I spent much of the weeks after my daughter was born sobbing on the bathroom floor. Every day I would wake up and have a moment of happiness before I remembered what my day would look like—hours of her screaming, her face red, her fists balled up. Hours of her sounding like she was in pain and hours of me doing everything that I could think of to try to get her to stop. Each morning I would start the day with the hope that something that I did would be effective. I would swaddle her, sway, shush in her ear, pace the floor, carry her on my shoulder, pat her back, carry her in a sling. I tried my pediatrician’s suggestions and suggestions in DVDs and books. I just needed to hit on the magical action that would make everything okay for her so she would stop crying.
But every day, after hours of her constantly crying, stopping only when I was feeding her and then beginning immediately again, I would eventually lose hope and realize that there was nothing that I could do that had any effect. That was when I would retreat to the bathroom and sit on the floor sobbing while she laid in her crib also sobbing. I felt helpless and useless and my inability to calm her convinced me that I was not meant to be a mother. Other mothers talked about how much they enjoyed their time home with their infants. I dreaded the moment when her eyes would open and the crying would begin. Every day, I wondered how I would survive another day of listening to her cry for hours or the utter helpless that I felt for those hours.
The diagnosis was colic, a condition where a baby cries for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, for over 3 weeks. The pediatrician said that the good news was that she probably wasn’t crying from being in pain. There is no agreed upon cause of colic and many times the baby is not in pain, despite the agonized quality of the crying. But the bad news was that there was no solution but to wait for her to grow out of it, probably at around 3-4 months of age. I had a hard time surviving each day, let alone 4 months. The time that I thought was going to be the happiest time of my life was turning out to be the worst time of my life and there was nothing that I could do but survive it.
I was convinced that I was not meant to be a mother. I knew that her crying was due to my failures as a mother. I hated myself for hating her. How can a mother hate her own baby? But I did, even while I loved her with all of my heart and would have laid down my life for her.
My experience wasn’t uncommon. Since then I’ve talked with many moms who have confessed the exact same experience. I’ve even learned that friends were going through the same thing that I was at the same time that I was, but neither of us was willing to share those moments of despair and helplessness when we were experiencing it because we were so afraid that someone else would see the monster that we saw in ourselves.
Even now, I shudder at the thoughts that will run through people’s minds when they read this. The women who will think that I was ungrateful and spoiled and that I should have just been happy to have a baby. The women who will wonder what type of person hates her own baby. Please believe me when I say that any judgment that you are making of me, I have already made of myself. But I also wonder how many other mothers are out there right now, pacing the floor holding their screaming infant, wondering how they will survive, convinced that they are the worst mother on the planet and feeling entirely alone.
So to those moms, I say:
You are not alone. About 20% of babies are colicky, which means that there are thousands of moms just like you. You are not a monster. You are a good mother who is in an untenable situation. You will survive. You’ve got this, even if you don’t think that you do. And in your dark moments, reach out to someone who will remind you of this. Sob on his/her shoulder. Wail at the top of your lungs. Your feelings are real and normal.
Here are some tips to help you to survive those long months of colic.
1) Set small goals for the day. Try just to make it through an hour or to make it until lunch time. Then set a new goal to make it until mid-afternoon. Remind yourself that you are strong and that every minute that you survive is a minute closer to when your baby will grow out of this.
2) Take breaks. Have a friend or relative watch the baby while you go for a walk or take a relaxing bath. Give your significant other the baby so you can sleep uninterrupted for several hours or go get a haircut. Join a book club and have your significant other watch the baby on book club nights. Go get a massage. Take care of you because you deserve it.
3) Put the baby down and let him/her cry alone for a short period of time when you need a break. This is not child abuse or being a bad mother. Sometimes you need a moment of space. Just make sure that the baby is in a safe environment like his/her crib and go hide in the basement to get a moment of peace and some distance.
4) Know that this will end. It may feel as though it will last forever but it won’t. You may feel as though you cannot survive it for one more day, but you can. Gradually, the amount of crying will decrease. Gradually, your baby will learn how to sleep and self-soothe.
5) Fight the negative thoughts. You know the ones—the ones that you think as you sit in the fetal position on the floor, questioning your own worth and your ability to be a mother. These thoughts are not true and with time, you will see that you are a good mom. No one feels like an effective mom when they are with a baby who never stops crying.
6) Fight against the guilt. You deserve happiness. You deserve to be taken care of and to get a break.
7) Leave the house. You may think that your baby will continue to scream if you leave the house and you may fear the looks that you will get. But some colicky babies fall asleep in the car. Some colicky babies do better in noisy places. And some colicky babies do better on a stroller ride than at home so if the weather permits, go for a walk with your baby.
8) Share your experience with other moms. Let’s face it, motherhood is not all about rainbows and unicorns and even if we want to believe that it is easy, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t. You need someone to tell you that you are not alone and to remind you that you are a good mom. You need someone to tell you that the things that you fear the most are not true. You need a place where it’s okay to feel as though you are drowning in motherhood and you will not be judged for that. And you need another mom who has been there to throw you a life jacket and give you hope.
9) Keep being responsive to your infant. It is important for your child’s development that you smile at your baby, coo at baby, talk to baby, and make good eye contact with baby. These are things that are difficult to do when you are exhausted and may not even like your baby at the moment. But they are important for your child’s social and emotional development.
10) Have someone else watch your baby or walk away from your baby immediately if you feel that you might hurt him/her. This goes back to #3. Also, tell your pediatrician about these feelings. This is essential for the safety of your baby.
11) See a therapist or counselor. Just receiving support can make a huge change in your life. It can also help you to learn ways to continue to interact with your baby in a positive manner.
12) Find local Mommy’s groups. There are often local groups for mothers of infants. Some focus on breast feeding and are run by a lactation consultant. Some involve moms giving other moms support. Some focus on parenting. Just find a group of other moms of infants and join it. Being around other moms may help you to feel less isolated and will get you out of the house.
The suggestions above were not designed to diagnose or treat colic. If you suspect that your baby may have colic, please consult with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will be able to determine if there is a cause other than colic and to diagnose colic if that is the problem. Your pediatrician may also have suggestions for how to help your colicky baby. For more information on colic:
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