Saturday, April 11, 2015

What I wish I'd known about colic...

I met a beautiful, young mother today who is going through the agony of raising a baby with severe colic. I write this post for her. Just a few words exchanged between us and our eyes were wet because... we know.
If you've never had a baby with true colic this won't interest you. It might even horrify you.
If your baby only cried for a few hours at a time, or slept more than four nights in his or her first year of life, this just won't make sense.
Because babies cry, right?
Man up and be a mom, right?
Every mom has a baby who cries. Don't try to make everyone feel sorry for you. Right?
I might have thought that was right.
Until I came up against this monster that they call colic. Or as a specialist explained it to us- a five letter word for "we don't know."

It's hard to see all the medication on the counter in this picture. It is difficult to describe how hard it was to open the pedialite, measure out the medications, make a bottle, all with one hand while she shrieked into my ear, wetting my shoulder with her spit and pain. This picture doesn't show the way she would suddenly arch backward with all her strength and scream and the medicine bottles went tumbling across the counter. It doesn't show how I knocked everything over in my desperate attempt to keep her from throwing herself out of my arm onto the hard tile floor or crying while I put her on those hard tiles because I had to right the medicine bottle before it was all gone. It doesn't show that this scene was identical four hours later and four hours after that and four days after that and four months after that, except the baby got bigger (huge, really) and harder to save when she jerked and screamed.
It doesn't show the forty pounds I lost ( forty pounds from my PRE-baby weight) until I was a walking stick or the time I took her to urgent care (again!) and the nurse put the thermometer in my mouth instead of hers. I tried to protest until she told me I was running a fever of a 104 from mastitis. I had no idea because every moment of every day felt like a fever of 104. I was in the refiner's fire. And let me say, I wasn't burning alone. My husband was in there with me and our little family seemed to be crumbling to ashes before our sleepless eyes.
So, here is what I wish I had known. What I want to say to every very tired, very confused mother.

Your child loves you. 
She can't tell you right now because her life is hard, but she loves you. You are everything to her. She will stop crying and she will adore you. You will be her best friend. I know this. I know this is true. I know because my baby grew up and out of all her tears and she loves me. We have a bond that is unbreakable because we started from the bottom and fought for every single victory. Every good day. And we never let go of each other. Now I know we never will.
You don't really hate your baby.
I know you've felt it and it scared you. How can anyone hate a baby? How can a mother?! The answer is that you don't. You are so tired, and the screaming is so loud, and your life is in such a free fall that you want to scream and cry back. You hate the trauma and the uncertainty, and the deep feelings of inadequacy and the fire in the middle of your soul that seems to be killing you. And somewhere behind that mask of agony and noise is your daughter. Your daughter. You made her. What a miracle you both are. The shocking part is not the "hating." The shocking part is being able to love right through the hate when every cell of you is screaming to fight back, run away, protect yourself. But what do you do? You hold her while she scream at you. Who has love like that? You do. That's amazing.

This is the hardest time of your mothering life.
Let me repeat that. This. is. the. hardest. time.

The cruelest (unintentionally, of course) thing ever said to me during our two years of colic was a mother who slapped my back and said, "If you think this is hard, wait until they are teenagers. You ain't seen nothing yet."
She walked away laughing and I sat in shock because there was no longer a reason to live.
If it got harder, if it got worse, if I would think this was easy, then death was the only thing left to wish for.
I know. Dramatic much, Tapper?
Yeah, well, you see how you feel when you haven't slept in 11 months. Not bad sleep like we have to nurse every few hours. Bad sleep like we regularly had to walk the block at 1 and 3 in the morning because the screams echoing off the walls were making parts of my brain melt. There comes a time when you think, "Forget freedom. Give me sleep or give me death."
Every month of every year has gotten easier and easier since colic. When mothers talk to me now I say, "I have no complaints. My life is ridiculously easy. I think pre-teen girls are awesome."
I slept last night. My child says I love you. I am a normal body weight because I can eat food again. Every little problem is just that- so, so little. After colic, you think you are cheating because everything else feels easy.

You are the mother she needed.
No one took of picture of me crying over the yellow pages looking up adoption agencies- not for my sake, but for hers. I couldn't help my child. Every day, all day, and all night, my child begged me to help her. And every day, every hour, and every night, I failed. I let her suffer. I let her scream. It didn't matter that I tried with all my strength and faculty- I failed and she suffered. There are no words to describe what that does to a mother's soul and heart. I thought she deserved a real mother. A better mother. Because a real mother would know how to help her child. A real mother would have the magic touch. A real mother would comfort her.
I took this picture at two in the morning one night after a bout of screaming. Eventually she quieted and took great interest in a hat and a stuffed animal. Because there were so few quiet moments of play for us, I pulled out all of her hats and all of her stuffed animals and helped her accessorize each and every one. 
We worked on it for about forty five minutes, yawning and whispering, until at last she fell asleep in my arms, where I walked her for another hour because every time I tried to put her down she would begin to scream again. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was her real mother. I was the better mother. I was who she needed. And she was who I needed. We survived each other and came out of the experience deeply appreciative of our moments together.

To all mothers who think they are not "real", or think they are failing, who cannot fix the problem or the heartache, just hold on! Hold on them. Your hands are magic. Your hands are the ones they need. You are the only one with the ferocity and tenacity and power to love her this much.
And here's the bonus:
You will come to realize that all those times you were holding a screaming baby, you were really holding your best friend.
( and no- she isn't holding a dead chicken. That is our cat. And it isn't hairless. It is nearly hairless. That is another post.)

1 comment:

  1. I totally remember how inept I felt when you were telling me about this (as it was happening) and there was nothing I could do to help! I still think you're amazing, because you did do it! You are awesome!