Five hours after his birth, he began to scream. Baby Blaise was breastfeeding well; he was hale and healthy as a newborn can be. He’d pooped. We even stripped him down to check for hairs wrapped around stray appendages. Nothing.
We swaddled him. He screamed. We put him naked on my bare chest. He screamed. My husband rocked him, swung him, shushed him, bounced him. Still, he screamed. After an hour, we called the nurse.
“Our baby won’t stop screaming,” I said, knowing, humiliatingly so, that I was already failing at this parenting thing. “Is there something you can give us for that?”
“You can try Mylicon,” the nurse shrugged. She had better things to do than deal with jittery new parents.
“Can you bring me some?” I asked.
Finally, Chris hit on the magic touch: a football hold, with Blaise’s head in his hand and his little body dangling the length of his arm like some savannah leopard. It seemed to soothe him. His little eyes finally closed. His little body finally relaxed. We put him in the bassinet and snatched some sleep. He’d screamed for three hours.
Three hours, we learned, was nothing for Blaise. At night, he cried, and cried, and cried. We dosed him with Mylicon. It didn’t help. We massaged his tummy. We bicycled his legs. We tried every infant gas drop on the market. We delved into homeopathy. We bought a baby swing. Nothing helped, and frequently Blaise and I were both left in tears.
When he nursed, he sucked, sucked, sucked, pulled off, and screamed. Repeat. I used to count the sucks between the screams and beg him, just beg him, to nurse a little more. He cried so often during nursing that I worried about his food intake.
“I should just quit breastfeeding,” I wept to my husband. “I’m just hurting him.”
“You can do this,” my husband assured me. “It’s not you.”
When he wasn’t crying, he was a good baby. Friends called Blaise the perfect starter baby: easygoing, seldom overwhelmed, adorable. He saved the screaming for home, for nights.
What do you do with a baby who won’t stop crying? In our case, you hand him to Daddy. Daddy’s the only one who can do the football hold for any length of time. Daddy bounces on a yoga ball while he reads film reviews on the internet. This happens for up to five hours a night, every night. Mama sleeps, rousing briefly to nurse. Daddy develops killer muscles on his left arm.
We took him to the doctor. She said the dreaded words: colic—which means: We don’t fucking know what’s wrong with your kid, so just have to live through it.
I knew something was wrong with my baby. I saw him happy. I didn’t believe in colic, anyway, or any of that infants-cry-to-exercise-their-lungs shit. With Blaise strapped to my chest as I bounced on a yoga ball, I Googled. I read. I bookmarked and highlighted.
My baby had silent reflux. The cradle-cap rash that covered him from head to face to chest, the one the pediatrician just told us to slather with cream, was a sign of allergy. He was allergic to something in my milk, probably milk and soy proteins.
I stormed into my pediatrician’s office waving research and a crying baby. She watched the suck-suck-scream nursing pattern. “OK,” she acquiesced. “He might have reflux. Give him some of this stuff, the first-line of infant reflux treatment.”
We dosed him with rising hopes. Our baby would come back full-time.
That night, Chris bounced Blaise for five hours. I heard the squeak of the yoga ball, punctuated by an occasional scream. I started nursing him upright in a carrier for every meal. He night-nursed on my arm, to keep his head elevated, and slept in a swing. The side-to-side motion seemed to help. Then he co-slept full-time, so he could nurse as much as possible. The doctor had begun to worry about his weight gain.
I went off dairy and soy: all dairy, all soy—no cheese, no butter, no soybean oil, no soy sauce. But it takes time for that to work its way out of your system. Until then, we tried another medication. My sweet baby went from a cuddly, constantly wrapped baby to a creature who didn’t want touched. I took him off it after a day. Another medication prompted an allergic reaction that ended in the emergency room. Finally, I laid down the law: I wanted a certain treatment recommended by the only doctors who studied infant reflux. Our doc gave it, and the screaming stopped. Blaise was 4 months old. My husband hadn’t slept properly since his birth.
I stayed off soy until Blaise turned 9 months. Dairy I avoided for an entire year. I discovered the best substitutes for creamer and milk; I developed a hatred of soy-free fake cheese. Every restaurant trip involved explaining allergies in detail; every dish from relatives required a thorough interrogation. My mom thought I was making this all up until she saw Blaise scream all night when a waiter didn’t realize “butter” meant “dairy.” All the relatives shut up after that.
My baby boy is now 6, and the days of colic are long behind him. He’s still smiley and happy, just like when he wasn’t a ball of baby screams. He still has intolerances to milk and gluten, but we all survived. The next two babies had colic, but we knew it as reflux and treated it immediately. It sucked for about two weeks each time—not four months. My husband didn’t wear his arm out with a football hold.
But we survived. We survived the pain of seeing our child screaming, the pain of our own ears, the pain of my husband’s arm. I survived self-doubt about my ability to nurse, and even my basic mothering skills. I cried a lot. I didn’t enjoy my baby; colic stole months from us. Colic made us snappish, worried, frightened. It made us disappointed. It made us miserable.
But we got through it. Other moms get through it too. My husband made sure I had plenty of alone time (which I used mostly to sleep), so I wasn’t the sole caretaker of a screaming baby. I didn’t just sleep, though: I made sure to care for myself, if just to breathe and sit in a bath. We didn’t ask for help, but I regret it. Plenty of people are willing to come over and help hold a baby, even for an hour. If he was going to be crying anyway, we should have gone out to dinner.
Finally, it ended. Colic doesn’t last forever. Most cases let up by the time my son’s did—four months—even if, unlike his, there’s no discernible cause. It’s OK to hate your baby while it’s going on. I did. And if that baby becomes too much, you can put him down and walk away for your own sanity. It’s OK to mourn the baby you thought you’d get, the sweet baby who cuddled and slept. I mourned that baby hard. But just when I thought I’d go crazy, it ended.
What can I say about colic? Colic really fucking sucks.