For the first two weeks of Levi’s life, Daniel and I looked at each other, shook our heads in disbelief, and said, “Now THIS is an easy baby.” We remembered how hard it was when James was a newborn. He was perfect in every way and we loved him like crazy…but he never slept. I remember friends and family would visit and ask, “So is he just sleeping ‘round the clock?” No, nooo, I’d say, not even close. James came out of the birth canal wide awake and ready to see the sites of life. But Levi—Levi didn’t even open his eyes for the first two days. He didn’t fuss, didn’t seem to need much at all—he just slept. He didn’t even cry in the car, like James always had. Daniel and I were so surprised, so happily, happily surprised. Relieved even! By the time he was a week and a half, still a sleepy little lamb, we really thought we had it made in the shade. Sure he projectile vomited every day, but his brother spit up all the time, too, and as with any symptom you google, it could be normal (or an immediate medical emergency…but probably normal…). And then.
Right around the two-and-a-half-week mark, it all changed. Levi was awake—and he wasn’t happy about it. It was like he wanted nothing more than to sleep but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d start to drift off and then his body would fight desperately to hold on to alertness. It was like we were witnessing his mind and his body wrestle. Suddenly he could not sleep unless he was in our arms, which wasn’t that out of the norm for us, since James wanted to be held, too. He was a newborn after all. But the holding became more and more of a constant, urgent need. He began crying uncontrollably, inconsolable for most of the day, every day. He’d pull his legs up to his chest and writhe in discomfort. The projectile vomiting continued. Nothing soothed him.
So we changed formulas, to something gentler. It took half a week—maybe more—to take effect, but slowly he stopped throwing up. He seemed to be in less discomfort after he ate. But the crying didn’t stop. We went to the doctor for his one month well visit. We love our pediatrician. She’s been our doctor for the past two years with James. And when Daniel told her all that was happening with Levi she nodded, understanding, and said, “It sounds to me like classic colic.”
I can’t tell you how many times I found myself, at 3am, googling, “How to tell if my baby has colic.” In my family, colic is talked about like a living nightmare, like a disease you pray you don’t get. My brother was colicky. My niece, too. This cousin, that cousin, so-and-so’s sister’s son. Colic is what I feared.
And yet, hearing the pediatrician say it was oddly calming. Validating. It relieved me to know that likely nothing more was the matter with our baby. For a week I’d asked Daniel repeatedly, “What if he has something wrong? Like really wrong.” We wondered. And of course, there is always worse. So when the doctor said colic, I was reassured that no, fortunately, it wasn’t worse. It was just a challenge that we’d make it through. She told us it tends to last 3 or 4 months, that it usually peaks at 6 weeks, that there are a lot of things people will recommend trying, but from her experience, sometimes babies just, well, cry for 3…maybe 6…months.
We started giving him a probiotic and these colic drops that stain everything I own. I have discovered that everything I own is light colored. I don’t know if either works because he’s still crying, but one thing they do do, is make me feel like I’m trying. And that’s something.
The one thing that seems to help is bouncing him on the exercise ball. He likes to be cradled and bounced vigorously. He still might fuss and cry a little but the screaming usually stops. We have an upstairs ball and a downstairs ball and my vertebrae are smashed to dust, but at least there is something we can do.
Daniel and I are essentially passing him back and forth between us, holding him and bouncing him for almost all of his sleep because if we don’t (and we’ve tried), he will cry to seemingly no end. Daniel takes the first shift of the night, until 3am, and then I get up with him. On a good day, Levi will do one period of sleep of 2-3 hours at the beginning of the night, which is an improvement from a month ago.
Overall he is trending in a better direction. He has less periods of intense crying and more ability to de escalate. But Christmas Eve was a low point. We were at my parents and didn’t have the precious exercise ball, so when he started to get upset, he couldn’t stop. We tried walking, running, jumping, rocking, but nothing could calm him so we had to leave early and the heartbreaking ride home with one son screaming and the other blocking his ears and quietly singing to himself was a low point in this parenting experience.
So as it turns out, colic is a living nightmare. That’s the way it feels. It’s impossible to imagine how stressful it is without experiencing it, and I know that now. The shrieking and crying, the powerless feeling of not being able to soothe your precious tiny baby, the 24 hours a day of it and not knowing if or when it will end…it’s hard. It’s isolating. I’ve talked to other moms who have been diagnosed as having PTSD after going through particularly bad colic, and I can understand why.
It might be a bit easier if we weren’t also trying to care for and engage with a two-year-old, or if we weren’t in a pandemic where no one can really come over and help or just distract us from the crying, but hey, nobody said it would be easy. And really, it’s all going to be OK. All of this is survivable. If nothing else, it brings Daniel and me even closer. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t look at him and think, oh thank God for you.
We’re still hanging in there, living fiercely in the present moment, one moment at a time, and not thinking ahead because that only creates anxiety. We’re tired. Sometimes it feels like my body is pumping out adrenaline and cortisol nonstop. I have had some incredibly low moments where I really feel incapable of being a mom in this situation, at least the kind of mom I want to be. I wish I had endless patience and compassion but there are times where I just can’t take the screaming anymore and hand him off to Daniel and head to the basement and cry. But as bad as it is, I’m not hopeless. I think things are improving. It’s the gift of the second child: knowing that nothing lasts forever. And listen, there’s still a whole lotta joy around here. This is what it is to be a parent. I will do anything—everything—for these tiny, unbelievably lovable beings we made, even if that means I lose sleep and many, many brain cells in the process :)