We felt great. People heard about my magic baby and came to me for advice. “The more you sleep, the more you sleep,” I explained cheerfully to the exhausted, clueless mothers of miserable, demanding babies, who limped around the office and looked hungrily for human eye contact at the public library.
It was so easy that we had another, immediately.
That’s when our good friend colic joined the family. Little sister cried the entire first night home from the hospital. Post-surgery, I couldn’t get out of bed to retrieve her, and my husband helplessly took the red-faced screamer in and out of the bassinet. “She’s just hungry,” we told ourselves. “When the milk comes, she’ll settle down.”
A few weeks later, there was plenty of milk but still no peace. She screamed both before and after feedings, arching her back, seeming to spit up double the volume of milk she’d drunk. The doctor had lots of names for it: colic, purple crying, the fourth trimester. The bad news was there was nothing we could do. “The good news is, this will peter out around three or four months.” She might as well have said three or four years.
“Do you find her to be difficult?” I asked my angelic babysitter who came each Tuesday at 10 o’clock. Confidently, she took the baby in her arms. “We will meet this child where she is,” she answered. The word “we” brought tears to my eyes.
The church nursery was quicker to bail. Even before the sermon began, I usually received their text: “She’s inconsolable, please come back.”
“She’s inconsolable, please come back” started to feel like a name tag I wore around, like my new identity. With my first child, I had loved connecting with fellow moms, sharing what I had thought to be the silly hardships and nuances of baby-raising. Now, I looked at other moms with envy. Look how she puts her baby in a high chair at a restaurant and he sits there playing with food! Look how she smiles and the baby smiles back at her!
I had the unhappiest baby on the block, and I stared at my unread copy of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” with an accusatory glare. When I read about the S’s Harvey Karp made famous — swaddle, side position, shush, swing and suck — I eventually found one tool that worked: wrapping her tightly to my body in a carrier. I wore her this way while I unloaded the dishwasher, took out the trash, ate lunch, dropped my son at school. The price for the silence was a fungal rash from wearing spit-up-soaked shirts around the clock. I removed the baby only to apply prescription cream.
Another side effect of colic was endless advice. They say your colicky baby is constipated, that she needs gas drops, that she’s allergic to your milk protein, that she can’t tolerate the cheese you’re eating, that you should put her to bed an hour earlier because she is overtired, and then later because she is not tired enough. It was exhausting. The best gift was a package of burp cloths and a group of friends who didn’t kick me out of book club. The best remark was: “My child was colicky, too. Now, he’s 38.”
I was hanging by a thread, but the other baby needed me, too. I told myself I’d pay attention to him during the new baby’s nap, but sometimes she screamed straight through it. I texted my husband every day at 1 p.m., distraught. My husband listened to all my very bad feelings. So did my mom. A colicky baby had made me a colicky mommy, and I needed people who would endure my purple crying.
The Internet told me to step away from her, and I did. It was hard, because I worried no one else could handle it, but I needed a break. At home, I learned to let her cry. It still hurt me — I wanted to soothe my baby, whom I loved, and I couldn’t — but I learned to attach less significance to it. I kept going back to church even though the nursery staff flinched when they saw us coming down the hall. I enrolled her in child care, even though I had nightmares the other parents would try to vote her off the island. I was taking baby steps, but I was stepping away.
Then one day, I realized she hadn’t screamed in a while. Had this, too, just passed? When I worked in fundraising, we’d say, “Every no gets you closer to a yes.” When I was dating, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.” With a colicky baby? Every scream gets you closer to silence, every spit-up gets you closer to solids and every lash-out gets you closer to love.
My two kids are now friends. They ask their daddy to sing them Tom Petty songs and race around the block on their scooters. At preschool, little sister has not been voted off the island; she laughs and holds hands with her friends and comes home talking about the “pizza garden,” where the teachers grow herbs and tomatoes and all the kids think they’re growing pizza. One of the first full sentences she said to me, peering at me with huge blue eyes I had once found so foreign in our family of browns, was, “I love Mommy’s cheek,” and she put her little paw on my face.
I never thought I’d say this, but being her mother inspired me to have another baby. The red-faced screamer is now a sweet big-sister-to-be. Can’t get colic twice, right?
Caroline Langerman is a nonfiction writer in Charlotte. Find her online at carolinehamiltonwriter.com.