I was talking a few days ago with a couple of friends of ours who just had a baby. I have always loved babies, so I couldn’t’ wait to hold their beautiful little lush haired girl. As I was holding her in my arms I casually mentioned how sweet it was that they were able to cuddle and hold that baby all through dinner without any crying, and how it was just a couple of months ago that I finally got over my jealousy of parents who had calm newborns. She asked me to explain, and I mentioned to her how hard it was with Lucia when she was born, so much so that I didn’t have many opportunities to just hold her and enjoy her when she was little.
There was a lot of crying.
My pregnancy with Lucia wasn’t the easiest, but it wasn’t too hard to bear because I had similar experiences and pains when Elijah was in my belly. I was prepared for the horrible acid reflux, the terrible last few weeks of pregnancy, the lack of sleep, the discomfort, and of course, the labor pains. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the hardest months of my life, which were to come after she was born.
Our first two weeks with our beautiful baby girl were really pretty normal. Joe and I were in that half-awake, half-asleep state there for a while, but it was all very similar to when Eli was a newborn. Eli was what we like to call an “angel baby”. He slept a lot, and was all chub and happiness when he was awake. We thought maybe all would be the same with Lucia, since the first few weeks with her home included all of what we knew to be the normal things: the late night feedings, recovery, and blissful new parent hormones. Everything was really great.
We were slowly adjusting to having two babies and we felt like we sort of had it together, but in those first two weeks we could not foresee what was to come. Something drastically changed with our sleepy little newborn when we hit our second week at home.
If someone told me that his or her baby had colic before I ever experienced it myself, I would have wondered to myself if that were even really a thing. I had heard of colic, but I just kind of thought it was some mythical diagnosis—that there is always a way to calm a baby, no matter how tough the baby is.
I learned the hard way that I was wrong.
Two weeks after she was born, Lucia became completely and totally inconsolable when she was awake. If she was awake, she was screaming—her face all red and purple. Nightly we would rock and pace, and shh and sing; we would rub her tummy, and try in any way that we could to soothe her. It was both exhausting and incredibly trying. We would get so frustrated because there was absolutely no soothing her. She would daily cry for hours at a time and the only way we could get her to sleep was to stand and hold her at just the right angle, bouncing her up and down. She would wake screaming if we moved her wrong, and she slept for no more than two to three hours a day. She would get so upset that feeding her became absolutely miserable. She would become so hungry but because she couldn’t calm down at my breast, feeding her became a fight to keep her latched, peaceful, and fed.
This challenge alone was difficult to bear, but because we had a two year old at home as well, things were all the more difficult. Nightly Joe would come home to me a mess with a screaming Lucia in my arms as I tried to cook diner, while Eli lay crying on the floor because he wasn’t getting proper attention. I yelled a lot more than I care to admit, and the only way we were able to obtain some semblance of peace was to watch TV. We watched a lot of TV. We also didn’t leave the house often because as much as Lucia cried in my arms, she cried that much more in her car seat, the grocery store, church…everywhere. Driving anywhere was a challenge to my sanity, and definitely a danger to everyone else on the road. I was a scatterbrain and had trouble thinking, showering, and performing menial tasks.
Around her two-month birthday I knew something had to be wrong. 8 weeks into her life, I thought for sure her baby blues would have gone away. I began looking for solutions, taking her first to a nursing practitioner. The nurse practitioner thought that she was tongue tied, which can cause gassiness in a nursing baby. She thought maybe the gas was causing her all the discomfort. I took her diagnosis to my doctor hoping to have the problem fixed, but my doctor completely disagreed with her. She told me that the baby was not tongue tied, but that she had acid reflux and she promptly put her on some medication to relieve her pain. We tried the medication but nothing worked. We went back and forth with our doctor trying to find solutions, but ultimately time was the biggest healer.
Right around her four-month birthday things just started to gradually change. Lucia started sleeping more easily, and the crying became minimal. Slowly it worked out that she only cried when she needed something, and though I was really her only source of comfort (because she wouldn’t let anyone else hold her), I didn’t mind. Peace was peace, even if she refused to go with anyone else. Leaving the house became easier, and life started to look a little bit brighter.
