When my second child’s colic nearly destroyed me, I needed time to recover before considering the third baby we had always planned on. I knew I couldn’t survive another experience like that. Technically yes, I did survive my baby’s colic and I could survive colic again. But it changed me. It broke me and I am not quite the same person after. If you’ve had a baby that screamed inexplicably, incessantly and uncontrollably for most hours of the day, month after month, you get it.
Infants cry to communicate their needs: hunger, sleepiness, discomfort. When their need is met, they stop crying. Colic is different. The colic baby cries even when all possible needs have been met. Most babies go through a period of time — typically in the evening, peaking around six-weeks-old — when they cry more than usual. But diagnosable “colic” differs in intensity, resistance to soothing, and length of time.
The first phase of colic, the second time around, begins before pregnancy.
The thought of going through colic again paralyzed me, so I convinced myself it was absolutely not possible. The universe is not that cruel. Third babies are famously laid back… at least that is what people told me. When my youngest was two-and-a-half, and getting ready to start pre-school, I figured it was time to try for #3. I got pregnant right away and I was thrilled! I was looking forward to my laid back third baby! This pregnancy was my most difficult. A tough pregnancy would surely lead to an easy baby, right? I was hopeful!
We didn’t find out the baby’s sex while I was pregnant, but I feared another boy. It isn’t logical, but since my son was the difficult baby, I irrationally associated baby boys with being blood-curdling screamers that will send me into the throes of depression. It makes zero sense, I know, but the lingering post-colic anxiety messed with my brain. If I heard “it’s a boy” in the delivery room I feared may have a full-blown panic attack. When the doctor said, “it’s a girl!”, I felt relieved and full of hope!
Everyone said my third delivery would be an easy one; everyone was right. Everyone said my third baby would be an easy one; everyone was wrong.
The moments after her birth, she was calm. My doctor said I had the easy-going baby I was hoping for! But it didn’t take long before she made it obvious that she was not comfortable. While most babies sleep a lot in the first hours of life, my baby squirmed and cried. It was clear that she was hypersensitive to everything! Hunger, fatigue, gas, noise… everything. This was different than her brother who was sleepy those first few days. I assumed it was too soon for colic to rear its ugly head.
I let her go to the nursery between two of her feedings so I could get a little sleep. The next morning I learned that the nurses labeled her the “feisty one”. That’s all it was, she is just spirited!
The real intense screaming didn’t begin for a week or two, I’m not sure exactly because it is all a blur. We shushed, swaddled, swung, rocked, bounced, walked and wore. I stopped eating dairy, soy, gluten,
Much like our son, our daughter far exceeded the “3 hours a day, 3 days a week, for 3 weeks” threshold to be considered colic. The “colic” diagnosis doesn’t help anything. It just means there is nothing we can do. The cry is different from a colic baby. It is a cry I never heard with my firstborn and still haven’t heard in “textbook” or “normal” babies. It is a blood-curdling, body-contorting, ear-piercing, relentless scream. No one wants to be around that sound.
Having a colic baby leads to isolation. I can’t bring her to playgroups or activities with friends. I spend the entire time soothing her while the other moms talk and coo at their sweet little ones.
A few weeks after my daughter’s birth, we met a friend and her same-aged baby sitting outside a coffee shop. While I was switching positions, attempting to nurse, bouncing a writhing baby, and trying to chat over the shrieks, my friend was able to sip her coffee as her baby laid peacefully in her stroller.
Leaving the house takes an extraordinary amount of effort and planning. We don’t want to put her in the car because she hates the car seat even more than her crib. The weather has been too crappy for walks, but I imagine she would hate walks just as she hates everything else.
It’s easier to stay home.
Nothing is enjoyable. With or without the crying. The majority of the time out is spent trying to console her. If she isn’t crying, I’m stressed out dreading what I know will begin eventually.
