Motherhood in the time of separation

g was excused from his first ever day care last week.  His provider and I agreed that he wasn’t making any progress toward adapting to being without me, for any amount of time, and it was clear to both of us that the provider wasn’t equipped to handle the situation.  He explained to me that he had never encountered anyone quite like g, who breaks down completely from the moment I leave to the moment that I return, refusing any sort of distraction, food or drink, a particular mix of terrified and stubborn.

Although I am undeniably concerned, I am not particularly surprised.  When g was just an infant and I still had what I believed were realistic aspirations of returning to my research, I would occasionally leave him with a nanny.  She came often to our house, even while I was there, so g knew her well.  Still, I would come back home to descriptions of a baby who never stopped screaming, refused a bottle, resisted sleep. As soon as I returned he would nurse for long periods of time and collapse.  At the time, I felt an intense need to be with him but it was clear that, as powerful as it might have been, it paled in comparison to his need for me.

I adored A, the day care provider that I had chosen for g.  He cared for just 6 children, all around the same age, out of his lovely home.  Although at first he might have given me the impression that he did bong hits for breakfast, based in part on his long dreadlocks and the old bus parked in front of his yard, it was clear from observing him that he was calm, patient and nurturing and that the kids in his care were very happy and surprisingly mature and independent. I hoped that it might be the right place for g.

I was wrong.  As I gathered the last of g’s belongings, I asked A if he had any suggestions.  He couldn’t seem to think of anything but then he paused. It’s not your faultI’ve seen parents who are the root of their children’s separation anxiety and you don’t act the way they do. He hugged me sympathetically. On one hand, I want to believe that he’s right. Nobody wants to be responsible for their child’s struggles. On the other hand, if my behavior isn’t behind this then how much power do I have to change it?

I knew that this stage would be difficult. Still, I looked forward to this chapter.  I am ready for the gradual process that will one day leave me mourning the little boy who once needed me so badly. I didn’t realize that an early failure would leave me feeling this way, gasping for air, watching in fear as the walls seem to move closer and closer.

Underneath it all lies the one question that I hesitate to speak out loud.  I keep it safely submerged beneath the surface not only because I fear the answer but also because I know that there will probably never be an answer. Just a question. Does he know?  Older children who fear separation have usually experienced a loss.  They have discovered far too soon that nobody is forever.  g lost the person who he would have been closest to in the entire world, his identical twin, a part of himself, in utero.  Maybe, just maybe, he has carried this trauma in his tiny consciousness for all of his short life.

I know that it probably violates every code of parenting to think this way but sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe, if this baby that I am carrying makes it, he/she could be there for g, make up in some way for the sibling that he lost.  Perhaps a living sibling would make him feel more secure, less terrified of being alone.

Maybe, just maybe.


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8 thoughts on “Motherhood in the time of separation

  1. Chilling and poignant, all at once! I am an atheist with no particular spiritual tendencies, but it seems like he MUST know, somehow. As you say, it’s part of himself that’s missing. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it is the source of his separation anxiety, but who knows, it may turn out that when he’s older you get some little peeks into the extent to which it’s part of his psyche. And yeah, it seems reasonable to wonder whether a sibling might change the dynamic. It certainly will (I’m going with WILL, loads of caveats about the tentativeness of the whole thing aside), and hopefully for the better.

    And wow, it must be a bit suffocating to feel that this route to freedom is closed off, or is going to present massive challenges, even as you’re exhausted and enduring some hormonal storms. PHEW! I’ve heard that the more classic versions of separation anxiety really test a mother’s patience and sense of autonomy, so wowie. Kudos.

  2. You make me wonder if he knows, too. I am sorry that he is refusing to separate right now, but I know that one day soon he will be ok with it. Maybe he just needs a bit more time, after what he’s been through. And I’m really sorry for G, who, even if he doesn’t know NOW, certainly will comprehend his loss one day. Sigh. I’m just so sorry about ALL of this.

  3. How have I not commented here yet! Ugh I read on my phone and I get so behind. I’m sorry.

    Lately I’ve read a lot of posts by mothers who are feeling somewhat suffocated (that is the wrong word but I can’t think of something better) by the constant needs and wants of their little ones. I have such a different mothering experience and I feel so unable to find the right words of love and support when people describe these situations. I truly cannot imagine what a bittersweet mixture of emotions it must conjure to be so incredibly loved and needed by another human being. It must be truly remarkable and yet incredibly difficult.

    I hope you both can find a balance that nurtures you each in the ways that you need to be nurtured.

    I’m sorry it took me so long to comment. And I’m sorry I don’t have the right words.

  4. I don’t know how I missed this post. So beautiful, and so sad, at the same time. I, for one, feel that biology can’t be separated from consciousness; he must know, on some deep, cellular level, his loss, and yours.

    I hope that he can begin to feel secure enough to separate himself from you … though it is amazing to be needed in that way, it’s also very difficult — for him AND for you. *hugs* to you.

  5. This must be so hard all around–hard that he’s not able to leave you yet, hard that you might want him to, and hard to watch him struggle with something that may have very deep roots in utero. I’m glad you can “speak” the question out loud to us and get it out so that it’s not just in your own head and heart.

    Even if he does carry that trauma–and I see how possible that might be–it is a strangely beautiful thing to carry, in a sense. It means he’s carrying a memory of his brother with him at all times and he’s processing the loss just as you are processing it. I wish as you that he didn’t have such an early loss to carry with him, of course, but I think there is something worth honoring in this strong attachment he has to you and to his lost twin.

    I’m thinking of you, as always, and sorry I’m so late in responding to your post. I read it last week and have been pondering it ever since. Wish I had advice on how to proceed, but I’m just here with you, imagining how difficult this is. And I continue to cross my fingers, toes, and everything else I can cross that g’s new sibling is developing well and growing, growing, growing!

  6. I came over from Mel’s, to tell you that I ALSO wish all your wishes for you. I wish I had the power to help, to comfort, but all I can offer are virtual hugs. 🙂

    Reading this post reminds me of an article I read a long time ago about twins. It has long been believed that some twins have a very strong, very strange (to us) bond…while other twins are two completely different people, just like any other set of siblings. I believe that g may very well remember his twin, and I also believe that as he gets older he will be able to vocalize that to you so that you can help him adjust. It can’t be easy losing a part of yourself, even as an adult…let alone a small child who doesn’t understand what he feels or how to express that. *more hugs* as you go along on this journey with him.

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