After my first daughter was born, I miraculously transformed into an extraordinarily confident and capable human. Although I knew enough not to mention it, I could feel my invisible SuperMom cape flapping behind me. I was so perfectly superhuman that I practiced purposeful imperfection in my parenting so my daughter would learn patience and tolerance.
You’re trying to decide whether to puke or smack me right now (or both). I know. But don’t bother. Two years into my superhero career, I had a second kid. With colic.
In a no less miraculous transformation, I became, overnight, extraordinarily insecure and inept. For many dark months, I stumbled through my ever-constricting world with a tiny possessed demon strapped to my chest. My cape left crumpled at the bottom of an ever-growing pile of dirty laundry.
And I was a second-time mom. I had read the mommy blogs and parenting books. I knew that colic was not my fault. But here’s the rub: It doesn’t matter what you know, intellectually, to be true. All the scholarly research in the world can’t make the crying stop and while your newborn is seething in torment, you are bound by a hundred thousand years of evolution to feel responsible for it.
Because colic is not crying. It’s not even a lot of crying. Colic is a choking horror that erupts from a newborn’s soul. It is anguish plumbed from the depths of our collective human misery. Colic is inconsolable. It does not stop with rocking, nursing, bottles, gripe water, pacifiers or Perry Cuomo.
Sound familiar? It’s 9pm. You’re in the foxhole (your bedroom) with pillows stuffed under the door hoping your older child doesn’t wake up. You have approximately two hours of watching the tiny person you love writhe in existential angst and your brain is so swollen with grief that it feels like your skull might split open. What now?
Try this: Try repeating Pema Chödrön’s quote: “Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.” You might need to personalize it to be heard above the clamor: Whatever is happening to me and my baby right now, is our path to enlightenment. Say it again. And again. It’s powerful. Here you are trudging through the muck with your newborn, and Chödrön is promising that you are not lost. You are not lacking. You are not broken. You are, in fact, exactly where you should be.
You are bearing witness to your child’s pain. You are assuring her that at her core, she is ok. More than ok. She is perfectly human and loved.
You are making space for your child, this child – whoever she needs to be right now. You are making space in yourself to accept that this little being might need you for survival, but she is who she is – and that is something separate from you.
You are creating boundaries for yourself and teaching your child that healthy boundaries are the key to emotional survival. Go ahead and stand in the shower while your partner takes a turn. Or strap that newborn into her bouncy chair and plop her outside the open bathroom door. Close your eyes and find a second of stillness under the water. Then bring that stillness to your child. It’s okay if she destroys it instantaneously. You gave her the gift.
In time (in my experience, weeks longer than promised), colic subsides. You continue on your journey with a child who can joyously grasp the glittery heights of happiness in addition to plumbing the depths of sorrow. And because life is life, you will both occasionally be rocked by pain and anguish. And at those moments you will be a superhero again. Not because you use your cape to fly away the danger, but because you can stand with your child through it.
Colic taught me that I can hold whatever grief my children have for as long as they have it. And they know that. In my experience, in times of sorrow, that’s what we’re all really asking of each other.