When I had my first baby at the age of 31, I thought I’d know what to do. I had four younger siblings, plus I was a nanny for most of my college years. Changing muddy diapers? Applying Desitin to chapped little butts? Dressing squirmy, delicate infants? Doing the Baby Bounce to put them to sleep? Dodging the Puree of Pea Catapult feeding stubborn toddlers? Playing the clown to defuse a toddler meltdown? I’d done it ALL. I’d been doing it all, Child Labor Style, since I was 9 years old.
That being said, you can imagine my surprise when I popped out a kid of my own and totally lost my mojo. My new baby bundle of joy refused to cooperate with me, and I was sure it was because I was doing something wrong. First off, he didn’t want to nurse. Whenever I would
accost tap his cheek with one of my new freakishly large boobs, he wasn’t rooting. (For all the non-parents out there, that is the technical term for when an infant instinctually searches for his mother’s breast whenever he feels a warm touch on his cheek). No, no my child wasn’t ROOTING for my breast; he was in fact, BOOING it. He would wig out like I was trying to suffocate him with a monstrous pillow. However, if I offered him a man-made, artificial boob, i.e., a bottle filled with liquid not produced by my own milk-makers, he thirstily consumed it with the gratitude of a baby who’d been inch-worming his way through the Sahara Desert since his last feeding. And I have to say, before I had him, I had a very laissez faire attitude towards breastfeeding. If it worked out, great; if it didn’t, I would pump and bottle feed. BFD. I never suspected my new Mom Self-Esteem would take such a debilitating hit when I failed at breastfeeding, and that big fat F was indelibly stamped on my first test of motherhood.
Depressed as I was, I pushed aside my hurt pride, pulled out the milking machine, and spent all my “spare time” being suctioned by a couple of cones I nicknamed Hoover and Dyson. We actually became quite close. THEY never rejected me. THEY never got pissed off when I tried to attach them to my boobs. Admittedly, they could be a little rough sometimes, especially when I was in a rush and had to turn the sucker intensity up to the Nipple Napalm Setting, but whatever, not their fault. They GOT me! I was trying my best to be a good mom. Why couldn’t my new infant try to work with a mother?
Two-and-a-half weeks after birthing my baby, I’d mended my heartbreak over not nursing him, and I’d settled into some confidence with our new routine. That was right around the time the crying started. The Crying Started. And. It. Wouldn’t. Stop. Prior to this, I had read about colic in my obligatory What to Expect When You’re Expecting book, and I’d listened to friends’ third-party stories about it in that detached, Urban Legend kind of way. In the way you cock your head and condescendingly listen to stories about a Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch sighting. In a That Sounds Terrifying but I Don’t Really Think it Exists and Do You Also Believe in Ghosts, Because If You Do, Take Your Evil Spirits and Get Your Cuckoo Ass Away from Me Before I Have Nightmares kind of way. Yeah see, in my ultimate pre-parental wisdom, I thought that “colic” was just another word for The Mom is Doing Something Wrong. I know, I was an idiot. I found out the hard way, karma-style, that colic is a very real and very terrifying phenomenon.
The crying would start, inexplicably, at 4:00 p.m. on the dot every single solitary day (even on The Lord’s Day, which should be kept holy and scream-free), and it wouldn’t stop until around 8:30 each night. Oh, that’s not so bad, you say? That’s only four-and-a-half hours, you say? Have you ever heard a newborn scream for 5 minutes? In that shrieky, wobbly, heartbreakingly high-pitched way that sounds like a baby kitten in the process of being declawed? You have? Then you know it’s bad. Have you ever heard a newborn scream in that way for 270 minutes straight? Well I have, and it’s bad. It is very, VERY bad. And it is disheartening, deranging, depressing, and downright soul-crushing to a new mother who is trying desperately to soothe and comfort and calm and nurture and pacify and shut her newborn baby the EFF up!
We did eventually find that one thing, just ONE thing would calm our sweet little ambulance siren, and that one thing was stereo static. Loud stereo static. Deafening stereo static. As soon as we’d turn it on, and turn it up, the crying stopped. We began to breathe a little easier during the colic hours, as long as we had the good old stereo static, which became the soundtrack of our lives. Even though we wanted to claw away our ears, and often heard static in our dreams, it was much, MUCH easier to endure than the crying.
Having the crying somewhat under control, I could’ve enjoyed a little feeling of maternal success had the poor baby not suddenly developed acid reflux and begun projectile vomiting with Linda Blair Gusto halfway across the room at any given moment. So instead of draping over my shoulder the cutesy little bear and bunny print burp cloths I was given 9 million of for my baby shower, I began wearing bath towels. No joke.
Every day, by the time my husband cruised on home from work, I was waiting at the door. My hair looked like I’d gotten into a street fight with a can of Aqua Net. Yesterday’s Maybelline mascara mixed with little salty patches were marking the Tracks of My Tears. I was outfitted in a striped beach towel toga, adorned with wet and dry clumps of cottage-cheesy baby puke. I was also holding the baby out, arms outstretched, to my husband, as if the baby were a skunk ready to pick up its tail and let loose.
All of this sounds very whiney, I know, and I know it could’ve been worse. So much worse. I probably sound like a horribly ungrateful mother. (Mom Guilt, Mom Guilt, Mom Guilt). I was grateful for my healthy baby, and I loved him, I really did . . . I just didn’t think he KNEW that. Or that he knew how hard I was trying to be good at this, to make him happy, to make him love me back. And then, magically, at six weeks, he smiled at me, and he kept smiling bigger and bigger every time. In fact, even though he still screamed his little head off at 4 on the dot every single day, he smiled all day long up until that point. And, then, at three-and-a-half months old, he stopped screaming.
At first I thought there was something wrong. He’d forgotten who he was – did he hit his head on his crib? Did he have amnesia? Did he need a baby hypnotist to get him back to the screaming banshee I was sure he’d be for the rest of his life? I held off on my neurologist/hypnotist appointments, but the next day, and the day after that, and that, and that were all scream-free. It was a whole new world. I knew when my baby was going to be unhappy (hungry, sleepy, poopy), and I knew none of this natural unhappiness had to do with the terrible job I was doing as his mother.
Now, seven-and-a-half years later, my boy is my heart’s joy, and he is his Mama’s Boy. He has been his Mama’s Boy since he was six weeks old, and probably even before that. I was simply too blinded by projectile puke, too deafened by tortured, feline-baby screams, and too naive to get it.