Separation Anxiety


Last week I had my first full day away from my daughter after spending 5 months together pretty much every minute of every day.

It was HARD.

The organisation I work for has an annual big conference that brings together the movers and shakers working in my specialised sector and it’s a very popular and interesting event. It goes all week, but I had discussed with my boss the idea of using one of my “Keeping in touch” days to attend, as a way to check in and see people and get back in touch with what’s going on in my line of work while on maternity/adoption leave.

So we agreed that I would attend for 1 day. My kind neighbour agreed to help me for the day by babysitting – my daughter knows her really well, and she has recently been made redundant, so is at home and in need of a bit of extra cash. I paid her £50 for the day, which was as much as I could afford – and a bargain at basically £5 an hour (you’d never get an actual babysitter for that rate!).

We agreed that she would come for 8am and I’d aim to be home by 6pm. This meant I would miss the beginning of the conference as it wasn’t feasible to commute into London for a 9am start (my neighbour would have had to start at 7am for me to do that!). So it was going to be a long day for both of us!

The night before, my darling daughter, who is usually such a good sleeper, woke up at 4am and just screamed and screamed. It was very unlike her, and took over 40 mins to get her to sleep. Once she was finally down, of course I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I lay there tired and fretting for at least an hour, finally going back to sleep for about 30mins before my alarm went off!

The morning was fine – I was up and dressed and showered, washed my hair and put some make-up on, and wore sensible grown-up clothes for the first time in ages! I had explained to the kid that our neighbour S was coming to play with her and she was excited about that. I was frankly quite anxious and jumpy about it all but when I left we explained that I would be back in time for her to have a bath, and she just smiled and said ok and waved goodbye to me. Basically she was fine and I was a nervous wreck!

Then things got worse – my taxi was late, the traffic was solid and I missed my train, so by the time I finally made it onto any train I was in a state of serious anxiety! Then my mobile hotspot wouldn’t work on my laptop so I couldn’t watching the livestream of the first session, and it felt like everything was going wrong at once. Thankfully one of my friends reminded me that it was just a keeping in touch day, I wasn’t required to be there, and I wasn’t running the conference or anything so it really didn’t matter. That helped a lot so I took a deep breath and decided I’d just get there when I got there and let it all go.

My lovely neighbour sent me lots of messages and photos throughout the day of what they were doing, letting me know if she had eaten, napped, been upset etc. That really helped too, knowing that the kid was fine and was having a lovely day, not weeping and screaming and begging for me!

Once I got there the conference was fab – not only I was stretching a part of my brain that I haven’t used in a long time, so everything was EVEN MORE FASCINATING than it probably would have been otherwise, and it was so nice to switch back on a professional zone in my brain for critical thinking and absorbing interesting research and it’s implications. The other great part was that this was THE event of the year for people who work in my sector, so I got to see LOADS of current and former colleagues to catch up at all once and “network” (or gossip) in the breaks. It was so lovely to see so many faces – often people I don’t work directly with or who live overseas so it’s even more rare to see them in the flesh instead of on a conference call.

I even saw my Conference Best Friend – a term we coined in Berlin at a technical working group meeting. She is a senior person at UN OCHA, and knows a squillion more things than I do about everything, but it turns out we both love hunting for vintage boots at flea markets and second hand shops (which is what we ended up doing in Berlin at our first conference together). Now every time we see each other at another conference we laugh and smile and catch up and admire each other’s boots etc. I love having a Conference Best Friend – it’s so much more fun!

So all in all, the conference was great and such a nice refreshing change of pace after 5 months of toddler monotony!

However, there was a downside.

I MISSED her. All day. Constantly. It was utterly ridiculous, I was basically a nervous wreck about leaving her for a whole day. It’s so silly but she’s been within about 3 feet from me literally every day for 5 months, and suddenly she was in a whole other city! By the afternoon I was starting to feel exhausted and a bit headachy and nauseous – couldn’t work out if it was the lights, the tiredness, the stress, or possibly this weird bug I’d been ill with on the Sunday, but I left at the afternoon break and headed home feeling tired and not too great.

Walking in the door just after 6pm, I was greeted with the world’s biggest grin, and the happiest smiliest toddler in the world gave me an enormous cuddle. I almost cried right then just having her back in my arms. It was ridiculous.

She had been absolutely fine all day, and had understood that I would come home in time for a bath, which is what we did. We both slept really well that night thank god, though the day after she clearly decided to punish me by letting all the emotions out and having a series of major meltdowns and tantrums. But that’s all pretty normal and par for the course.

I’m so glad I went, but it has made me realise how hard it will be to go back to work full time, and how hard it will be when she starts nursery, though I am glad she is starting a little at a time – for both our sakes! She’ll go in January for 3 afternoons a week, which will give me a much-needed break, but I suspect also leave me twiddling my thumbs missing her too!

Luckily I have lined up a series of fun things to do in the interest of self-care once she is settled at nursery, such as a massage, a pedicure, manicure, book-reading, etc. I’m looking forward to a little me-time, even if I’m going to miss her loads and loads. So there we are, that’s my separation anxiety for you!

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