How I Survived Leaving My Baby For the First Time

“You’re going to FREAK out,” my mother advised me, when I told her I was leaving my five-month-old daughter Aveline for the first time. “But it’ll be good for you; you have to do it eventually.”

Part of this statement was true. It WAS good for me to see my dearest college friends during a weekend trip to Boston. But, did I freak out? Not really. Does this make me a bad mom? Emphatic no.

As a new mom, you’ll probably read a lot of literature about secure or insecure bonds with your baby. The Google search alone brings up half a million hits. Does she cry when I leave the room? Is she comforted when I return? If I leave her with a babysitter, will she ever forgive me? How much damage am I doing, per minute, when I shower when she’s awake? The shame spiral has unlimited potential, once you start descending.

But, here is the way I see it: I can’t be with my baby every minute of every day. And, since I’m freelancing from home, I am lucky enough to get to see her more often than many of my peers. We have a lot of fun together. I love being a mom. But sometimes, whether it’s for work or play, I’m not with her. She’s now six months old: trying to stick her entire fist in her mouth is still way more interesting than what Mommy is doing. I knew if anyone was going to have a hard time with our first prolonged separation, it wouldn’t be her.

So, when my friends from all over the country organized a get together for a weekend, I didn’t hesitate. My husband, Mike, has had enough practice watching her on his own that I wasn’t worried he was going to dress her in overalls without a shirt. And, more important, I had enough frozen milk stashed that I could leave her for a few days without her having to subsist on banana puree pouches. For what it’s worth, I don’t think anything would make her happier than only eating those, though. We are also lucky enough to have cousins who offered up their babysitting services (and their digs in the Hamptons!) so Mike wouldn’t have to go it alone all weekend.

Still, I couldn’t just jet north without some serious pre-planning. Similar to traveling WITH baby, traveling without her also involves many hours of hardcore organizing. I wrote Mike a three-page schedule that had a timetable nearly to the minute. There were paragraphs on every eventuality, from what she should wear to nap when the temperature is above 70 degrees to how many sun hats he’d need to pack for their overnight in the Hamptons (three, obviously, to match each bathing suit). My own packing list was about 50-percent bottle and pump parts, plus a freezer bag to lug all the pumped milk home after the weekend.

I lay awake in the nights leading up to our separation consumed with how the weekend would spool out. What if she wouldn’t drink the defrosted milk? How was I going to pump on the train by myself? And, yikes, what if she missed me? But in the end, it was fine. More than fine! Avvie had five adult playmates all weekend, gnawed on a tomato, and got lots of tummy rubs and snuggles. I had cocktails. It was a win-win.

That’s not to say that the weekend didn’t have its mishaps. I had to sit in a smelly, stinky-pee Amtrak bathroom for 20 minutes while I pumped. Mike forgot to bring her bottle on the bus and ended up frantically attempting to defrost a bag of milk on the hot concrete once they got to the Hamptons. But I look at these as learning opportunities. She’s growing every day, sure, but the same thing happens to us as parents. Whether it’s successfully sticking your whole fist in your mouth or keeping dozens of train commuters from seeing your nipples, we all face hurdles. I’ve knocked over my fair share already, but I’ve already surprised myself at the ones that I’ve managed to clear.

And, of course, I missed her terribly. I made Mike text pictures and videos pretty much hourly. My friends, bless them, sat through dozens of Avvie anecdotes and never once told me to shut up. But to be a “civilian,” as my mom put it, even for 48 hours, was a needed change of perspective. It may not have felt like it during the first few months, but there is more to my identity than just new mom. Being physically separate from my child threw that into sharp relief. And, I think recognizing that other parts of my life need nourishing will ultimately make me a better parent.

All that being said, finally getting to squeeze her chubby thighs again was bliss like no other. And then she threw up on me. All was right in the world.

For more adventures in parenthood, check out Juliet’s blog: Juliet’s Married.