable bench and try not to catch the eye of a dog walker who looks uncertain as to whether to offer me assistance. I keep an eye on my phone in case I am required, until 15 minutes have passed and I rush back.

ii.

I go out to meet some friends up the road for the evening, with a normal non-breastfeeding bra on and a necklace and a real handbag with no nappies in it. I feel a bit sick when I leave the house but also as light as a feather. My life feels a bit like I think it used to, with more possibility in it, and I miss her I miss her I miss her. Suddenly it seems strange that I have not been more generous to myself in adjusting to this new life. New mothers always feel terrible for not feeling 100% comfortable and confident in their new role, but really they have spent a lot more of their life in Topshop than they have caring for a tiny baby.

A post-natal therapist once told me that one of the first steps she takes to treat mothers with depression is to create regular opportunities for them to have time away from their baby. I didn’t get this at the time, but now I kind of get it.

iii.

I leave her with her dad while I do 3 days of yoga training, back home in the evenings too late for her bedtime but able to see her for a couple of hours in the morning. The first morning she gets terribly upset before her nap and cries and flails in the cot for what seems like forever; nothing we can do will calm her. Later on when I say goodbye to her, her face takes on a look of alarm and she holds her arms out towards me and starts to cry. It is like she is auditioning for a part in which the character must attempt to break their mother’s heart. I know I’ll have to do this many times. I do what they say you shouldn’t and go back and kiss her again, I string it out because in that moment I can’t bear not to.

It is hard to leave on a bad day. She is only 9 months old. There is so much we are both not used to yet.

This is the most I have ever been away from her, and at the session it’s hard to concentrate because I am I thinking of her every minute. I guess at the heart of the guilt and fear we have when we leave our children are the questions: will they be alright? Is it ok that I am going? Deeply I feel I “shouldn’t” be here and “should” be with her but I try not to listen to that voice because it’s the same one that told me I shouldn’t go for the 15 minute walk in the park when she was 10 days old. I don’t think it’s a voice I can rely on.

A friend said: it takes courage to leave our children. The act of leaving is an act of learning, like everything else.

iv.

I am looking after her a day after being at work, and I find it very difficult because work is such a cinch compared to baby care. With a baby your day might turn out to be amazing or terrible and there is nothing you can do about this. It is so intense, so impossible to get perspective on, to remember that it is a bad nap or a bad day and not a bad life. Of course I feel awful about how much more I enjoyed being at work than I am currently enjoying this day.

I think also that a real break from this “job” does not exist. We are not able to ever really turn away. The buck stops here, in this tender, painful place where all the mushy love and steady undoing of our defences takes place.

v.

She cries when I leave but I am told she is fine a few minutes later. Her dad sends me happy pictures every few hours and so I am happy too. They are having a lovely day.

At five o’clock I run out of the office and I run to the train station and I run from the station at the other end to get all the possible minutes left in the day with her.
I reach our driveway out of breath. I put the key in the lock and walk in and see her, and she sees me, and she sort of gasps and raises her arms towards me and lets out a series of very high excited squeaks. She cannot crawl yet but she tries to move towards me across the floor, and when I pick her up she keeps twisting her head around to look at me with the broadest grin on her face. She is very slightly shaking with excitement. She laughs a lot for the next hour.

My heart swells because of how much she loves me, because of how much I love her. Being away and coming back means I can suddenly see the scale of it, this love affair she and I have embarked on. It will never not be in my life. It will never not be nearly my whole life. It is attachment, our attachment to each other. A reward for what I’ve given to her. What luck. What an amazing hand of fate.

The evening sun is shining in the window through the slats of the blinds. I change her nappy and see freshly her perfect chubby thighs and her soft round tummy. Her hair looks so blond and long. What a big girl. In the moment I want desperately for her never to grow any bigger, for every day of my life to be a groundhog of me putting the keys in the door and seeing her seeing me and picking her up and stroking her golden hair in the golden light.

I put her to bed and she doesn’t make a squeak, she is suddenly asleep. Of course the next day is a different story, but that story isn’t for tonight. Tonight everything is perfect.

(Thanks to my dad for lovely picture of Rosa!)

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One Response to “Leaving her makes such a commotion in my heart”

  1. 1 Rob George

    Neighbours used to make me cry – but not like this.


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