I imagine it's the closest I'll ever come to being tortured. It's like having to stand in an unbearably bright, florescent-lit room while a Brittany Spears' song blares on repeat 24/7 for months on end. Or what it must be like to take a brick and relentlessly slam it over your head with the force of the Hulk 10,000 times a night.
Did you know that the U.S. Military reportedly uses recordings of newborn cries on their prisoners to create "psychological stress?" It's true.
In short, you don't really want to know.
It was always a hard thing. She was a dream during the day. She slept peacefully, her headband perfectly wrapped around her dark, curly hair, her toes curled in, legs casually relaxing in my arms. She barely woke to eat, and everyone told us what an amazing baby we had. She's so quiet! So perfect! So beautiful! We must be so happy!
And then 6:30 p.m. would roll around. I'd start getting nervous, the fear tingling down my spine as I made preparations, trying to have everything ready for when the 7 p.m. hurricane would hit.
The crying was unbearable. It was nothing like our first son's newborn cry. No. This was a horrific cry, with intervals of high-pitched screams, a beet-red face and a body contorted, stiff and angry. My husband and I tried everything. We wore deep tracks in the floorboards as we bounced and shushed her, walking circles around our main level at 2 a.m. Whoever was holding her often wore headphones while Pandora blared, or earplugs when we just couldn't take any additional noise. We held her, we rocked her, we bounced her, we left her lying in the crib alone when we just couldn't take it any more - going against everything in us as parents.
Most nights, we started with hope and a new game plan. A new type of magical-gas-potion, a new method of holding her, a new swaddle, a different carrier, a new diet for me hoping my milk was the problem - and after an hour of the same wail we'd heard every night before, we became defeated. All hope was lost and we went into survival mode. We'd usually make it together until about 10 p.m., and then the shifts started. I would try to sleep until about Midnight, then we'd switch, my husband going two floors down to the basement, and I'd bring her to our room, in hopes she would sleep next to me in bed. Whoever was "sleeping" was on toddler duty, going to comfort him when he woke because of the newborn's cries.
I remember telling my husband I hated our bedroom. That it was a like a black hole, an abyss, labyrinth, of miserable depression and anxiety. I told him that leaving it three months into the colic was one of the few bright sides of our cross-state move.
During her crying spells, our baby wouldn't breastfeed. Sometimes she'd go 10 hours without eating, me begging, nearly forcing her to try, she resisting with strength that seemed impossible for her tiny little body. I'd cry on and off most of the night, she lying next to me wailing while my arm often hung limp over her, trying to offer some comfort. Sometimes, I'd be so exhausted, I'd drift in and out of sleep, even with her crying next to me.
We of course took her to the doctor right when all of this started. They told us it was likely just a terrible case of colic, but it would be worth trying out the reflux medications for a couple of weeks, just to rule it out.
We gave it to her three times a day, diligently, with a prayer, never really sure that it helped, but I suppose we just wanted to feel like we were doing something.
After about seven weeks of enduring her cries for about 10 hours a night, sometimes 12, she gave us a break and typically only went about six hours each night. Usually, by 1 a.m. she slept calmly, peacefully, me drowning in thankfulness and exhaustion. By five months, the crying stopped over the course of about two weeks. We noticed every minute that was shorter than before. Each night, on average, it got a little bit shorter, by about a half hour. And each night, we thanked God for the relief.
It was a time wrought with guilt, darkness and hopelessness. As a mom, you expect that you should be able to meet your child's needs. You expect for the cries to stop if you just give them the right thing - a diaper change, nap, nursing, snuggles. But with colic, you do those things, you do ALL OF THE THINGS and nothing. ever. changes. They just keep crying, keep making you feel worthless, helpless, like you're a terrible, awful mother that is completely incapable of caring for your baby.
Because the colic cry doesn't just sound like your child has a need that needs met. It sounds like pain, torture, suffering. You don't know what is going on inside their little bodies and you just want them to know, if you could, you'd take it all away, you'd endure it for them if you could.
But you can't. You can't tell them anything. And you know logically you love this child. That they are apart of you and so you'd do anything for them, but at the same time you can't help but just be angry. To be furious that it feels like the precious, sweet, snuggly, bonding newborn stage was just ripped away from you and your baby, and you will never get that time back. You hate these new feelings that have come over you, but you can't stop them. Maybe it's the exhaustion, maybe it's depression, but you just can't help but feel bitter that your experience of the baby has been soured.
And so, once the colic ends, your sight moves from figuring out how to survive it, to how to recover from it.
For a long time, I really didn't know what to think of my daughter. I loved her, but I was cautious of her. She was nothing like my first baby and I didn't know how to process it. I was almost fearful that if I did something wrong, I would provoke her somehow to return to that colicky baby. I treated her like glass, hesitant to believe she wouldn't break. Our relationship was damaged, haunted by my memories that were difficult to shake.
I suppose the only thing that has worked to help mend the pain of those days is just time. There was this moment, around when she turned a year old when I finally knew we'd moved to a better place. Today, she's still a bit of fire and ice, lion and lamb, but the fire can be put out, the lion tamed. It's like there's this understanding between us now, like since we've both been through the ringer in her 12 short months of life, we just get each other. I know now it's not me vs. her - and though at times it felt like it - it never was. We were both just adjusting, coming into our own, figuring out what life looks like. She for the first time entering the world and breathing air, and me as a mom to two under two, learning what it means to give even when your reservoirs are completely depleted.
She taught me what sacrifice looks like. To love someone that can't show you love back. To dig deep within yourself and pour out. To feel completely hopeless, but to keep carrying on, doing the next thing.
That is motherhood.
I don't think I'll ever forget what it was like to have a baby with colic. But I'll also never forget what I learned from it. There are days now that are difficult, but all I have to do it reach not-so-far-back in my memory and pull up the colic files and it puts everything into perspective. I can do difficult now. I will survive. We will be better for it.
And so, colic, I tip my hat to you from the other side. It was real. And I'm glad you're over. And I pray I never see you again. But if I do, I'll come to you with the perspective of having battled you before, and knowing that me and my baby girl - well, we won.