Parenting

I Was Afraid To Be Alone With My Baby, And Too Scared To Tell Anyone About It

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Last Saturday night, my husband went to the city to attend an event for the first time since the pandemic began. After 18 long months of barely socializing, this felt like a momentous occasion.

He was excited, and I was happy for him. I must say, I was a little nervous about COVID stuff. He’s vaccinated, and all the people attending the event would be vaccinated, plus it was outside. But, you know, COVID is a sneaky bastard, so I had spent the day going over protocols with him, like maintaining some distance, and wearing a mask when social distancing wasn’t possible.

As he was leaving, I expected to feel a residual pang of worry, but instead I felt relieved. Unlike me, he’s an extrovert and I knew that socializing would feed his soul. But feeling that sense of relief reminded me of something else—it reminded me of how far I’d come since our children were little, and I absolutely couldn’t bear it when he went out at night.

That sounds a little crazy, right? We were both adults when our kids were little. I was fully capable of caring for our kids without him. I should have been fine with him going out every once in a while.

All of those things were true, but at the time I’m talking about, I was experiencing an untreated case of postpartum anxiety, and I had no idea. This was when my firstborn was little. Soon after he was born, I started to have symptoms of postpartum anxiety: obsessive thoughts, inability to sleep. But I chalked it up to new motherhood, and sleep deprivation, and didn’t do much about it. Plus, it wasn’t that intense, at least not yet.

Then, when my son was about two and a half, things came to a head. I experienced an early miscarriage the same week that my son fainted while taking a bath. Everything turned out okay in the end—my miscarriage was upsetting, but I was healthy; my son’s fainting episode was harmless, but scary AF. Still, I was triggered.

All the months of worry and anxiety—coupled with tremendous sleep deprivation—came to a crescendo, and I pretty much became a 24/7 anxious mess. I was having panic attacks on the regular. I was experiencing times of dissociation and depersonalization, which then led to more panic.

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One of the things I panicked most about during that time was being left alone with my son, especially at night.

My son was a terrible sleeper. Many toddlers are difficult sleepers. But my son was an expert. Not only did he still wake up multiple times a night at the age of two, but he was impossible to put to sleep. No matter what we did, putting him to sleep was an epic struggle. Most nights, it would take 1-2 hours of rocking, shushing, bedtime stories … and more rocking, shushing, bedtime stories.

We tried putting him to sleep earlier, later, having him nap, not having him nap, etc. He just wasn’t wired to go to sleep easily. Some nights were easier than others, but it was always a thing. Every night, I was filled with dread at the idea of putting him to bed, and as my postpartum anxiety symptoms got worse, this dread turned to fear.

I didn’t mind as much when my husband was around. He was truly a team player and would participate equally in the bedtime ritual. If anything, my son would fall asleep easier with my husband’s help than mine. Plus, the camaraderie of having someone else there to share in the struggle helped immensely.

But when he wasn’t there at bedtime, I was a wreck. It had gotten to the point where I’d have legit panic attacks when he was gone. I remember around this time that he went away for a weekend for a college reunion. I almost asked him not to go—I was so stressed about the idea of him being gone. But of course I let him go.

That didn’t stop me from freaking out. One of those nights, I remember coming home with my son. As I stood there at the door to our apartment, fiddling with the keys to let us both in, my heart began to race out of control. I could hear it pounding. I could barely breathe, or open the door. All of this was simply because I remembered that I had to do the whole evening and night alone with my son.

This was one of many instances like this. Anytime I had to be alone for hours with my son, especially at night, I felt such fear.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved my son. I also totally was capable of caring for him and putting him to bed. That wasn’t the issue. It was my anxiety about it all that was completely out of control.

I didn’t tell anyone about the anxiety either, not for a long time. I kept it inside. I felt incredibly guilty and ashamed about it. Just the idea that I was experiencing such anxiety about an aspect of motherhood that I was supposed to feel confident and capable about, made me even more anxious. I felt like a bad mom, like something was wrong with me.

Thankfully, I eventually got help for my postpartum anxiety. I went back to therapy, and that helped immensely. Within a few weeks of treatment, my panic attacks settled down, my dissociation decreased, and my fear of being left alone with my son dissipated.

I also think it helped that my son did get a little easier to put to bed around this time. Anxiety can make things feel harder than they actually are, but having a child who takes 1-2 hours to put to bed every night is not exactly normal, either. I was right to feel stressed about it. But to legit panic those few times that my husband wasn’t able to help—that was pretty irrational.

Still, I’ve never really told anyone how incredibly afraid I was in those days to be alone with my child. Even after all these years—knowing that it was an irrational fear, and that I was (and am) a good and capable mom—I still feel some anxiety about sharing this.

But I also know that there are others moms out there who might be experiencing this too. Postpartum anxiety is real, and it can make you think and feel all kinds of things that make no sense, and that convince you that you’re failing in some way.

Many parents develop these kinds of fears and anxieties. It’s much more common than you think. If you are experiencing a fear of being alone with your child, or if any other aspect of parenting feels intensely overwhelming and terrifying for you, please know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not broken.

And please reach out for help. I can’t stress that enough.

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