Surviving Colic

IMG_0815This is not how it was supposed to be.

It’s what I kept thinking as I rocked my month-old daughter under the hood fan in the kitchen, rhythmically patting her back with one hand and holding a noise machine to her ear with the other.

She writhed in my arms, her tiny features twisted with tension and slick with sweat, her arms flailing uncontrollably, her back arching.

And she screamed. She had been doing so for eight hours and the only reprieve came when she cried herself to exhaustion and drifted into a restless sleep. It never lasted long, though. After 20 minutes she would pop back awake and pick up right where she left off. It was barely enough time to catch my breath, let alone adjust to silence.

My arms, legs and back ached from the hours of rocking. I was exhausted. But as I looked down at my wailing bundle, it wasn’t anger or frustration I felt – it was sadness. My girl was in distress and I could not help her.

Now don’t get me wrong, I knew babies cried. I was ready for ear-splitting howls at all hours of day and night. Heck, I even thought I was prepared for colic. My fiancé and I had heard stories of babies crying three to five hours straight every night. It sounded tough, but I accepted that it could be a possibility for us. We could handle it. We’d make it through.

But this?

Well, this is not how it was supposed to be.

The only thing I’ve ever been sure about in life is my desire to be a mom. When I found out I was pregnant, I was the happiest I had ever been. It was really happening – my dream was playing out.

We welcomed our baby into the world on a February evening in the comfort of our home. She was perfect. A beautiful, healthy, pink baby girl. Our daughter was finally here.

Everything seemed normal at first – as much as being a first-time mom with a newborn can feel normal. She slept, fed, pooped and, yes, she cried. I savoured every minute of it.

When she was two weeks old, however, things began to change.

Every day she cried more, working her way up from two hours to four, then to six and eight. Her periods of contentment became less and less until she no longer had any at all. Every moment she was awake and not breastfeeding was spent fussing or crying.

In those first few days I wasn’t defeated by this new behaviour. I was hopeful, optimistic, determined. My baby was telling me something was wrong – all I had to do was figure out what it was, and then everything would be okay, right? Puzzle complete. Mystery solved. Or something like that anyway.

And so started the endless speculation.

She must have gas issues. No, there’s a problem with breastfeeding. That has to be it. Wait, she probably has a dairy sensitivity. I know! I’ve just been eating irritable foods, that’s all.

Maybe she has a cold?

We tried probiotics, gripe water, homeopathic remedies, essential oils and the five S’s: swaddling, shushing, sucking, swinging and the side/stomach position. I cut out gassy foods, caffeine and dairy from my diet. I saw a lactation consultant and tried breastfeeding leaning back, lying down and on my side – pretty well every position save balancing upside down on my head.

With each revelation, I was sure I had it figured out, that she would stop crying any day now. But she never did. In fact, she kept getting worse.

We tried everything to lessen the cries: swing, stroller, carrier, vacuum, blow dryer, the ‘colic hold’, bath and shower. We put her in a loud room, put her in a quiet one, dimmed the lights, turned all the lights on. Then there was the singing, massaging, rocking, swaying, vibrating and bouncing on a ball. It was also not uncommon to see us in our PJ’s, loading her up in the car at 2 a.m. in a desperate attempt to just make the crying stop. But if we found something that worked, the effect was always temporary, sometimes only lasting a few minutes.

At her worst, our daughter cried 10 to 12 hours a day. We kept hearing how she was perfectly healthy as she passed her physical exams with flying colours. She was still eating, pooping and gaining weight. There were no signs of a rash, vomiting, diarrhea or mucus or blood in her stool. It’s just colic, we were told, and it should ease by three months, four at the latest. Five months maximum. By six months, without a doubt, you’ll have your baby back.

As much as I was relieved she was physically thriving, this explanation was a frustrating one. It just didn’t make sense. You’re telling me my daughter screams all day but she is okay? That there’s nothing we can do? And that she will be like this not for days or weeks, but months?

It just couldn’t be right. Newborns are supposed to sleep and mine wasn’t doing that nearly enough. How is she supposed to develop if she isn’t sleeping? I was completely discouraged. I didn’t know how I could continue this way for that much longer. I was beginning to doubt my abilities as a mother.

I didn’t know it would be like this. This is not how it was supposed to be.

My fiancé took my hands in his and looked me straight in the eyes. “We’ve got this,” he said. It’s all I needed to hear.

So we continued our mad dance in what I referred to as ‘the looney bin.’ It’s how I thought of our home, the place I felt confined to because I didn’t want to take my daughter anywhere. Forget coffee with friends, the newborn photo shoot, picking up groceries in the stroller or even introducing her to people. I gave up on all the things I had looked forward to doing with my new baby, including joining the local new-moms group. It would just be too hard to see other women bouncing their happy babies on their knees as mine squirmed and squealed in my arms. I would be witnessing all that I was missing out on, and I just didn’t think I could bear it.

I forced myself to still take her for short walks every day no matter how hard her cries. We drew stares, and were even stopped by a woman who asked if my baby might be hungry or too cold, and why don’t I bundle her up?

“We’ve got this,” I’d say aloud to myself. “We’ve got this.”

Until one day I didn’t think we did anymore.

