By now, you’ve probably figured out that all those people who told you babies do nothing but sleep were lying. Some babies don’t sleep unless they are being snuggled and bounced and shushed and walked all over the universe… and even then, they are prone to outbursts of screaming that you are sure will motivate the neighbors to call 241-KIDS. And those outbursts always seem to come in the evening, when your partner has just come home from work to question his choice for the mother of his children.
Girl, I’ve been there. It is brutal, and it is OK to unfriend anyone who tells you otherwise. My oldest was born on his due date, and he came out crying. No sleepy weeks for us. Nope. I remember my husband asking the nurse if he was OK, and she said the crying was good; he needed to clear out his lungs. Well, kiddo must have had a lot of junk in his lungs, because he kept it up for the next four months, and we waited until well past six to actually take one of those real nap things in a crib that I heard other moms talk about. That’s right: six months.
I got a lot of advice from a lot of people, and for every piece of good advice, there were probably two or three that were total bunk. (Note to the old lady in Target who argued with me that my baby was clearly hungry: you are in the total bunk category.) As I reflect on those months, these are things I wish I could have told myself. They might be total bunk for you because every mama and baby are different, but maybe you can find something in my own experience that will help walk you through yours.
Do. Take. Help. A wonderful young woman that I used to babysit was between nanny jobs, and she offered to come down and help me. Embarrassed by my complete ineptitude as a mother and my husband’s clear frustration with me, I assured her that I was doing just fine. In retrospect, I wish I’d sent my husband to his grandparents’ house and thrown open my doors to help. I needed it. Colic is too much of a burden to bear on your own, and while your body can eventually heal, the emotional wounds take longer. If your spouse gives you a hard time for taking help, encourage him to spend a few months with his parents. If you don’t have community to help you, consider a nighttime doula. If you don’t have the money for a nighttime doula, this would be the time to dip into retirement savings. If your spouse balks at the cost, show him a few statistics on the cost of divorce. From an emotional perspective, colic was just as stressing and damaging as my father’s death a month prior, and it merited the same kind of support and care from my community. Colic can either be a time when you discover just how much you trust the people in your life, or it can be the time when you realize you can’t. The impact on a friendship – or marriage – might be irreparable. In the end, you could wind up spending hundreds of dollars on a counselor, and that is probably more than you would have spent on the doula, just saying.
Forget that whole ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ thing, because obviously he doesn’t. But DO sleep when the visitors arrive. If they have any kind of competence at all, show them how to rock, dance, and two-step while holding baby, and head to bed. Yes, you want to visit with your best friend…but you NEED to sleep. Your real friends won’t judge you for this; they’ll tuck you in. I once had a lovely neighbor show up to rock my Eli, and I chose to TAKE A SHOWER! “Are you sure?” she asked. “You probably need to rest.” I assured her that I would feel much better if I actually had clean hair, but no, I should have gone to bed. Immediately. Dirty hair is much more bearable with sleep. Everything about colic is so much better with some rest. That said, some visitors are more work than they’re worth; if your mother-in-law swoops in, holds the baby until he starts to cry, then hands him back and informs your husband that he’s a happy baby and you simply don’t know what you’re doing as a mom, then tell her you are busy for the next six months. You don’t need that kind of “help”. You can reevaluate how to handle those prickly relationships when you’re getting more than an hour of sleep a day; now is not the time.
Stop worrying that your child will be a screaming, hot mess for the rest of his life. As a high school teacher, every severely disturbed student I ever encountered would flash through my head while my son was red-faced and wailing at the top of his lungs. I was so sure my kid was going to have lingering behavioral problems; I could imagine – in detail – the phone calls from his teachers. Bless the friends – and there were many – who told me about their colicky babies and how wonderful they were as older children and young adults. My former youth pastor’s wife told me about her son’s difficult first months, and assured me that as a teenager, he was a kind, empathetic young man that she would choose to spend time with even if he wasn’t her son. A mutual guest at a friend’s baby shower told me how precocious and smart her now toddler daughter was. (She also held my baby so I could eat a meal. A WHOLE meal!) My dear friend Morgan said, “I don’t want to assume anything about how you feel about my personality, but I cried nonstop for months as a baby.” (Her sister, who shared a room with the colicky Morgan, confirmed that she was not exaggerating. It is also worth noting that Morgan is the youngest in her family. Just saying.) Still, I cannot think of anyone kinder, gentler, and more loyal than my friend. I began to feel this thing called hope. That I can still quote these conversations six years later should tell you just how desperate I was, and just how much these words meant to me. I played them over and over in my head through those early months. And so, in the interest of passing it on, I give you my Eli. Now that I have two younger children, I can vouch for how pleasant his toddler years really were. His tantrums weren’t epic. He welcomed his new siblings with arms wide open – and only the slightest hint of jealousy. He remains highly sensitive, but that makes him the kid who sees your tears, gives you a hug, and asks you if you are OK. He gives hugs to all his friends and kisses to his mama and baby sister. His classmates and teachers recognize him with things like “Cooperation” awards because he listens and plays well with others. I do realize that there’s a lot of years before the final verdict on his personality, but right now he is a person that I would like to hang out with even if he wasn’t my kid.
Stop trying to “cure” the colic and focus on riding it out. Also, keep your credit card in your purse. Whether you believe that colic is caused by actual stomach pain or subscribe to the camp that it is a product of an immature nervous system that will correct itself in a few months (I err toward the latter), you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually “cures” colic. You will find a lot of people eager to take your money. I think I bought every miracle product on the market…and none of them worked. The $120 Nap Nanny was nifty, but my kid didn’t sleep in it. When it got recalled a few years later, I got a whopping $13 credit from Babies R Us. The sound machine was helpful enough that I’ve continued to use it with all my kids to screen noise, but it didn’t lengthen naps. The Prevacid definitely helped with little man’s tendency to scream bloody murder while eating, but he still didn’t sleep. There were things that helped keep me sane: the Moby wrap, trips to the chiropractor, the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD; we did a lot of shushing, swaddling, and swaying…but he still didn’t sleep once his body hit that crib mattress. If I could go back and do it again, I’d spend my money on help, but not things. Because the things didn’t work.
In the scheme of things, this time is short, and mercifully, you won’t remember a lot of it. Take lots of pictures, because that little stinker of yours sure is cute. You’ll want to make sure you remember that. Give yourself grace. Demand it from your partner. Get emotional help for yourself if you need it. And know that this is not your fault and it really does pass. I promise.