I’ve had a rough day. Scratch that. I’ve had a rough few weeks. I’m tired. My house is a wreck. My appearance is a wreck. Why, you may ask. Because I have a 9 month old baby with extreme separation anxiety.
According to babycenter.com, separation anxiety can start as early as 6 months but usually tends to peak between 10-12 months. It occurs during the time that baby begins to understand the concept of object permanence (i.e. that things/people still exist even when they cannot be seen.) The baby feels a sense of panic, because his/her protector is not there, thus making the baby feel vulnerable and scared.
What this means for me is that I can’t walk out of a room without my Lillian wailing the second I can no longer be seen. She shrieks as if she is on fire. As I turn to walk from her she begins to whine. By the time I’m out of her sight, she is in full-on panic mode. I can forget trying to shower while she is awake. Many times in the past few weeks, I’ve taken her to the bathroom with me and put her in front of the shower in the jumperoo. As soon as I disappear behind the curtain, she screams for her life. I can usually keep her calm enough for a few minutes by singing my best rendition of the ABC song, but her patience quickly runs out and she’s back to her screaming ways. You see, I am a stay-at-home mom and she is our only child. So that means she has my undivided attention and she is used to being with me at all times. I appreciate that she feels safe and secure when I am with her, but never leaving her side is not realistic. After all, even if the laundry’s not getting done and the dishes are piling up, I still have to at least leave her sight to prepare her meals.
Babycenter.com offers a few tips on how to help minimize the stress of separation anxiety. They include minimizing separations as much as possible and to take baby with you whenever possible. This school of thought is essentially waiting on the baby to outgrow the anxiety phase. Also, they recommend leaving the child with someone they already know, which will lessen the anxiety the child feels. While these are great tips and are certainly useful, they aren’t really relevant to my situation. We do not have a sitter for Lilly, so she goes where we go. Her anxiety is on a smaller scale. She is anxious if I simply leave the room. Based on experience, I’ve found that talking to her in a cheerful voice as I’m exiting the room and continuing to talk or sing even when she can’t see me seems to calm her fears and make her less anxious. Also, I try to give her a toy that I know she likes as a sort of distraction and comfort for her in my absence.
Separation anxiety can also interfere with baby’s sleep habits. When Lilly first started showing signs of this anxiety, her sleep was also affected. Each night as I lay her down to sleep in her crib, I kiss her and say, “Night-night. Mommy loves you.” I noticed that as I said, “Night-night,” she started to whine. She knew that this meant I was about to leave her. I reassured her by hugging her once more, then I continued with our normal routine. I laid her down and left the room. As soon as her door closed she started crying. I let her cry for a few minutes then I went back in and patted her back and gently hummed to her. I wanted to teach her that even when I am not with her, I’m still present. I’ll be there if she truly needs me. However, I also didn’t want to teach her that she could cry each night and expect me to never leave her, even to sleep. Thankfully this part of the separation anxiety phase only lasted about a week. Her sleep wasn’t affected for too long.
According to justthefactsbaby.com, separation anxiety is a great sign that your baby is developing intellectually; in other words, she’s smart! The development of separation anxiety demonstrates that your baby has formed a healthy, loving attachment to you. It is a sign that your baby associates pleasure, comfort and security with your presence, but she doesn’t know enough about the world yet to understand that when you leave her, you’ll always come back.
So, for now I’m just going to try to help her through this phase of her development by being present for her and reassuring her that I will always come back. My laundry will get done when it gets done. I’ll wash the dishes as we need them, and I’ll try to sneak a shower during nap time. “It won’t be like this for long.”