Separation anxiety: "It felt like my heart was aching."

As a first time mum, I didn’t really know there was a problem until my daughter was nine months old. I knew I didn’t feel like myself from the very beginning, but I just assumed all new mums felt like that. I also suffered from OCD as a teenager which flared back up after the birth of my first daughter.

The first time I remember feeling separation anxiety was when my daughter was 3 weeks old. I went out without her for a meal with my friends. This was the first time I had left her at home and after about 45 minutes, I started to feel odd. I couldn’t concentrate on the conversation, all I could think about was getting home to her. When I got home all the love rushed through me and I cried as I held her in my arms. In hindsight I wasn’t ready to leave her, I wasn’t ready for my life to resume as it had been before.

In hindsight I wasn't ready to leave her, I wasn't ready for my life to resume as it had been before.

As I watched people with their babies around me it looked much easier for them. I was anxious a lot of the time, striving for perfection and beating myself up if things didn’t go to plan. My friends were able to go out and enjoy evenings without their babies, but I just couldn’t enjoy myself. Mentally, I needed the break because having a newborn is not easy, but every time I was away from her I felt an emptiness in my heart. It was a constant battle for many months.

What did it feel like for you?

It felt like my heart was aching when she was not with me. I wasn’t worried about her because I knew she was being well cared for, but I felt a mixture of guilt and longing.

...every time I was away from her I felt an emptiness in my heart.

For months I compared myself to others and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to feel like an individual. Obviously I missed her but it was more than that, it felt like we were somehow meshed together as one person and when we weren’t together, it was like missing an important piece of myself.

Did you feel this way with both your children, or was it more prominent with your first daughter?

I only experienced separation anxiety with my first daughter. I think this was because first time round I lacked self-trust and set my expectations too high. I relied on advice from other people and books I had read. I believed she had to be in a strict routine, had to fall asleep without being in my arms and that I should be able to pick myself up and continue with life. Second time round I listened to my instincts and did exactly what I thought was right.

I kept her with me, I cuddled her while she slept and only left her when I felt ready. I put my life on hold for longer and lowered my expectations of everything. My counselling helped greatly with my self-trust and I am so glad I worked on this before having my second child.

...I listened to my instincts and did exactly what I thought was right.

How did you manage it?

When my first daughter was nine months I sought counselling. It took me a long time to realise that what I was experiencing, was anxiety. Once I took the first step life gradually became easier. It took a lot of work, both in therapy and at home, for me to feel like a separate individual, but things are much better now. I believe the work I've done with my counsellor has also coached me to help my daughter feel more individual, as I’m quite sure the separation anxiety was from both sides.

Had you experienced separation anxiety as a child, or was the first time with your own children?

I don’t remember experiencing separation anxiety as a child, but then it was a very long time ago!

How do other people react when you exhibit separation anxiety?

As a sufferer of OCD as a teenager, I became rather experienced at hiding my feelings. My husband knew there was a problem and he was very supportive. I've opened up to family members more recently, for most of them it comes as a surprise.

Do you know anyone else who also experiences this?

Yes, another of my friends went through something similar, but we were both in denial so didn’t share experiences until much later on.

What advice would you give to others experiencing separation anxiety?

Anxiety often stems from low self-trust and/or low self-worth as a result of your life experiences. I have changed many things in my life to improve my anxiety, but without a doubt, it was counselling that made the biggest impact for me. If you are putting off having counselling because you are scared it’s going to open up lots of uncomfortable feelings, then I totally understand that.

You are right, it's more than likely going to be uncomfortable, you may cry harder than you knew possible and feel lower at first. But the crying acts as a release and slowly, you should start to free yourself up for more positive things.

I have changed many things in my life to improve my anxiety, but without a doubt it was counselling that made the biggest impact for me.

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