Friday, February 27, 2009

Separation Anxiety

When I was a little girl (I don't remember my exact age) my parents brought me with them to their friends house one evening. I guess it was a dinner/drink get together for the adults and I was expected to play with their daughter who was the same age as me. Except I didn't really like their daughter and thought she was weird (was I cliquey at such a young age??).

Anyways the parents were upstairs doing whatever adults do and I was downstairs trying to tolerate their weird daughter. At some point it got late and I got tired. I fell asleep on the floor of the basement.

As the story goes, when my parents were ready to go home they came downstairs to fetch me and found me sleeping. Their friends insisted that they just leave me there to stay the night. I was sleeping so peacefully after all, it apparently seemed silly to wake me up.

So they did. They left me there and went home.

I woke up in the middle of the night. In the dark. On the floor of some strange basement. TERRIFIED. I ran upstairs (in a house that I'd never even been in before) hoping to find my mom and dad but instead I found everything to be dark and silent. I don't remember if I met with an adult or not but for some reason I believe I was told to go sleep in their daughter's bed with her. And I remember getting into her bed and she wasn't wearing any underwear and I was totally grossed out and uncomfortable that I had to sleep in her bed.

I have never recovered from that incident.

Seriously, I haven't.

From that day on I could NOT be left at a baby sitter's house without me throwing a complete fit. I would have totally consuming anxiety attacks whenever I heard my parents talking about going out for an evening because I was sure I would be left somewhere and never picked up again. Even though they promised me that would never happen again. I would scream and cry and claw at the door in an attempt to not be left behind when they went out. I was fine (felt safe) if the babysitter came to my house but for some reason this rarely happened.

I remember once my mom wanted to go out for a drink with my aunt (my mom was never a big drinker and this wasn't a common occurrence) and I was left in the care of my cousin at their house. The minute my mom walked out the door I freaked out and ran out into the street bawling and grabbed the bumper of the truck as they tried to drive away. My mom and my aunt thought that someone had been killed inside the house. They still went out for drinks after they peeled me off the back of the truck - even though I said I would just wait in the cab of the truck while they went in for a drink (that would have been cute).

I couldn't go to sleepovers anymore. Sometimes I would try (it sounded so fun!). But then I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified and I would have to call my mom to come pick me up. There were many 2am trips made by my mom to come get me.

People made fun of me - adults. They rolled their eyes at the little girl who was too "scared" to spend the night away from her mommy. I'm sure it was irritating to them when I would wake up crying at their house in the middle of the night and ask to use the phone to call my mom. I eventually didn't get invited overnight anymore - which was actually ok with me.

Even if my mom would go to a friend's house for coffee during the day - I would either sit on her lap or keep her within my eyesight to be sure she didn't forget me. People would say, "Why don't you go play in the playroom with the other kids".

Because I can't see my mommy from the playroom.

To this day, I do not enjoy staying overnight at other people's houses. I still wake up in the middle of the night and feel some anxiety. Ridiculous, I know. It's even hard for me to stay at a girlfriend's house if we've had a cocktail night. I will do whatever I need to do (make whatever excuses) to get myself home where I feel safe.

And now... something else is happening that I never expected. I'm completely and utterly paranoid about this happening to Ruby. And this is the root of the reason why I am struggling (really struggling) with the thoughts of transitioning her to sleeping in her crib in her own room.

What if she wakes up in the middle of the night and doesn't have her mommy next to her and she's scared? Yes, I will be in the other room and I will have a monitor on her but still - that first moment of waking up and feeling that terror and fear of abandonment is horrible.

I NEVER, EVER want her to feel that.

There's also the issue of letting her sleepover at grandmas house. I would love a night out with Steve. Get some good sleep. A break would be fantastic. And my mom is dying to have her over night. I know other moms that do this every other weekend.

But I can't.

She would be sleeping in a play yard in her own room (she has her own room at grandma's house). I can't even begin to imagine doing that to her. I don't want her to think I've left her, abandoned her. What if she wakes up in the middle of the night in a strange room and I'm not there and she wants me and she's scared???

I just can't.

Obviously this can't go on forever. She is quickly outgrowing her bassinet and she can't sleep in our room forever (although I have mentally tried to rearrange the furniture to accommodate her crib). And some day she IS going to sleep at grandma's house.

I just wonder if it can wait until she can talk and I can explain to her that I will always be there for her and I will come get her any time she needs me and that I will never abandon her...


Emily said...

This is really interesting. I think we all have our things that we are terrified of doing to our own children. I remember reading something about it in a psychology textbook actually - about how parents create anxiety fears in their children based on their own anxiety and how the children often find the source (spiders, abandonment, etc) of the anxiety scarier than the parent originally did without any reason to.

Interestingly the "remedy" was sort of what I would suggest. I know its hard but you have to realise that this is *your* issue and not Ruby's (she'll have her own issues brought on by you doing what you think is best I'm sure!) and the more anxious you get about it you'll create anxiety in her. I hate to say it but this is a time when Mommy needs to suck it up and face her fear. It will be FAR harder on you than it will be on her but the best thing you can do for her is to SHOW her how much you love her. Your mom will be there for her in the middle of the night. I think you know that this is what you need to do and I send you big hugs because it will be tough but its probably better to just do it and get it over with then let it build up to even more terrifying proportions in your head. Hope that made sense and didn't seem really mean?!

Carrie said...

I can totally see how your situation was scarring and terrifying. Did they not think that you wouldn't just fall back to sleep in the car? Very strange.

But I do agree with Emily, especially about your own issues and anxiety rubbing off on her. (I have a friend whose sister doesn't like cats and has always been a bit afraid of them so she's told her kids that cats are mean and now her children are *terrified* of cats... as in screaming at the top of their lungs and clawing to be picked up if they see one - even if it's not near them.)

Little ones are very resiliant and if she can start adjusting now to you not being right there all the time when she wakes up, she'll soon learn that it's okay if she's by herself or in someone else's care (whatever the case may be) and that mommy always comes back.

Once she's older, I definitely don't recommend leaving her alone without telling her like your parents did, but at her age she can't quite comprehend what abandonment is yet and you always returning will build her trust in you.

Jen said...

I say don't move her out of your room until you are ready. Try a pack and play if her crib won't fit. We managed to squeeze one of those in our room when we had barely any space.

Of course, if you do end up putting her in her own room, she'll learn that even if she wakes up scared, you'll always come to her. So it is a win-win situation. :)

Jen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

Perhaps I should just pretand I'm the other Emily? I agree with what she said, although I understand that what you're feeling must be awful.

Emily said...


I no spell much.

nancy said...

well my goodness - what a horrible thing to do to a child. With my kids, they know where they are going and when I'll pick them up. I have yet to have problems with the girls.

I hope you are able to leave Ruby. You deserve it and so does she. You don't want her to have the same issues, right? Start now, when she's got no clue where she is anyway. The comfort of things that smell like home is all she will need. Like leave your shirt with her, so she'll smell that and feel safe. Then, as she gets older, just keep doing it and she'll grow into it being a normal thing. I wouldn't wait.