Today, I had an appointment with a little six year old boy. His mama, an incredibly young woman of not even 24, brought his little sister with them to his appointment. She looked like she always does these days: haggard. I figured out why. While I had my session with her son, she walked her baby daughter up and down the halls. Even with my door shut, I could hear that child's wails.
Ugh, I thought. A sound I well remember. A baby screaming with colic.
Liv had colic. From the time she was 2 weeks old until the time she was nearly 4 months old, she had colic. I had dutifully read all about colic when I was reading every baby book written before her birth. I also had done my rotation in the ob/gyn ward, so I had heard about colic. Read about it. Could spout the symptoms of it and what to do.
But it never really occurred to me that I would actually have a child who had it.
Until I did.
I have never spent a harder four months in my life. From mid August until nearly Christmas, I endured Liv's nearly non stop screaming. I tried everything, every single remedy known to woman. I tried the tummy water in the nutrition store. I tried bobbling her on my knees while she lay face down. I tried music. Car rides. Nothing worked. I was convinced that my own child detested me. And I worried that I would either go deaf or throw her out the window.
But, I did learn a few tricks that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. She was like some persnickety queen who was incredibly fickle. What worked like a charm one night at two a.m. did not work the next night.
I rarely got more than 3 hours sleep in a row and it showed. Once, I ached so badly as I walked her around the house that I cried right along with her. But, I endured it and when she finally, mercifully stopped being colicky around the age of 4 months, I was in thank you Jesus mode so deeply that I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. The first night that she slept from 11 p.m. until 4:30 a.m., I was so excited that I felt like calling someone to celebrate.
So, today...I recognized the look of sheer weariness and I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE, YOU FUCKING BRAT on that mother's face. And good lord, she was only 24 years old. If I had been a mother at 24 of a colicky baby, they would have had to cart me to the loony bin. Seriously.
So, when I gestured for her to come into my office to talk about her son and she sheepishly pointed to her screeching daughter, I just smiled and held out my arms.
"Let me take her for a second," I said. I thought she would argue but she didn't. She plopped the baby into my arms so quickly that I felt like I had just caught a touchdown pass.
I immediately crouched down, holding the baby facing out with her legs dangling, my hands under her armpits. And then, slowly, slowly, slowly, I rose up. She stopped screaming. The mom's face looked shocked.
She watched me intently as I did it again. As long as I kept moving but SLOWLY, the child did not cry. The second I stopped, she started up again.
"This is only good in emergencies when you don't care what you look like and you just need her to stop screaming for a second so that your ears stop ringing," I told the mother.
She and I exchanged the kind of smile that only two mothers of colicky babies can.
Then I tried tipping her back and forth like a bell, again holding her by her armpits. Success!
"This only works during the daytime usually," I told her. "At night time, not so much."
She nodded, watching me carefully.
Then I sat down and lay the child on her back across my knees. She started screaming again, but I gently rubbed my index finger up and down her nose as if she was a new, strange breed of horse. She calmed, looking blearily up at me.
"I have no idea why this works, but it does," I told her. "But, it only works for about a half hour. Then, she'll start up again."
The mom asked for a pen and paper and I told her everything I knew about taming colic.
1) Sometimes an elevator helps. I told her that one night, I spent two hours going up and down in a shopping mall elevator. She laughed and then stopped abruptly. "Would you believe that I am just desperate enough to try that some night?" she asked. I told her yes, that only someone who is crazed with sleep deprivation and so sick of hearing that high pitched wail can understand how any human could ride an elevator up and down for two hours holding a baby.
2) Skip placing a child in a carrier on the dryer. It doesn't work. Also, the sound of the vacuum was supposed to work but it didn't, I told her. It just made my daughter seem to want to do a duet. Also...all those drops to put in water that you can buy at the health food store? They don't work.
She nodded and wrote.
3) Sometimes gently blowing on the child's hair will work. But, I advised, use mouthwash first. I know, I know...you haven't had time to shower, but are supposed to have time to have fresh breath? I don't know why but minty fresh breath blown through the hair helps.
4) I made a sound in my throat sort of like the chirrup you make to get a horse to trot. That works too, I told her.
5) And hey...for some reason my daughter liked listening to any song sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks. No idea why and yes, when you are sleep deprived, the sound of that music can make you feel as if you are seriously tripping out on LSD, but it worked.
6) Don't bother with sleep sound machines. Oceans and whatnot. Does not work. But, for some reason my daughter found the sound of cicadas chirping at the end of the day soothing. When summer went into autumn, I actually tried to find a recording of cicadas for her, I told the new mother. She nodded and wrote.
I handed her daughter back to her and she started wailing again. The mom took a long breath and then softly blew it back into her daughter's hair. She quieted. Her brother, taking a cue from his mother, blew a little spittily into his sister's hair. She didn't much like that.
Any more advice? She wanted to know. I hesitated and then told her that it wasn't the end of the world if she dipped the child's pacifier in ice cold pepsi once in a while.
I could hear mothers all over the planet gasp and then give me the stink eye, but hey...you gotta do what you gotta do to survive.
Her daughter had finally tired and was laying asleep in her carrier with her brother gently blowing in her hair like a miniature wind machine. The mom gave me a long look and said, "Jesus, I swear to god that I feel like nominating you for sainthood..."
I smiled and shook my head. Told her to just PASS IT ON to another mother with a child with colic.
I told her that there truly is a special place in heaven for mothers of colicky babies. And that she was not only dealing with one but had a young son with autism too. SHE was the saint.
She stopped at the door. "It eventually gets better, doesn't it? Please say yes."
Yes, I told her. For some reason unknown to anyone, colic seems to clear up at about four months and then your child will turn into this incredibly bright and happy baby. Promise.
I ushered her out of my office and watched her walk down the hall, one hand holding the carrier, the other holding her son's hand.
I sighed, remembering. Remembering those days when I felt like I knew what Emily Dickinson was talking about when she wrote "this is the hour of lead." I felt like ALL of my hours were lead.
Trial by fire. That was what it was. And I think I would look good with a halo, I really do.
Anyone else know any tricks for soothing colic?