When I was a new mom, I fantasized about running away to a beachside hotel and sleeping until I no longer felt like I was living underwater. I had it all planned. I would loot my savings so I could pay the hotel in cash and no one could track me through my credit card. I would leave my cell phone under my mattress with a note saying, “I’m alive, but barely, and I’ll return when I’m ready.” The closest I got to this was stopping at the beach parking lot on my way home from Target one day, rolling down the windows, and sleeping for thirty minutes. Most new moms, as well as veteran moms, admit similar fantasies. So we’re not alone.
But just because we’re not alone doesn’t mean it feels good to want to run away from our lives. Something that might help you feel better is knowing most moms that have the running-away fantasy don’t actually want to ditch their families forever; they’re just looking for a few hours (okay, maybe a few days) where they don’t have to take care of anyone’s needs but their own. They want some precious time to screw their head back on. To get so deeply asleep they’re facedown, drooling into a pillow in a pitch-black, airconditioned hotel room. To order room service. To remember what their dreams are. To take a shower, or a poop, without someone crying for them. I think this is a totally normal, valid fantasy.
With that said, if you feel like you want to run away because it seems you’re of no value to your family, you feel too sad or anxious to care for anyone, or you’ve become so obsessed with thoughts of running away it becomes hard to function, you might be experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD. In that case, a perinatal mental health specialist is the person to see. They can help you figure out what’s going on and provide specialized support.
What to do
Recognize that this fantasy is a not a sign that you weren’t meant to be a mother; instead it’s trying to guide you toward a life where your needs are honored. Here’s how to listen to that guidance:
Let yourself feel entitled to help and alone time. Some women think they should thank their lucky stars when someone steps in to help with their baby. Or that they need to sing their partner’s praises when they offer to hold the baby while mama sleeps. While it’s fine to feel thankful and express that thanks, you should also expect this support, and even demand it. It shouldn’t be something you stumble upon as often as you find a leprechaun passing out Xanax at the end of a rainbow. You should stumble upon help and time for yourself as often as you throw a load of spit-up-stained shirts into the wash.
What I’m saying is, when you start fantasizing about running away, make a clear plan with your partner or your go-to baby-care person about when you need them to take baby, and for how long. Some women feel that in asking their partner for this support they’re asking for a favor, but no. You’re not asking for a favor. You’re asking your partner to provide something that is your right, not a privilege. So as uncomfortable as this might initially be, I encourage you to clearly let them know what you need, instead of asking if it’s something they’d be willing to do. Claim your right for support.
Fulfill your fantasy. Because the fantasy of playing hooky from your life is usually sparked by a need for alone time, grab it by the horns. When your baby is an infant and incredibly dependent on you, maybe the most you can hope for is a few hours out of the house. But you should take it! Use that time to get a massage; bring a blanket to the beach or a local park, lie down, and sleep in the fresh air; or take your journal or laptop to a coffee shop and write. Do that thing you really want to do but keep thinking, “Nah, I don’t have enough time.”
When baby is a bit older and can survive without you for a night, consider booking a hotel room (and using it). And yes, there will probably be guilt and hesitancy and all that other mom stuff when you prepare to leave, but if you can force yourself to get to that hotel and fully focus on you for twenty-four hours, you’ll return as You 2.0.
Learn from your fantasy. Do me a favor and take a minute to envision what you would do after running away. After you take care of the basics like sleeping, eating, bathing, and maybe having a good cry, what do you see yourself doing? What are the things you would do to make yourself happy if you had no one else to care for? Let yourself go there, then write down what you see.
I did this when Hudson was a newborn, and I saw myself going on sunrise beach runs, taking long showers, sipping coffee while getting absorbed in a writing project, napping, watching some good ole reality television, and eating dessert I didn’t have to share. It was pretty basic stuff. What I realized was that while I wasn’t at a place where I could check off all those activities every day, I could sprinkle them in. So from that point on I committed to doing at least one activity from my fantasy list each day, and it was life changing. I now have a seven-year-old and am thrilled to say I usually do some version of everything on my fantasy list every day. And I didn’t have to run away from my family to do it!
So use your fantasy, mama. Use it to inform how you start blending your fantasy world with your real world.
Let yourself do less. I’ll bet that when you envisioned your fantasy you saw yourself juggling way less than you are now. There’s a reason for that. Moms are taught to stretch ourselves so thin we’re transparent. Cook fresh, organic food. Exercise. Feed baby on demand. Never let them sit in a wet diaper for longer than 3.5 minutes. Maintain a clean, organized home. Call your mom. Keep a foot in your career. Nurture your romantic relationship. Shower. Brush hair. Have a bowel movement. Burp baby. Sleep. (Wait, no, scratch that.) Oy vey. It’s just so much. But here’s a wild idea. What if you let yourself just cross some of the stuff off the list? (At least for now, when baby is such a fresh human and so demanding.) What if you asked someone else to do the cleaning and grocery shopping? What if you let yourself do less and know that it’s not giving up, but getting smart? Try it out for a week and see how it feels.
Tell someone where you’re going. I know a few women who went to the grocery store and ended up at a local hotel. In all cases but one, the women called their partner to let them know where they were. While those were awkward conversations, the partners at least knew they were safe. In one situation, the mom did not inform anyone and turned her phone off. Her sister found her right before her husband called the police. Don’t let that happen to you — it will just cause more stress. Play hooky if you feel you have no other choice, but make sure the person caring for your baby knows what’s up.