From time to time, I find myself attempting to explain to someone what it is like to have a baby with colic. I do it more to help them understand, to encourage them to reach out to people who parent colicky babies, and less to complain. If you know me at all, you know I would never bad-mouth my daughter. I feel the need to write this now as my memory of her colic is more vivid now than it will be even a month from now.
We brought our little baby home from the hospital, placed the carseat cradling her sleeping body carefully, silently beneath the Christmas tree. While we watched her sleep, and wondered just what on earth we should do next, we never could have known what the next 4 months would hold for us. True, no first-time parent does. But this naivete’ was especially accurate in our case.
I had changed maybe 4 diapers before Reagan came to our house. I was attempting to nurse her - something I was completely foreign to on every possible level. And I was in a physical recovery that took much longer than I had anticipated.
About 3 weeks after Reagan’s birth, I was beginning to feel pretty good. I could move without pain as long as I didn’t make any sudden stomach-muscle-flexing movements. Reagan appeared to be thriving, growing and eating well. Sleeping was somewhat as expected - nonexistent. Nothing had really thrown us. Until the day she started crying and I couldn’t stop her.
It started around late afternoon. I was home on maternity leave and Brian was at work. Reagan began to fuss and I attempted everything on “the list”. Feed her. Burp her. Change her diaper. Sing to her. Cuddle her. Bounce her lightly. Walk with her. Rock with her. Hold her upside down by her ankles. Okay, no I didn’t do that last one. But by the time 4:00 came I was just about ready to try that, too. We had a home visit soon thereafter by a nurse who would come to check Reagan’s development every 6 months. Reagan cried the entire time she was there. I remember very clearly the look on her face as she watched Reagan. She tried to calm her down and had the same amount of success. I couldn’t figure out if I was happy or disappointed that she couldn’t get anything to work either. Very quietly she handed her back and said to me, “Colic often develops in infants at around 3 weeks.” The words hung in the air and I winced.
Thus it began. Reagan would wake up, eat, be content for about 30 minutes, and then become fussy. She would cry herself to sleep and wake up crying. At about 5:00 P.M. everyday she would begin screaming in earnest. She would do so until about 11:00 that night. At first, we tried everything we could think of. Swaddling, swaying, swinging, singing, stroking. After a time, it became clear that nothing was going to make it any better and we could only wait it out. So there we would sit each night. Reagan would scream, we would rock her in the chair, and her screaming would become less and less and less. If there were 15 minutes in between her outbursts, I would lay her down in her bed, tightly swaddled, pacifier in place.
We went nowhere. We stayed in our house and tried to protect the public from her outbursts. We used her baby swing religiously and it is the only way I was able to make it without breaking down each day. We took turns sleeping in the chair or having her bassinet on our side of the bed. We did whatever we could to just make it through.
I wouldn’t say Reagan cried a lot. The only crying done in our home was on my part. Reagan mostly just screamed at the top of her lungs. She cried so hard she often held her breath and turned a strange shade of purplish red. Her fists were balled up tightly. Her legs would kick up and down as though she were peddling a bicycle. She would shake her head slowly from side to side as if she were saying “No no no”.
And there was nothing at all we could do but hold her and promise her that everything was going to be okay. That someday she would outgrow this horrid time of her life and it would be a distant memory for us and lost forever to her. Slowly but surely, we kept our promise and her colic faded away. We were left with a sweet, spunky little girl who keeps us on our toes.
I sometimes make comments about how difficult Reagan was as a baby. And though my friends assure me she was, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t entirely fair of me to think I had it so much worse than everyone else. I sometimes get jealous when I hear of other people who take their little babies to the grocery store or when I see them holding their sleeping infants in church as the sermon echoes off the walls. I see little babies cry and watch as their moms declare “Oh, she is so fussy” and I have to stifle a smart remark because I think they don’t know what “fussy” means. Reagan was not easy for me. She was always loved, but I had a hard time those first four months.
And I felt so guilty. When I first took Reagan to the doctor and he officially diagnosed her as “colic, definitely colic”, I remember saying to him with tears in my eyes “But I don’t want people to think she is a bad baby.” I wanted to be the supermom. I wanted to be the lady that took her daughter to the grocery store and had people cooing over her daughter. I wanted to be the mom rocking her little one gently through the church service. I wanted people to love her and be amazed by her and not stare at her crinkled, red, howling form and give me that look. I wanted to assure everyone that I was a good mom and my baby didn’t cry all the time. But my baby did cry all the time. If the mark of failure as a parent is your baby’s crying, then we flunked many times over.
Most parents pray that their babies stay little and sweet and tiny forever. We prayed that she would grow up, and grow up fast.
Looking back, it seems she did grow up fast. But I haven’t forgotten how long those 4 months were. I haven’t forgotten how completely overwhelmed I felt. I haven’t forgotten the prison I felt like I was in. The isolation of new parents seemed ten-fold for us. It was a time when we were trapped.
Everyone has a different solution. Some people think we should have tried something else or done certain things differently. We were criticized and judged by people who thought they knew what would make Reagan feel better. We were given countless pieces of advice. Each one making us feel more frustrated and more defensive. I understand that these people didn’t mean to hurt us or fluster us, but that they really wanted to help. And I appreciate their intentions. Its one of those things that until you have lived with a colicky baby, you just don’t know.
It wasn’t Reagan’s fault. She didn’t do it to torture us. And it wasn’t our fault. We did nothing wrong. It simply was. And we are glad that it is just that - a story of a time in our past.