I slipped into the apartment at 5 pm, kicked off my sandals, and looked around. “Where’s the baby?” I asked my husband.
“She’s in the crib. She cried herself to sleep.”
My heart froze. “She did what?”
He looked as uncomfortable, unhappy, and upset as I felt. “She cried from the moment you left until she finally fell asleep.”
I shouldn’t have left the house, I thought. Without another word, I swept into the bedroom and lifted her out of the crib, holding her tight against my chest and burying my face in her thick, dark hair. “I’m so sorry, little girl,” I whispered, guilt welling up in my chest, my throat tight as I fought back tears, “I’m so, so sorry.”
My husband walked over and wrapped us both in his arms. Our daughter woke up, looking up at us, her dark eyes serious and her brow furrowed for a moment with sleepiness. I felt judged. Then she smiled, raising a hand and pressing her fingers to my lips, and I smiled in return, gently biting her fingertips to make her laugh.
I felt forgiven. But there’s still a lump of guilt in my chest every time I think about those words: She cried herself to sleep.
You see, at seven months old, our daughter is going through a serious separation anxiety phase. A lot of the time, I can’t walk away without her starting to whimper and whine, and as soon as I exit her line of sight those little sounds of discontent grow to full-blown wails. I never try to slip away from her stealthily; I kiss her forehead and tell her, “Mama will be right back,” before I walk away. There are things I need to do — use the washroom, get dressed, pour some coffee, feed the dogs — that are infinitely easier and faster without having to hold her in my arms.
When she wants me, she doesn’t want her Daddy. She doesn’t want her blanket. She doesn’t want her teddy bear, or to listen to music, or to be read to; she wants her Mama. Now. I could be standing on the other side of the gates we use to block off the kitchen, talking to her about what I’m doing, and she’ll start screaming and bashing her hand against the gate because I am not holding her.
But on that day, I had to leave the house. Right now, my husband is unemployed and so am I; I needed to get out and apply to some jobs. I made a plan as to where I’d go, plotted out the most time-efficient route between them, and made certain she was nursed and happy before I left. I knew she’d be upset when I left, but I had no idea that when I walked into the house an hour later, she’d have cried for fifty-five minutes straight as her Daddy tried desperately to comfort her.
She loves her Daddy. Every few days, they leave the house together for awhile and go out to the park, mall, or library for several hours, and she’s giggling when they leave, just as she is when they return. They have a great time together! When we take her to playgroups, she’s the baby wandering everywhere, exploring everything, and greeting everyone, not once looking over her shoulder for her parents. I know she knows we are always here for her.
So why did she cry so relentlessly, exhausting herself, that day? What am I supposed to do when I get a job and I need to leave her at home with her Daddy? This guilt, this sickness in the center of my chest, knowing that she suffered, makes me cringe.
Can someone out there help us?