Rose was a week old when the screaming started. At first, we thought it was something I ate. I had just annihilated one of those delicious, cheese-stuffed postpartum casseroles that little wingless angels leave on your doorstep after you have a baby. She’s not colicky, I told myself, knee-deep in denial. She must just be dairy-sensitive – it was just the ricotta.
It wasn’t the ricotta. It was Rose.
The Mayo Clinic defines colic as “predictable periods of significant distress in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby.” Rose’s outbursts certainly were predictable: if she wasn’t sleeping or eating, chances are she was crying. The constant distress began to clear up at around five months, although she remains to this day an extremely strong-willed child who will not hesitate to let you know if she’s unhappy with just about anything.
It was a challenging experience, but also enormously educational for both my husband and I about who we are and what kind of parents we want to be. Here are the five most significant lessons we took away from that first year with the fussiest of babies.
Don’t compare your baby to other babies.
Your baby will not sleep like your friend’s baby. She will not be quiet in church. She won’t sleep peacefully in her carseat in a restaurant. She will not let your friends hold her. Just take a breath and try not to resent other families and their experiences. Their reality is just different than yours. When you’re exhausted and confused and feeling insecure, it’s tempting to go through the world identifying every other infant and his habits as “normal” and your child’s differences as “total weirdness that is my fault because I’m a terrible mother.” This is the crazy talking. Do not listen to it. It’s more important now than ever to remember that infants’ temperaments come in every color of the rainbow.
Remember that it’s not your baby’s fault.
Life outside of the womb is a real shocker and your little former fetus has been through a lot. The world is a big, bright, cold place and he is a little, weak, dependent creature who is not sure of anything — except your touch. His whole universe literally just collapsed on him and he doesn’t have any way to communicate his needs except through screaming.
But remember that it’s also not your fault.
Sometimes it’s tempting to think that you created this challenging creature. “It was those four Diet Cokes I had when I was pregnant, wasn’t it? Or it must be because I’m not ready to sleep train her, or that I’m not creating the perfectly chill Land of Nod-catalog-ready environment she needs to act like a human being and not a scream machine. It must be that she’s psycho, right? I gave birth to a psycho baby, and this is just my life now.” Settle down and remember that it takes all kinds of kinds, and some babies are just like this. Love her for for who she is, screams and all, and you’re doing your job. Be kind to yourself.
Find that silver lining and cling to it like a freaking lifeboat.
I devoured Dr. Sears’ writing during this period (and still do) because he is unfailingly optimistic regarding exactly what fussiness tells us about our children. These “high needs” infants, he says, often grow up to be incredibly creative, intelligent, dynamic individuals. So far, I’ve definitely found this to be the case with Rose. As intense as she is to this day, she is also whip-smart, challenging, engaging and highly entertaining. I am never bored with this baby.
Know that you are the expert on your baby.
People will be very anxious to give you advice. When someone sees an unhappy baby, their reaction, understandably, is to think that something isn’t right in the baby’s life or routine. Random passersby will be full of helpful tips. Force her to sleep more. Don’t let her sleep so much. Put her on a schedule. Cut out dairy. Administer gripe water. It must be gas. You hold her too much. Have you tried baby-wearing?
Some of this advice will be awesome, and take whatever of it makes sense to you. But it can really kill your confidence. If you’re a first-time mother, you’re definitely not feeling like an expert on anything, but repeat after me: you are the expert on your baby. No one knows your child’s needs and desires like his mother. You conceived this baby and grew him from a poppyseed-sized cell to this adorable little bundle of sweet-smelling skin and kissable eyelashes and bunched-up fists. The well-meaning lady at church and the random woman at the mall are not the authorities on motherhood, even if they have five kids each and seem to have it all together.