After the birth of our first child, my husband and I spent several cozy weeks at home settling into parenthood. Nothing could stop us. We were on top of the world and ready for anything. For nine months, we had read as many books on parenting as we could find. We knew everything about cloth diapers and making baby food, we figured out the car seat tether system, and we studied future hypotheticals on discipline, losing teeth, and dating.
We were going to ace this parenting thing.
And then one night, our infant son started to cry. Not just any cry—his cries grew into gasping wails with his face turning beet red and his little hands flailing. It was unbearable. We panicked, of course, and checked him over for obvious signs of injury or illness and found nothing. We rocked him, sang to him, and even drove around the block a few times, but nothing worked—literally nothing.
We powered through that first night thinking it was a one-time event, but we were wrong. Turns out our poor baby was crying because of colic, and he didn’t stop for three months. Imagine three months of loud, excessive crying for multiple hours a day while battling sleep deprivation. I actually heard that infant screams are used to train Navy SEALS to withstand torture. No joke.
Colic had shaken up our house and our confidence in our ability to understand our own child’s needs. Any plans for a predictable sleep schedule were tossed aside as we tried, in vain, to get our child to sleep at all.
I called our pediatrician and explained what was happening and all I was told is that this was a typical, and even normal, phase of infancy called colic. (Normal?! Nothing about the sound my son was making for hours on end was normal!) It would pass, they assured me. It was like the Murphy’s Law of Motherhood, they joked. You’ll look back on this time and laugh when you get to the really hard stuff, the nurse chuckled. I hung up the phone and felt like a failure.
In desperate exhaustion and in search of answers, I turned to mom groups on Facebook. I joined so many groups that I lost count as I hunted for the elusive answer to how to get my child to stop crying and ease the fussiness. I was surprised when some mothers said it was because babies can’t digest the lactose in milk, and so, I should quit breastfeeding. Other moms said that formula was poison and would make colic worse. One mom tried to get me to buy an amber-beaded necklace with apparent magical powers to soothe children simply by wearing it; I passed. So much for finding help on Facebook.
The crying from colic continued to wear us down. My husband and I took shifts wearing down the floorboards with our circular path of bouncing and hushing for hours on end. We wore Moby Wraps, we swaddled, we rubbed essential oils onto our son’s back, we gave him warm baths, we played soothing music, and mostly, we exchanged fearful and exhausted glances. This colic thing was kicking our butts.
The worst part of colic was that no one seemed to be listening to us about how tired we were, or how worried we were for our son. The hysterical crying and fussiness that lasted for hours, despite our very best efforts to calm and comfort our child, scared us. Shouldn’t that be a big deal? We wondered. Everyone we talked to seemed to treat colic like it was some expected annoyance that would eventually pass and we would be introduced to the next exasperating stage of parenthood like picky eating or the terrible twos. But I knew my baby was in pain. And I knew that not a damn thing I did seemed to help, and that part hurt worst of all.
Eventually, which felt like an eternity later, the colic did fade away and our baby did get on a predictable sleep cycle. And while the underlying advice about parenthood being one big adventure of leaping from one exciting problem to the next proved true, I never forgot the feeling of being alone with my fear about what colic is and how it affected not just my child, but my small and growing family. Colic is something you never forget.
Parents do not need to hear that they shouldn’t breastfeed or that formula is poison or that “this is just a phase.” When you’re in the middle of dealing with colic, “this is just a phase” is the least helpful thing to offer. Moms and dads who are in the horrible throes of colic need to be told that their fears and frustrations are valid, and that they are not alone in feeling a mix of failure and exhaustion.
Although I now know that colic was not a condition that would follow my son for life or hurt him in any permanent way, having just one person who understood what we went though could have made the biggest difference in the world. So please, when you see a mom and baby suffering with colic, don’t tell her that it’s just a phase. That’s the last thing she needs.
This post was created in partnership with Colief Infant Digestive Aid.
Colief is giving away some wonderful new mom prizes! Visit their Facebook page to enter before April 4, 2016, for your chance to win a $200 Walgreens gift card, designer diaper bag, and package of Colief.
When going through colic, just know you’re not alone. Take a look at this video from a real Colief mom as she shares her colic experience.