the fourth trimester.

the other morning i came across hilary brenhouse’s article on postpartum practices (or lack thereof) in america. i found it bang on, and it resonated on a deep level. my son is one month old, and it has been the most difficult, challenging month of my life. i was in no way prepared for caring for a baby with colic, but no one is. being alone in the house with a baby who cries most of the day is a kind of exhausting that you can’t compare to anything else. hours pass as you shift the baby from arm to arm, room to room, trying everything possible to stop the cries. add inconsolable crying to the usual shock of being a parent and the hormonal and physical turmoil of healing from giving birth and it’s a wonder that women get through it. it honestly does take a village, but within that village is a pretty isolated mother.

colic feels like a strange dance with your baby. you spend every moment anticipating the next episode. walking on eggshells, praying for sleep. as time passes you become more and more of a slave to it. i’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on products. swings, swaddles, homeopathic remedies, vibrating chairs, music boxes, books, chiropractors & doctors, and still my baby cries. i’ve nearly convinced myself that i am wholly inadequate as a mother not only when it comes to caring for my child, but physically as well. my son’s gas is so intense that it is painful to watch him clench up after each feeding. i have eliminated dairy, wheat and sugar from my diet. i have avoided spicy food. i have considered giving up on breastfeeding and giving him formula, against my better judgement. all of that crying sucks your confidence, your sense of self, your connection with your child, your partner and your body into it.

then there is the endless advice, much of it unsolicited. there are a hundred theories and as many solutions. there are marketing campaigns and products galore within the baby product industry. there are countless websites and blogs and reviews written by exhausted mothers wanting so much to believe that the swaddle sack that put her baby to sleep tonight has done the trick, flipped the switch and cured the mystery ailment that has plagued her. there is nothing so defeating as finding something to soothe your baby, only to find it has no (or the opposite) affect the next time. nothing, except for seeing your baby calm and cuddly in the arms of someone else. after hysterical calls to both of my parents, they both arrived to find my son sleepy and quiet and commented that he “seemed perfect” to them. i’ve seen my son calm as an angel in doctors offices and visitors arms, only to become hysterical again as soon as the door closes and he has been passed back to me. i begin to question if it’s really as bad as i think. maybe i am just being dramatic. maybe i am crazy. and then i spend another 4 hours trying to get him to stop screaming. 

dealing with all of this has made me feel like i am stranded on a tiny island with my son, hoping someone will find me and rescue me.  but the incredible thing is that he is so entirely lovely in those quiet moments that somehow you muster the strength to do it every day. seeing him wake up in the morning is amazing every single day. feeling him reaching for me in the night, moving his little body to be closer to me, falling asleep with his face on my breast like a tiny pillow after feeding, seeing him snuggled up to his dad, these moments are beyond great. 

i think the only piece of advice is to listen to your baby. it’s learning how to do that that is the difficult thing, because we get in our own way. a wise woman once said to me: “life is complex, not complicated.” babies have simple needs, but there’s no magic cure. it takes infinite patience, with your baby, your partner and yourself. most of all it takes faith. in nature. in your body and in your baby’s. despite his gas and fussiness, he eats, he poops, he gains weight and grows. all because i have given him life and my body feeds him. i can’t lose sight of this. i hope all mothers out there don’t lose sight of it either.

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