In its darkest moments, parenting boils down to two emotions.
Once you muffle the laughter and the joy – and let’s be real here, in the face of the day-to-day grind that is raising children, the laughter and the joy are already often muffled by the frustration and the exhaustion – two feelings come to the fore over and over again. Two feelings that, on your worst days, overwhelm everything else.
Being a parent is largely about guilt and fear, even when it should be about neither.
My three-week-old is colicky. (In lieu of flowers, please send your donations to email@example.com)
I can’t sit here and explain colic to you, because after googling it and reading about it and trying to understand and solve it, I’m not sure anyone can.
Colic is a condition where there are repeated bouts of excessive crying in a baby who is otherwise healthy. The definition doctors use is: a baby crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, for at least one week.
As far as I can tell, colic is when your baby cries, all the time, for no discernible, and generally, despite all appearances, no unhealthy, reason, other than the fact that he hates you.
Every night, for three-to-four hours, The Hammer is inconsolable. Whether it’s from 7 to 11pm, or 9 to 1pm, or 10 to 2am, nothing calms him down for more than ten minutes at a time, and that ten minutes is usually when he’s feeding. It’s excruciating, listening to your helpless baby freak out and being unable to soothe him, and after more than a week of it, it’s doing a number on me and Mom and Buried.
And that’s when the trouble arises. That’s when you get scared, that’s when you feel guilty, that’s when you start looking for answers. And that’s when blame and resentment fester.
Despite your better judgment, you might find yourself resenting your spouse: Your husband can’t breastfeed, the least he can do is use a bottle once in a while! The bottle’s not working? What is he doing wrong? I can’t do everything! Your wife should feed him already, it’s clearly what he wants! It’s not my fault I don’t have breasts and he won’t take the bottle! Why doesn’t she just get to it already? It’s the only thing that works!
Despite your better judgment, you might find yourself blaming your baby: Why won’t he just sleep? Why won’t he let me put him down? I just need to sit for a minute and take a breather! His brother wasn’t like this. I’m trying everything! Why won’t he just stop screaming? What is his problem!
It’s not the Hammer’s fault. At this age, nothing is the Hammer’s fault. (That takes a few years.) And it’s not Mom and Buried’s fault, or my fault. Obviously, right? It’s no one’s fault. We’re rational adults, we know this happens. We know it’s often unexplainable and just one of the joys of infancy. But when you’re at the end of your rope, sleep-deprived, frustrated, concerned, stressed out, and totally at a loss, fear and confusion take over. Blame starts flying, resentment starts brewing, and guilt blossoms.
Guilt over your negative feelings towards your baby, or your spouse, guilt at being powerless, guilt over your inability to solve the problem.
And that’s what’s truly insidious about colic (about all the stress the comes with having a baby, really). It undermines your ability to parent. It robs of you of sleep, of peace of mind, of marital harmony. It causes you to fixate on the most negative aspects of the newborn experience, aspects that are always there but become amplified in its presence, and you forget to – are robbed of the ability to – enjoy the early, and honestly, relatively easy (comparatively), part of parenting.
And then, suddenly, without warning, perhaps without you even noticing, it’s gone.
Maybe it takes two weeks, maybe it takes three months, but eventually (or so they say?), the colic passes. The baby is no worse for wear. But you may be. Maybe someone said something regrettable, in their stressed-out, sleep-deprived state. I hope not. Because parenting requires teamwork, and when you are your partner start pointing fingers at each other, out of fear and panic and stress and confusion, that’s when the agony of colic really causes problems. The tremors eventually stop, it’s the aftershocks that linger.
So what do you do? Beats me. I’m still in the middle of it! But I’m gonna guess you survive colic the same way you survive every other parenting challenge: you do your best and you fight through it. Eventually it gives way… to a new challenge. Hopefully, by the time it does, you’re stronger for it.
Parenting is a gauntlet, and it never gets any easier. Starting out with colic is like being thrown into the fire on day one, but you’ll get through it if you stick together and remember that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Just make sure you don’t burn your bridges before you get there.