My first outing by myself…
It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life. The toll that a colicky baby takes is no joke. It affects your mental health, your marriage, your ability to properly reason and to parent, and generally leaves you feeling like you are running on 2%. Praise God, she slept fairly well at night with little crying otherwise I would have completely lost my mind.
I wanted to take the time to tell this story for those of you out there experiencing something similar, mostly because while this was going on I felt so very alone. Even though Joe and I went through this as a team, there were so many times when we were in this mess that I would just weep. There were many nights when I found myself distraught because I couldn’t do the one thing that every mom wishes to do: to comfort her own baby. I’d work for hours trying to get her to calm down, only to find myself frustratingly running upstairs to lock myself in the bathroom to cry and calm down. Daily I had to battle extremely ugly thoughts out of anger and frustration, and there were many times when I had to physically separate myself from her presence to avoid exploding. There were times I would literally scream out to God saying, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!!? But while it was going on there were no answers. I was hopeless and I often found myself feeling like I lived in a pit despair. I just wanted to be able to love on my baby, and most especially wished that my motherly kisses and hugs could comfort her, but for the most part they didn’t and it was so very difficult. It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. My husband and I both thought that this was going to be life as we knew it from now on, and it was incredibly difficult to go through.
I wanted to write this to let you know that if you are currently experiencing this, it will change. Things will get better. The day will come when your baby outgrows all the fussiness and discomfort, and life will return to normal. Even more, the baby that you hold in your arms right now—the one that you question nightly whether or not he or she truly belongs to you—will suddenly crack a smile when they see your face, then become peaceful in your arms. They’ll look to you for comfort, and finally find it in your arms. They will laugh, and crawl, and play, and you will look back on all the hard times and remember how—even though it felt like an eternity—it was just a small piece in the beauty that is your baby’s life. And you will smile and be so very thankful that your beautiful baby has blessed your life beyond belief.
Just look at her! She’s perfect!
I also want to encourage you with a few tips:
ASK FOR HELP.
I wanted to do everything alone. I have always prided myself on being good with babies, and on top of that, have a natural tendency to work and work and work at things that are challenging for me until I figure them out and get through them. This didn’t work for me with Lucia. There was no fixing the situation. There was no solution to stop the crying. Every attempt I made to make the crying go away only left me feeling defeated, and contributed to my feelings of isolation. Why can’t I make this better?? What is wrong with me?? What is WRONG WITH HER???
Listen: You need help. You need to let your husband step in, and let your friends cook you meals. You need to ask for help. I can’t tell you how many of my good friends have told me months after all this went down that they had no idea what we were going through. I didn’t tell anyone because I just wanted to push through it and not complain. I felt like if I said anything about how hard things were I would be admitting that I didn’t have it together, or that I was a bad mom, or even that Lucia was a bad baby. I never wanted to label her as a “bad” baby because she wasn’t—she was just incredibly uncomfortable.
People want to help, but they don’t always know to offer it.
Ask for meals. Ask others to watch your other kids for a while so they can get out of the house. Let people hold your baby! Even if the baby is crying in their arms, let someone else take the crying for a while. Your baby is not going to hurt because of it, and even though you think your friends want to run from the screaming, remember that they are not always around it so they can take it for a little while.
Don’t surrender to the isolating feeling. Reach out and share your pain and frustrations with someone. You never know if someone is going through or has gone through the very same thing.
KNOW IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
Though I’m ashamed to say it, there were times in my sleep deprived, anxiety-ridden state where I wondered which nurse it was that switched out “our baby” for another in the hospital. When I reminded myself that this wasn’t even possible because I never let Lucia leave my side at the hospital, I switched the blame over to myself.
Perhaps if I had a better diet when I was pregnant, or if I didn’t eat so much cheese or drink so much coffee, or if I had better soothing skills, or more patience, or whatever…these were my thoughts all the time. I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong as a mom, so I could be a better mom. What a mixed up way of thinking!
Give yourself a break! Try your best to do what you can for your baby (consult your baby’s doctor, change up your diet, etc.), but don’t beat yourself up for what you cannot control. Remember that the guilt is coming from a deep desire to provide your baby comfort, and you can’t always do that for reasons that are completely out of your control.
