For the NEW YORK TIMES: Our son’s birth was not what we anticipated. My wife’s 43-hour labor resulted in an emergency C-section, so the calm birthing pool experience we hoped for never happened. The soothing birth soundtrack we compiled barely got played. Luckily our son was born healthy with no complications for him or my wife, but his infancy quickly became something we hadn’t expected either.
For the first four and a half months of his life, our son had what is commonly referred to as colic. He cried and screamed, so loudly, and so often, that we were convinced our neighbors would call social services. There were few quiet, happy moments to relish.
Our son is now 13 months, the colic storm has passed, and we are enjoying ourselves. There is one snag, though: I’m struggling to shake our colicky past. I have what I have now semi-jokingly diagnosed as post-colic stress disorder, which rears its head in the form of jealousy. I envy other parents whose babies are quiet little angels who let out mere whimpers when they cry, take long naps, enjoy being swaddled, lay in their parents arms without kicking, and are easily soothed with a pacifier.
Our son cried excessively and was inconsolable. During screaming spells, he arched his back, drew up his legs, and refused to be comforted. He hated being swaddled and cuddled. He seemed to be in extreme distress but was otherwise well fed and healthy. We worried. I wore earplugs. Our son’s colic made it difficult for my wife and I to maintain our sense of humor and enjoy his early days.
It’s no wonder that the sound of crying babies is blasted at Navy SEALs to test endurance, and that extreme crying can be linked with child abuse. The relentless screaming made me feel anxious, helpless, frustrated, and even angry. Family and friends tried their best to help, but nothing they said seemed to. Comments like “It just doesn’t make sense,” “why is he doing that?” or “maybe if you hold him a different way” often fueled my anxiety instead of reducing it.
In the US and here in UK, one in five children have colic. There is no known cause, although moms who smoke or have indigestion, migraines, and anxiety are more likely to have colicky babies. Despite claims that colic can be mitigated with family treatment plans, parents simply have to ride it out, which is exactly what we did.
We are now in awe of our son’s happiness, appetite, ability to sleep, and enjoyment of cuddling. Of course he still cries, but far less often, at lower volumes, and for reasons clearly discernable: he’s hungry, tired, teething, or has fallen down. A hug usually does the trick.
But I still talk too much about how colicky our son was and overreact when other parents tell me about their docile little angels. When a friend at our baby swim class told me that her daughter rarely cries and has always taken three-hour naps, my jaw dropped. “Are you [expletive] kidding me?” blurted out of my mouth. When another friend casually plopped their quiet newborn onto a couch cushion and then sat down at their computer sipping tea watching YouTube videos while their baby “chilled,” my head fell into my hands in disbelief. Our baby never “chilled.”
“I’ve got to let it go,” I recently told my wife. But I find it difficult to be happy for couples that have easy babies. I struggle to empathize with their problems, which always seem incrementally smaller than ours were. I want other parents to feel our colicky pain; to know what it’s like to give a baby love and get intense screaming and 30 minute-naps in return. It’s ridiculous and selfish, but this is the form my PCSD has taken.
My wife wonders what his colicky past might mean for his future, although most resources claim there is no correlation. We think we want another child, but colic has shaken our confidence. Both employed and well into our 30s, we’re not sure if we have the energy for another colic battle where the only way to win is to give up on sleep and wait a few months. Everyone says there’s no way we’d have two colicky babies, but how can we be sure?
For now, I’m doing my best to relax, leave it all behind, and enjoy the wonderful, giggly toddler in our life.