The C-Word

Colic is an ancient medical term for “your baby screams at you for nine hours a day because he hates you and you’re probably a terrible mother.” Like IBS or global warming, colic is a catch-all explanation for a host of vaguely connected symptoms that nobody really understands and a few loony jack-holes deny exists. Some people think it’s related to gastrointestinal issues, but they are confusing colic in infants with colic in horses, so don’t listen to those people when they recommend you check your haystacks for mold. Colic in infants has no explanation and no treatment. It arrives out of nowhere like a tsunami of velociraptors and leaves you lying eviscerated on the living room floor in a bloody pool of your maternal hopes and dreams.

My son’s symptoms developed when he was about three weeks old. He cried all day, beginning just after my husband left for work, occasionally breaking to nurse and doze for a few minutes, and then resuming with renewed vigor until midnight. If he was awake, he was crying, and no amount of swaddling and swinging and shushing made it stop. Even my father-in-law, a physician who received his medical training in Mumbai where patients routinely presented with complaints of bubonic plague, felt that C seemed an exceptionally unhappy baby. We described the situation to our pediatrician at C’s 4-week appointment, oozing new-parent naiveté from our overtired pores as we awaited a proper diagnosis and course of treatment—Zantac, exorcism, whatever the APA recommended. All we got was a fact sheet on colic and an assurance that “it usually passes by 12 weeks,” with no useful suggestions for how to prevent the complete obliteration of our humanity in the interim.

Here are the facts on colic that no pamphlet will tell you. Colic will make you regret having a baby. It will convince you that you have destroyed your life and any hope of future happiness. Colic will make one week feel like one decade, and it will make the prospect of surviving it for eight more weeks feel like you have been condemned to the burning flames of hell for infinity years plus eight more weeks. Colic will make you hate your husband, scream at your pets, hide from your friends, and cry during American Idol. Colic will make you consider running away to join ISIS so you have some space to relax and just breathe.

There is not much you can do about colic, but there are a few things that helped me persevere without contacting an adoption attorney, and a few other things I only discovered in hindsight that might have saved me some despair:

1) Buy a Baby Bjorn: My number one life-and-custody-saving apparatus was the Baby Bjorn Classic. I plan to have my Bjorn bronzed and mounted over my mantle I love it so much. The Bjorn holds your infant upright and tight against your chest, and for whatever reason, this is what is required to quell the evil spirits. It costs about $50 on Amazon.com, which is a whole lot less than the co-pay for in-house psychiatric care.

2) Tell Someone: Tell everyone. When your friends or neighbors or colleagues ask you how it’s going, say, “It’s like having genital warts removed with nail clippers.” Some people won’t get it; they will back away awkwardly while muttering the usual drivel about your heart exploding with joy and love. But some will understand because they went through it, too, with colic or another postpartum nightmare that left them miserable and isolated. They won’t have any solutions to offer you, but at least you’ll know that people survive, and sometimes they even voluntarily procreate a second time.

3) Know That It Ends: Unfortunately, the absolute worst piece of advice I can offer is also the most true. Yes, like high school and the first few episodes of most HBO series, the adage applies to colic: It gets better. It doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly the hours spent crying recede and somewhere in the empty black void of your baby’s eyes appears the glimmer of a human soul. Then one day out of the blue he smiles at you. Let the healing begin.

Our journey into the light began around six weeks with the first real smiles, and things improved dramatically at eight weeks when we took C to a family wedding in Aruba, because apparently all he really needed was a warm ocean breeze and some dark rum in his breast milk. By 14 weeks he rarely cried at all without an obvious reason, and ever since he’s been a delightful boy with nary a sign that he was once possessed by the demon Zuul. Maybe it’s the Stockholm Syndrome speaking, but I would endure it all over again if I knew the result would be a child as easygoing as C. Which pretty much guarantees our next kid will be charming for the first 12 weeks before transforming into Rosemary’s baby.

Written by: Kathleen

 I promise, that first smile makes it all worthwhile...unless it's just gas.

I promise, that first smile makes it all worthwhile...unless it's just gas.