Our daughter had been crying for 12 hours, and the intensity of her distress had reached a level where I could no longer accept that it was just colic. She was drenched in sweat and choking as she gasped for air between hair-raising screams intermixed with animalistic guttural noises. She had to be in pain, and I couldn’t watch it happen anymore. It physically hurt to see her hurt.

We drove her to emergency, my fiancé circling the parking lot with her howling in the car while I registered at the front desk. The nurse asked what was wrong, and that’s all it took. I couldn’t keep the tears back – there were just too many – and I broke down. I guess I couldn’t believe we were here. That it had gone this far.

“My baby won’t stop crying,” was all I managed to say.

While the hours spent at the hospital were long and stressful, I did feel hopeful again. Our daughter would get the attention she needed and we would finally get answers.

But after ruling out an ear and bladder infection, and examining chest and abdominal X-rays, the doctor came back with the words we dreaded to hear.

“She has colic.”

“But she hasn’t slept in 12 hours,” I told him. “She’s been crying this whole time. She’s just four weeks old.”

We were given a shrug of the shoulders, a referral to a pediatrician and were sent on our way.

Up until that point I had been hesitant about medical intervention, but now I was desperate to make her better. So when the pediatrician suggested medication for acid reflux, I agreed.

He also gave me what no one else had been able to – a reason, or rather a theory, for why our little girl was the way she was.

It goes back to survival of the fittest, he said. In a tribal community, the vocal child is going to be fed first and more often than the quiet one who is more easily passed over in comparison. By being loud and demanding, colicky babies may just be ensuring life.

So my daughter was a survivor. She wasn’t going to go unnoticed – there was certainly no way she wouldn’t be heard. And I was able to appreciate that about her. She was a strong spirit, and she was helping me become one, too.

After a couple weeks on the medication, her crying slowly began to lessen. There were setbacks, which triggered disappointment and dread, but the overall trend was one of gradual improvement.

We also took her to a chiropractor who works with babies. Images of bones cracking and joints popping made me wary, but the experience was gentle and relaxing – something I’m sure her wound-up little body craved – and she embraced it with coos and smiles.

That’s right – she smiles. Words cannot express the way I felt the day she unexpectedly paused from her crying, looked up at me and smiled. In that brief moment, everything was OK. It was all worth it. I would do it all over again if only for that smile. My daughter is nine weeks old now and she smiles all the time. She talks to me, too, and I cherish our conversations for the little marvels they are.

Not everything has been resolved, though. She still has trouble sleeping and only naps for half an hour at a time. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there.

And yes, she still cries. But one to three hours a day? We’ve so got this.

I don’t think I’ll ever know what the ultimate healing factor was. Did the dairy finally completely leave my system? Was it the meds, the chiropractor or the probiotics? It could just be her little body maturing with time. The secret I was so desperate to unlock may remain just that – a secret.

Sometimes I still lament the time we missed with our daughter and everything colic took from us. Its psychological and emotional toll. The strain it put on our relationship. The enjoyment we lost.

This is not how it was supposed to be, but it’s what we were given. And despite the less-than-pretty wrapping, it is still a gift – because we have her. Our strong, vivacious daughter.
Our little survivor.
And if rocking for hours under the hood fan is what it means to have this treasure in my life? Well then, there’s no place I’d rather be.

A Note To Parents With Children With Colic:

Dealing with a colicky baby can be stressful, isolating, exhausting and even depressing. The most important thing I learned from my experience was to ask for help and accept it when offered. No one should have to handle it alone.
Talk to someone. Be honest about how you’re feeling, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Remember that you are doing everything right for your baby. Your efforts may seem futile, and you probably feel helpless – useless, even – but trust me, you are doing an amazing job.

People will tell you “This is just a moment in time. It will pass, and when it does, you won’t even remember any of this.” It’s the most annoying thing to hear, I know, but it’s true. You will make it through. You and your baby are survivors after all.
In the meantime, here are some resources that I was directed to and which may be helpful to others:

The Fussy Baby Site:
The Happiest Baby on the Block:
Pacific Post Partum Support Society: 604.255.7999 | Toll-Free 855.255.7999 | Text 604.256.8088
The Period of Purple Crying:

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Hannah Sutherland is a first-time mom to her lively two-month-old daughter. She grew up in White Rock, where she currently lives with her fiancé and partner of 10 years, as well as their two cats. Hannah has a diploma in journalism, and worked as a community newspaper reporter for five years before pursuing a career working with children with autism. She is currently on maternity leave from her job as an Applied Behaviour Analysis Support Worker with the Surrey school district. This midnight writer now freelances from a rocking chair, typing on her phone with one hand and holding her baby in the other. She looks forward to returning to the computer desk and sharing more stories of her first foray into motherhood.


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One thought on “Surviving Colic

  1. Annie Reply

    I could’ve written the first half of this post! Our colic last FOUR excruciating months. And our kiddo didn’t sleep thru the night until 22 months. Naps? The bane of my existence. But if you can survive the hell that is colic, a cranky kiddo who refuses to nap is a piece of cake. It’s so rare to hear from moms of colicky babes–thank you for reminding us that it’s okay to do what we need to do (e.g. stay the eff at home rather than endure screaming for an entire outing)!

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