Colic and Other Natural Disasters

Think you've got it all under control, do you? Your newborn has been home for a month and things are settling down nicely; your spouse is handling feeding, diapering and otherwise meeting the needs of this little life that you've created. The baby seems happy and content; all is right with the world. Give it another month, and you may be singing a different tune...or more likely howling right along with your little sweetums.

I'm talking about colic. I know of no other word that will send mothers running to check the expiration date on their birth control. I speak from experience; I have been through it. There ought to be a colic support group, like they have for people who have been through other traumatic events, like wars or going to prison. Mothers could meet at Olive Garden and blearily pound down Sangria as they exchange horror stories of how their sweet little babes have overnight turned into miniature Navy SEAL drill sergeants.

For those of you who are unaware, colic is defined as a general condition of distress, usually gastrointestinal in nature. This translates into an inability for your baby to feel comfortable; she can't sleep, is generally cranky, and often will cry for hours at a time. The "hours at a time" is no exaggeration; when my daughter went through it, she would wail for a good 45 minutes, calm down just enough to get her breath back and then keep going. Opera singers wish they had the resonance, endurance and vocal range of a colicky baby in full flow. Doctors have no idea what exactly causes colic; it seems to be gastrointestinal in nature, but at the same time, they have also linked it to smoking (the parents, not the baby), the time of year your baby was born in, sunspots, alien abduction, and the deficit. The reality is that your guess is as good as theirs. Colic is also a transmissible condition; just dealing with a colicky baby for a few days will give the parents upset stomachs, irritability, discomfort and loss of sleep.

However, I have a theory. Colic typically works its evil magic somewhere in the two to three month old area. Babies, having had no previous experience of the world, no vocabulary except what they make up as they go, are starting from scratch, intellectually speaking. They have no frame of reference. So, they spend the first two months of their lives outside the womb taking it all in, exploring their senses, accumulating and registering data about their environment. Then they compare it to what was going on before, wombwise - the view may not have been great, but food was on tap 24/7, it was warm and comfortable, and you didn't have to deal with all of this pooping. They realize that they're never, ever gonna have it that good again - that's why they're upset.

There is no real remedy for colic. You can find good solid basic advice for how to deal with it in just about any baby book. Typically, they run from changing the type/brand of formula (if you're not breastfeeding); trying out a new bottle - some of them have clever valves that prevent air from being swallowed by your baby. They also recommend using different holds, burping frequently, swaddling, rhythmic motion, "shushing"...any of these may work. Or they may not; there's no way to tell unless you try everything until something works. We ran the gamut of purported colic cures. We tried changing bottles, but my wife doesn't care for vodka, and our tippling didn't seem to be having any affect on our daughter, anyway. Swaddling worked for about 4 days - until Makayla figured out that she could yell just as effectively wrapped up as a baby burrito as she could with her full range of motion. We got a rocker and I broke that sucker going back and forth for hours. I burped her every five swallows of formula. I "shushed" until I darn near hyperventilated.

We were three weeks into this assault on our sanity. It was 1:30 A.M. and no one was asleep. My wife was at the end of her rope, Makayla was going at it like there was no tomorrow. Selena kicked me into consciousness (it was a work night) and told me to do something - or else. She had strapped Makayla into her car seat and put her on the dryer - the baby books said this sometimes worked as the sound lulled babies to sleep, but all that happened was she increased her volume to compensate; now she was hot and cranky, with tears rolling down her face, overtired and too uncomfortable to do anything about it.

There was only one thing left to try. Selena put on a pair of slippers and a robe and so did I. Makayla was still strapped in. We got a bottle, just in case, and bundled our wailing sweetheart into the car for a latenight drive.

There was no one up and out except us. As we drove around the neighborhood, Makayla calmed down; her eyes closed and she started to drift off. My wife had calmed down and was starting to destress while we tooled down the quiet streets. All was right with the world, and despite the events of the evening, we began to realize that colic wouldn't last forever, that we could do this parenting thing. We talked about this and that, softly, as our child slept in the back. After a while, we headed home.

As we pulled into the driveway, I made a monumental error. I put the car in park, gave a loving glance at my little baby, snuggled up next to my wife and said, "Want a boy next time?"

I still have the scars....

author: Joseph Buckmaster

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