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The bittersweet reality of separation anxiety

I would be lying if I said this was not the most loved + needed I have ever felt in my entire life.

The bittersweet reality of separation anxiety

Four months

I close the garage door behind me and tip-toe into the living room—a useless effort, as it turns out—because he is still awake. The sound of muffled crying hits me like a wave; my husband sits defeated on the couch.


“I tried to give him that bottle half a dozen times,” he starts.

I glance at the bottle on the counter, quickly doing math in my head. Two-day-old breastmilk warmed and re-warmed half a dozen times. Ugh.

“He’s waiting for you.”

“I know. You can toss the milk,” I say quietly.

We brush past each other in the living room as I make my way to the audible cries. I glance back at the microwave clock just in time to see four ounces swirl down the drain, along with any shred of independence I could foresee.

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9:47 p.m.

I open the bedroom door and float to him like a magnet. We retreat to the rocking chair and he nurses hungrily, desperately, clutching my t-shirt in his tiny hands the entire time.

Eight months

I walk into the living room with my iPhone in hand, ready to tackle a few e-mails over breakfast. Rounding the corner, I brace myself, but it’s too late. I’ve been spotted.

He starts to softly hyperventilate. A grin stretches across his face while he army crawls as fast as he can to my feet, hurling his body over toys in the process like a 12-pound baby soldier. He glances up at me with hopeful eyes, placing his hands on my shins desperately, as if he hasn’t seen me in days.

I pick him up and place his body on my hip against my faded floral nightgown. He melts into my side like pie filling conforming to the crust.

He last saw me 14 minutes ago.

12 months

He clings to me tighter as a few guests trickle in, digging his nails firmly into my bicep. I loosen his grip on my arm and kiss his cheek, reassuring him that I am not going anywhere. I try to distract him with the shiny birthday balloon, but he is too panicked to play.

Grandma tries to take him; he screams. Daddy tries to take him; he screams.

I eventually escape to the bathroom for a few minutes of solitude. My husband whisks him outside to play, and I make my way back to the kitchen cautiously. I dart in front of the sliding screen door, grab a burrito, and finally sit down at the table with my friends.

“I think I’m safe!” I joke.

The second the words leave my mouth, a familiar wail follows. I glance out the window and see him, safe and secure in my husband’s arms, anxiously looking at the screen door.

My husband locks eyes with me through the window.

“He heard your voice!”

I can’t help but roll my eyes, placing my burrito back on the plate. I open the screen door, and within seconds we are reunited, his body back on my hip, his nails back in my arm, his head resting on my chest.

He grins.

My first son had normal spouts of separation anxiety, usually lasting a few weeks at a time. It was sweet, welcome even, and barely affected me outside of needing to take a momentary break from the gym because childcare became insufferable.

But this? My second baby? I have never known attachment like this. I have never so much as witnessed attachment like this.

Picture me holding this baby while I do dishes, while I prepare meals, while I type e-mails, while I pee, while I do anything.

Picture me handing him to other people and his face turning beet red while he screams bloody murder.

Picture me walking towards the front door while he buries his face in the carpet sobbing hysterically as if I will never return.

Picture me darting around my own house like a ninja to stay out of his sight on the rare occasion that he’s preoccupied with a toy in the living room for two whole minutes.

When he’s not in my arms, this baby lives at my feet, parked next to my toes like a relentless puppy dog. He’s not content unless he’s next to me, in my arms, on my hip, in my lap, breathing the same air that I breathe.

He is my Velcro Baby; I can practically hear the ripping sound when I pry him off my hip to put him down or hand him to someone else, at which point he completely falls apart.

How can someone so tiny possibly adore me so much?

On the one hand, this attachment is straight up suffocating. Between nursing around the clock and holding him on my hip or strapping him to my chest in a carrier, I have felt at odds with my own body this year, as if it doesn’t belong to me anymore. We seem to be lacking...what do the therapists call it? Oh yes, boundaries.

On the other hand, I would absolutely be lying if I said this attachment was not the most loved and needed I have ever felt in my entire life.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I genuinely feel a sense of pride when I walk into a room and he cries for me with outstretched arms. In these moments, I actually feel the sacrifice and sanctity of motherhood, this complete lack of personal space that transcends my body straight down to my soul.

Who cares if I never eat lunch in peace? Who cares if I have to hold a baby while I pee? I am needed! And it is a glorious feeling.

I look at my 3.5-year-old, the confident boy who casually waved, “Bye, mommy!” on the first day of preschool without looking back. He needs me less and less every day. Just last week, he informed me that he can go to the bathroom by himself, closing the door in my face.

“I need pwivacy!” he shouted.

I was simultaneously amused and devastated. Is this where we’re headed?

I don’t know how much longer this Velcro stage will last, but we all know it’s temporary. Someday he won’t sob when I leave the house. Someday he'll prefer the company of his dad, or his brother, or his (God help me) girlfriend.

Someday he will need space from me, while I cling desperately to every sight of him, to every conversation with him, to every encounter we share. We are heading toward those days, like a freight train that won't stop.

Perhaps this is all a dress rehearsal, a preview of what's to come. Perhaps this is all a glimpse into my own future, and he is paving the way for my emotional expectations. The day he gets his driver's license. The day he leaves for college. The day he gets married. At some point we are bound to trade places, and I might be the one burying my face in the carpet, sobbing hysterically.

Everything will come full circle, and the Velcro will rip once again.

This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.

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