When people try to relate, saying their baby was “fussy too”, I want to punch them. My baby is not fussy! She screams frantically for the majority of her awake hours! It’s incessant, unpredictable and pure torture. She is tormented. When someone complains that their “difficult baby” cries for two hours each night, again, I want to punch them. I wish my baby only cried for two hours. I wish my baby only cried at night because I’m not alone then, my husband can help.
Colic prevents the beautiful mother-child bond from happening in the way it should. I didn’t get that sweet, cuddly, delicious newborn bonding time. Instead, I spent hours each day attempting to comfort my baby as she screamed while violently twisting her body.
I was bitter; bitter that I didn’t get that bonding. Bitter that I resented my baby and bitter that colic stole months from us, again. Bitter that I did not have the help I so badly needed! Bitter that this supposedly magical time is absolutely horrible. I felt bitter because people are clueless and say stupid shit. Bitter that even well-meaning comments often filled me with rage.
With the bitterness comes
Colic is soul-crushing. It is debilitating and unbearable. It takes every ounce of energy I have, just to make sure the most basic needs of my baby are met. And clearly I’m failing somewhere but she makes it clear that some need isn’t being met. The constant screaming is heartbreaking. The helplessness brings hopelessness. In addition to typical newborn care, I’m constantly trying to stop the crying. As her mother, I’m hardwired to respond with urgency to my baby’s cry. It’s biological and I freeze up, unable to do anything else. The exhaustion drains me. It sucks everything out of me. I am emotionally, mentally and physically empty.
I’m left a shell of a person by the end of the day. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
I have nothing left for myself or anyone else. Empty and numb.
Sleep deprivation and blaring screams of crying babies for hours are used to prepare Navy SEALS to endure torture! When you have a colic baby, the sleep deprivation is worse than with your average newborn, and the screams last much longer and are more intense. Throw in some postpartum hormones, continue the endless screaming for months, and you can imagine why I was left broken.
Six months later, she is still a very irritable and fussy baby. I still have a visceral response to her wails. We have a ways to go in the healing process. But she is no longer screaming all day long. It is now time for me to clean up the mess that colic created.
While life certainly gets easier when colic ends, the aftermath is a struggle.
Studies link colic to a decrease in overall family functioning… but I didn’t need a study to tell you that, just look at our family. Life as we knew it got neglected. My older kids are desperate for quality time and attention. Finances need to be replenished after being drained to buy moments of reprieve. We need to get back into a healthy routine again. Our home is a disaster. I need to lose the weight I gained from the temporary comfort found in ice cream and wine — I’ve heard it called, “The Colic 20”. Friendships were ignored, I owe so many thank you notes for baby gifts. The “to do” list is six-months long. It’s now time to catch up on life.
It’s all proving to be way more difficult than I thought. With more silence during the day, the door opens for guilt, resentment,
I’m not sure anyone can come out of months of severe colic unscathed. Like I said before, technically I survived colic the first time and technically I will survive this time. But I’m different now and the scars will always remain.
Side note: I’m so very grateful to those that continued to check in, even though I neglected my side of the friendship. Thank you for listening to me cry, sending meals, or holding my baby. “Thank you” is not enough. I also want to apologize to those friends that went through something similar before me. If you haven’t had an experience like this, you cannot possibly get it… and I didn’t get it. When I had my first, some people talked about their colicky babies. I didn’t grasp what that meant or how that may have been affecting a postpartum (and sleep-deprived) mom. We gave ourselves way too much credit for the fact that our baby was happy and laid-back. Looking back, I was not a great friend to some of my friends when they really needed support. I didn’t understand how soul-crushing, draining and devastating it is when the baby you grew, birthed and nourished, was miserable. Now that I’ve been through it, I wish I had been a better support for you and I hope you all found the support you needed. I wish I had come over and held your baby. Those that live far away, I wish I had checked in more often, had food delivered or listened more. You can’t know what you don’t know. When you know better, you do better. But still, I’m sorry!
When colic nearly destroyed me for the first time…