TAKE A BREATHER.
Non-stop screaming can make you go crazy. While I don’t think I suffered from full on PPD, I know that there were some really dark moments where I was faced with some pretty ugly thoughts. It’s difficult to even think about, not to mention talk openly about, but I think it is important because the thoughts can make you crazy.
If you need a moment away from your baby to catch your breath, and clear your mind, TAKE IT. If you’re alone, put the baby in their crib and walk away. Leave the room, and pray. Do whatever it takes to calm yourself, because there is no taking it out on the baby, and sometimes you just need a breather.
TREAT YOURSELF KINDLY.
Another thing I hate to admit now, but in full disclosure: there were days when I didn’t shower, or put on clothes that weren’t my pajamas. Looking back now, I can’t reasonably explain why I didn’t take better care of myself. The only thing I can think of is that I just didn’t have the energy. I just didn’t want to go through the whole shebang of getting ready, when I didn’t really have anywhere to go and also because it was never a peaceful process. You’re probably thinking, but your poor husband! Rightly so, my friend. Rightly so.
That’s why I am encouraging you to hand the baby off and take care of yourself. Go out, get your nails done, take an hour to yourself, or take a shower even if it’s hard with a screaming baby. Voice to your husband that you need this. There were so many times when my husband would have willingly stepped in so I could have some “me” time, but I never let him because I felt bad leaving him alone with the baby.
Getting out of your workout clothes/pajamas does wonders for your mind. I always had a better day when I put myself first, and my family was the better for it too.
TURN THE FRUSTRATION INTO PRAYER.
I think it is the hardest to pray when you are frustrated. It’s hard to open yourself up to God when you feel like you have been abandoned and feel like you are so far away from his presence.
You may have cringed a little when I said earlier that there were times when I would scream out to God asking him what the meaning of all this was, but I think in times like these that is not a bad way of praying.
Think of Mother Mary. When she went through trial after trial, what did she do? I imagine her nine months pregnant, making the incredibly long journey her way to who-knows-where in Bethlehem to find shelter, only to find herself welcoming her baby into the world in a dirty manger. In the temple I envision her, on the day of her sons birth blessing, receiving Simeon’s twofold prophecy, which tells of her and her son’s great suffering to come. I see her searching about wildly for three days in an effort to find her missing son in Jerusalem, only to be met with his response “Mother, why were you looking for me?” I picture her walking along side the road to Calvary, watching her son being tortured, scourged, and crucified. Through all of these events (and still so many more told in Scripture) Mary never lashes out at God and proclaims, woe is me. She is our great model for prayer because when she is met with trials and hard times, she opens herself to God’s plan through dialogue. We read in almost every scenario that she “ponders” these things in her heart, and reflects upon them. She is continuously searching for God’s will.
So if you feel it, cry out to God! Though Mary didn’t scream like I did, she did open up her heart to God in an effort to understand the meaning of big life-events. There is a difference between crying out in lamentation (like David did in his Psalms), and murmuring against God (like the impatient Israelites did in the wilderness). My plea to God to give me the meaning of all that we were suffering through wasn’t given right away, but took time. I know now that there was a lot that God was teaching me as a mother in that incredibly difficult time with Lucia. He was teaching me that love isn’t always easy. He was teaching me that true and authentic love requires sacrifice, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice. He was giving me a very perfect example of the kind of love a parent should have for a child, the kind of love he has for us; the kind that is patient, unrelenting, and persevering; the kind that doesn’t give up even when things get hard. The kind that sees the needs of the child, and in all the chaos and noise, willingly submits out of love.
I’m actually quite thankful for the period now, because I feel like I grew as a person and as a mother.
I know this was quite long and wordy, but I know that when I was struggling, I was actively looking for someone who had been in this kind of situation before. I wanted the comfort of knowing it was all going to turn out ok from someone who had gone through it before, so that I didn’t feel so alone.
If you are struggling right now, know there is hope and you are not alone.
Reach out, kiss your baby, and remember that things won’t always be this hard.