Surviving the Soul-Sucking Colic Phase

Motherhood sucked.

Have you heard a woman admit that before? Even to type it, years later, pangs me with guilt. Every book or article I read on colic assured me my baby would outgrow the condition by three months. By five months, my little one was still raging.

If you’ve been in my shoes you’ll know that “colic” is more a marketing term than a diagnosis. It’s the blanket term pediatricians default to when a newborn cries for hours on-end with no discernible cause. The cure? There is none. How’s that for a pleasant trip to the doctor?

Buy this specialty bottle, the Internet will tell you. Try these gas drops, people will say. But no matter the latest supposedly innovative product my husband, Ben, and I would bring home, our daughter’s face would clench, her fists would tighten, and we’d brace ourselves for hours of high-pitched screams.

Cute kid

She’s super sweet now, when she’s not wailing in my face

Everything about parenting caught me off guard, and with a colicky baby, there was no time to gracefully adjust and catch up. It was sink or swim. So I sank for six long months.

There were all the usual trappings of new motherhood at play: sleep deprivation, utter confusion, and general overwhelm. But, as I never seemed to have a moment without my newborn screeching in my face, every emotion I felt seemed to be on steroids. To say I was irritable and anxious wouldn’t do justice to the majesty of my emotions.

There were crying fits—mine, hers. Blubbering fits—again, both mine and hers. I’d wear her in a sling on my chest; kick off marathon nursing sessions; drive the car; push the stroller, and even do lunges in the dark with her in my arms. There were times I was so consumed by my frustration, that I’d set my daughter down safely in her crib, and then relish taking out the garbage—just for two minutes away from her.

In response, I did what any half-sane woman would do: I took it all out on my partner.

I remember watching the clock and running down the front steps of our apartment, baby in my outstretched arms. “Here,” I’d said. Not even “hello,” or “how was work?” Just “here, take this baby.” And then I swapped our daughter for his work bag and climbed back upstairs alone.

Did Ben and I talk about anything in those first few frantic months? I can’t remember. I’m sure I spoke only in directives: Please do this. Please don’t do that. At least I hope I said “please.”

That time in our lives was bleak, sure, but there were little sparks of beauty too. There were moments my heart would pound in awe just watching my daughter sleep. In a rare instance without her anguished screaming, she’d squeeze my finger, or flash a gummy smile, and my whole body would tingle in delight.

As I write, my now 3-year-old kid is sound asleep on her belly, arms wrapped around a worn stuffed pig. She is a free spirit, naturally. She’s warm-hearted and imaginative and wildly funny. But she’s also fiercely stubborn and at times, vocal and defiant—a throwback to her newborn days. She still gets red-faced and angry, and there are moments where her tantrums bring me back to a place I feel wholly uncomfortable in. To a place I want to forget. These days, I can’t wrap her to my chest and walk my neighborhood for hours, hoping the rhythm of my walk will soothe her.

But most days, I surprise myself. Most days, I am able to meet her big emotions with calm and gentle ones. I coach her to take a deep breath. I wipe her tears without gritting my teeth. I try to be the parent I wanted to be but couldn’t when she first barreled into my life.

And when I mess up, I remind myself, as my own experience has shown, that good mothers aren’t born—they’re made with time.

Lizzie Goodman

Lizzie Goodman is a freelance writer specializing in pregnancy, child development, and parenting. She lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and their toddler daughter. They are waiting for the terrible twos to end—any day now.