Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Haunting of Old Ghosts

Last night, I was browsing around on the internet and I came across this article about a dad's struggle with his colicky baby and the resulting damage done to him and his wife. Now for those of you who have never had a colicky baby, my choice of the word "damage" may sound a bit dramatic, but let me ask you: have you ever known me to be an overly dramatic, emotionally theatrical person? [Mom, I know you're thinking about those years when I was 14-16 years old, and I'm going to claim now that they don't count. Every 14 year old girl is like that, OK?!] No. I'm not being a drama queen when I say that I believe Mike and I have a mild case of PTSD after Maggie's GERD experience... and this is three whole years after the fact.

I don't know where these articles were back in the day when I spent hours doing deep knee bends while holding my screaming, writhing, purple-faced infant and desperately googling every kind of applicable phrase I could think of to describe a 7 lb. one month old baby who was not a preemie, who never slept, threw up almost everything she ate in a lemon-juice-mixed-with-cottage-cheese-like form, and screamed bloody murder at ear splitting decibels. All I ever read was kindly, pointless platitudes about how some babies are difficult and it's an unfortunate situation and you should try to get a break to regain your sense of joy and loving motherhood whenever you can. My generation now talks openly about Post-Partum Depression, and women with PPD can get treatment and support and anti-depressants, but where is the support group for parents who can't leave the house like normal people because their babies scream all day and all night? I wasn't depressed really, just desperate. There's a difference, but I still needed some pharmaceuticals and a nap and... an escape hatch... and a sensory deprivation chamber.

So much in this article (and a few of the other linked articles listed on the page) resonated with me:
  • The frustration with doctors who didn't seem to be taking it seriously enough, even though we were eventually referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist who prescribed a series of increasingly powerful acid reducers. We started with generic "colic" as a diagnosis, and while colic is common and not physically damaging to the child who is supposedly otherwise healthy (although doctors know almost nothing about colic, really), it is extremely psychologically and emotionally daunting for the parents. Just saying it's normal and will pass is cold, cold, bitterly cold comfort when it's happening to you.

  • I also still have a list of "experts" that I would like to punch in the groin.

  • Crying "more than 3 hours a day more than 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks in a row," which is the definition of colic, doesn't even come close to the actual totals. And it's furious, unexplainable, untreatable, unsoothable crying that leaves you as a parent feeling like a crazed failure. And as the author says, "fussy" does not even come close to describing a baby with colic. Tortured and torturous is more like it.

  • This quote rings a bell: "Just see how long you can do that in the middle of the night without simultaneously tearing a rotator cuff and having a complete mental breakdown." Yes, Mike had to go to a chiropractor because the pain in his shoulder from swinging Maggie in her car seat became unbearable. A colicky baby may be physically healthy, but the parents probably are not... anymore.

  • Yes, you long to drink away the pain and suffering, but a hangover + colic would only compound your misery. So I also ate pints of ice cream and sleeves of cookies to self-medicate. Not getting any sleep at all that would actually count as sleep to any normal person also makes your body crave carbs for energy, I discovered. Desperate, angry, grieving, and FAT.

  • Nobody else understands. Everybody else's baby is sweet and sleeping through the night. Everybody else thinks you are a high-strung, wound up, shrill nutcase who can't manage the typical ups and downs of having a newborn. Everybody else complains about how their baby cried for 45 minutes the other night until the parent finally realized that they had put the diaper on backwards or something ridiculous, and then you have to restrain yourself from stabbing them. Desperate, angry, grieving, fat, and crazy.

  • I also told my baby to shut up. I yelled at her. I never, ever shook her, thank god, but I put her in her crib and shut the door to her crying and went and sat on the couch for ten minutes. I still don't understand people who abuse their toddlers or school aged children, but I do understand people who smother babies or leave them on public transportation or in hospital waiting rooms. Desperate, angry, grieving, fat, crazy, and mean.

  • We almost did not have another child. I get the commenters who say this is the reason why they only have one. And then once we did decide we needed to have another baby, we had our second child fairly close behind the first simply because we knew we needed to rip that band-aid off quickly or we would never be able to force ourselves to do it again. How far from joyful is that?

  • It felt completely cathartic to me to read how many of the commenters noted that they are also schedule nazis now, despite what others think of them, because you spend the entire beginning of your parenthood feeling entirely helpless and out of control of a situation that is causing your child anguish. Once you get to a place where you can have a normal existence where you can actually circumvent some of their distress and discomfort by meeting their needs, you can not let your guard down. You do not ever want to gamble with putting them over the edge into crazy meltdown status because of something as easily avoidable as fatigue or hunger. After having a baby who was in too much pain to sleep, I still hate to see either of my girls slumped over in a contorted position trying to sleep in their stroller or car seat. I can give them better than that with little inconvenience to me, compared to what once was, so I am compelled to do that for them.

  • After three years and another (calmer) child, I still get sweaty and panicked when I think about colic and crying babies and the woman who yelled at me on the subway one day when I couldn't get Maggie to stop crying, and even when I think of the strangers who said kind, encouraging things to me. Negative attention from strangers just sucks, even when it's kind and pitying. I still feel sick to my stomach whenever my kids are too loud in a public place. I still feel angry about what we went through.

  • After three years, I feel like Mike and I have been through the worst of it - and we're still together. Things weren't always pretty and he has been on and off of my list of people who I would like to punch in the groin, but we never said or did anything to one another that we can't forgive. But I'm sure he felt that dread outside the door to our apartment each night, and I know I was that woman in tears begging to be relieved. In the aftermath I can see how I would not have survived without his help, and everything else seems easier to manage now with more sleep and less stress.

  • Once we got past that first, say, six months, Maggie has become the smartest, most charming, funniest, most curious, most intriguing kid I could imagine. She is definitely still strong-willed, stubborn as a mule, and very sensitive, but I hear that I was no angel either. And I think I turned out OK in the end. I have a lot of high hopes for her now and love her to death. I would absolutely trade those first few months for something better in a heartbeat, but I would never want her to be anything other than who she is now.

So if you think I'm overreacting or taking myself too seriously, you probably have never had an angry baby. And if you do have a howler monkey for a kid, all I can say is that I sympathize, it's not fair, it's not your fault, your baby is not possessed by the devil, hang in there, daylight is on the horizon. Buy a blow up doll, dress it up like Dr. Sears, and punch it in the groin. Then call me and I'll be glad to come over and hold your screecher while you go take a long shower. You deserve it.

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