Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anxiety Sets In

At River’s 9-month checkup, the doctor warned us that separation anxiety was going to set in. He said that River might still be willing to smile at him at the 12-month check-up, but we could expect him to be decidedly unfriendly towards the doctor at 15 months.

I acknowledged it was possible, but I held out hope that River would beat the odds. He’d barely shown any crankiness from teething, though many babies seem to suffer. He was as willing as anyone to be dropped into another person’s arms at a moment’s notice. If anything, I feared that he’d actually be just fine without me, that if anything happened to me, he wouldn’t really need me. Which of course, is a gift for his sake, but a bit of a bummer to a parent that likes to think of themselves as necessary.

His ease at being left continued on to 12 months. I have a friend who belongs to the same health club as I do and has a son who is one month younger than River. She can’t take advantage of the handy childcare facility there because her son won’t allow her to leave him. That really sucks, I thought to myself, and felt grateful that River allows me to put him down, then promptly occupies himself without paying any attention whatsoever to where I’ve gone. That was the case only two days ago. Even today, at his 12 month appointment, the doctor commented that River was unusually lacking in anxiety.

However, little signs of increased neediness have popped up. River likes to climb up my pant legs, like a little kitten, then will make signs indicating he wants to be picked up. Sometimes it’s clear he just wants to be in my arms, being held.

This morning, when I wanted to leave to go work at the library, he did this repeatedly. Every time I put him down, he’d go right into the climb pant leg, pick me up please routine. When he saw me put on my coat, he became agitated and whiny. Oh no, the separation anxiety is here, I thought.

Today was unusual in that our babysitter came in the morning instead of the typical afternoon. I don’t know whether or not that had anything to do with it. What I do know is that it’s painful to see River upset and know that I’m the cause of it.

I can recognize that it’s natural. I realize it will probably only last a moment. I regularly see Mirena throw a fit when her parents leave, only to settle down to happy play one minute later.

Still, it makes me sad and anxious to walk out of the house knowing that he’s upset. At a time when I’m thinking that the end of breastfeeding means I can start to work more and travel, at a time when I’m applying for jobs that could require me to be away from home for weeks at a time, it would be easier to know he’s calm in my absence as he used to me.

Mark took River to his 12-month checkup today and reported that the doctor said we could expect the separation anxiety to get worse in the near future.

“How long did the doctor say it would last?” I just asked him.

“He didn’t say,” he said. “But I’d think late – years and years and years.”

Really? What have your experiences been with separation anxiety? When does it peak? When does it get better? Any tricks for handling it?

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