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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Mythical Colic

Me? Have colic? Surely you jest.
"There is no such thing as colic." ... said my younger self before I had kids. To me it was a mystery affliction. Some fancy label that people slapped on their babies when there was no better reason to explain the fact that they just liked to cry a lot. Doctors really didn't enforce the "colic" term any better. There's no rhyme or reason to it, there isn't any perfect way to get rid of it, there isn't a type of baby that does or doesn't get it, it just happens. Even as I sit here typing this, I think how flimsy the term "colic" sounds when put in that light. So I excuse my younger self for her wishful and ridiculous thinking, but it is oh so very real.

My new baby started out as great as any new baby could be: she slept most of the day, cried when hungry, pooped every other diaper, and got frustrated if she couldn't find the nipple quickly enough. I was okay with all of that. But around three weeks, things started to change. If I put her down she cried, she cried like she was in pain. At one point I was so certain she was in pain that I took her to the hospital. The emergency room doctor said those horrible words: "It's probably just colic."

From fussy baby...
I never thought I'd be a mother whose baby had "colic". I thought that I'd be the kind of mother who never lost her patience, who always picked her baby up at the very first cry, and who just wouldn't let her child have colic. For those of you who are laughing right now, it's most likely because you too were once a know-it-all pre-parent, with wild ideas about what you would or would not let your child do.

As parents we quickly discover that it isn't a matter of us letting the child, but more often it is the child "letting" us. Sometimes my daughter would let me sleep, or let me take a shower, but she would never let me out of sight for more than a few minutes at a time. I begged her to let me eat, to stop crying long enough for me to have just one uninterrupted dinner, but she never seemed to be in the mood to comply.

...to screaming baby.
I began taking her into the bathroom with me - something that was before my own special five minutes of peace. Once my toddler saw that sissy got to come into the bathroom with mommy, he wanted to be a part of the special club too. Sometimes I sat on the toilet with the lights off, holding the baby to nurse while I practically held my breath, listening to my son prowl around outside the bathroom door before he would finally wander off to ask daddy where mommy went. I just wanted some silence.

Colic. There isn't a cure for it. No reason for it. No prescription and no list of things to do so that the colic will disappear. It doesn't work like that. The way to "get rid of" colic is to do trial and error with your individual baby, scanning the internet late at night to see what other parents did to get some relief. And even then, nothing makes it "go away". It has to go away on it's own. One morning you wake up and the colic just isn't there like it was anymore.

And very few people on the internet (or wherever else you find sympathizers) will put it so bluntly. They will give you hope. A bleak hope, but hope nonetheless. They'll say "try swaddling, it worked so well for us", so you go and you try it, but it doesn't work. A friend will mention that her sister tried singing and it worked, so you go home and try that too, but it doesn't work. You'll try running the vacuum cleaner, rocking in different positions, keeping your cheek against your baby's cheek, skin-to-skin... you'll try and you'll try some more. The truth is, something will work eventually to keep your baby quiet. But it's something that is just as unique as your baby, and you as the parent will have to figure it out. When you do find out what it is, it won't be convenient for you, but it will likely be the only thing that keeps your little one quiet. The sound of peace will become something you long for. You'll think of all those people who found a way to calm their baby and envy them.

I won't scream as long as you sit riiiight here.
For our baby the thing that kept her quiet was being held. Not by just anyone though. Me specifically. She seemed to have some super-sense, and would fall asleep for a half hour or so just to wake up as I was stepping into the shower or taking my first bite of food all day. My arm got sore from holding her so much. The sound of crying was in my head all day long, whether it was real or imagined. At one point I sat with her on the bed, her crying and me making mocking crying noises back at her in my frustration. "Can't you do anything else?" I asked her, ready to cry myself.

"I just want a few minutes to myself and to eat and a nap!" I would cry to my husband whenever he came home.

"Bubby please leave mommy alone!" I would tell my son as I tried to get just a few minutes of sleep while my husband held our crying baby.

The constant sound, the constant holding, the constant need of another being... it can start to make you go a little crazy and a little mean. And in the quiet moments, guilt. I felt guilt from not being the charming and lovely wife to my husband, from not playing and reading and snuggling with my firstborn, and from not being a super-mom that wanted to instinctively rush to cradle my precious daughter and keep her from crying.

I kept telling myself that this would one day end, all the while entertaining thoughts of sleeping on the couch while I left my poor husband in our bedroom with the crying baby. And then one day I had three hours of sleep. I rushed to the bassinet in a panic to make sure she was still breathing.

Shhh... do you hear that? Neither do I!!
Then one day I started to get five hours of sleep a night, and last night I got six. Each time I wake up, my first instinct is to check to make sure she is still breathing, and each time I see her sleeping so peacefully it's like she's never cried a day in her life. It's as if the colic has magically disappeared, like it wasn't here at all and I imagined it.

For those of you who are dealing with colic, all I can say is hang in there, it ends eventually. It isn't fun, it isn't easy, but at least it isn't permanent. Find what works for your baby.

For those of you who are still skeptics, rolling your eyes and talking about "the mythical colic", just hold on. Sooner or later a baby (child, niece, nephew, grandchild, godchild, friend's child, etc.) is bound to come your way, and they too might have this "mythical" problem. To you I can only smile, because I have been in your shoes, and I have had your skepticism. I hope you never have to experience it firsthand, but if you do just know that the parents who have been colic-parents will be there when you need them - full of advice, wisdom and support - to get you through it.

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