I've been writing and rewriting this post in my head for nearly three months now. On too many nights to count, bleary-eyed and bouncing a baby on a yoga ball at 3 a.m., I'd compose an entry, word for word, only to pass out on the couch and wake up the next day with full-on amnesia.
It sounds really silly and obvious, but I have to say it anyway. Raising a baby is hard. And raising a baby with the dreaded c word is even harder.
Stella came into the world on a rainy Tuesday afternoon during an unseasonably warm week in March, screaming and purple and full of angry demands. Ok, maybe not the last part, but it seemed that way.
She was beautiful and alert, her big blue eyes gazing intently at anyone holding her. So alert, however, that it was a little scary. Homegirl looked at us like she knew some things and had seen some shit, if you know what I mean.
I had spent nine plus months reading every baby book imaginable - Ina Gaskin's Guides to Childbirth and Breastfeeding, Your Best Birth, The Happiest Baby on the Block, What to Expect When You're Expecting and all those sleep books that I now want to throw in a pile and burn up in a fiery blaze.
I was told we'd get a babymoon - a peaceful period sometimes lasting up to a week in which your baby just sleeps in her bassinet, as her parents gaze at her in awe for hours.
Don't get me wrong. We were in awe, but we had no time to stop and stare. There was no sleeping. There was no drowsy baby who would allow us to put her down in her bassinet, awake, like the books said. When she wasn't eating, she was screaming. And not that cute newborn whiny cry you're thinking of.
I'm talking horror movie-caliber shrieking - the kind of screaming that makes every person who comes to visit say something really obnoxious like, "Whoa, I can't believe that kind of noise can come out of a little baby," and use adjectives like "impressive" to describe the pitch.
When she was sleeping, we dared not stand over her bassinet in fear of waking her up. We tip-toed (fine - we actually still do this) around the apartment, taking great care not to step on one of the five million creaky floor boards.
I'm not going to lie. Part of the reason I didn't write about it was because I felt guilty about the fact that we referred to our new baby girl as "Angry Baby," constantly told all of our friends and family what a handful she was and repeatedly asked all of our parent friends if her behavior was normal.
Sleep deprived and hormonal and struggling with breastfeeding in the early weeks (that's a whole other post), I kind of wanted to punch most of my friends and family in the face. My family gave me a long list of foods I shouldn't be eating, berating me when they found out I ate something other than bread and grilled chicken. A friend of mine came over and instead of offering any advice, told me her baby never cried and then just looked at me and said, "G, I don't know how you deal with this." Really??
My nonna actually looked at me and said, "Maybe your [breast] milk no good."
My pediatrician seemed unconcerned, saying her weight gain was fine and she was probably "just colicky."
"Just colicky" makes us sound like we can't deal with a little bit of fuss from a poor tiny baby that is likely suffering from gas or overstimulation or an immature GI tract or whatever else falls under the colic umbrella these days.
But when you're dealing with it, you feel like you are on a battleground every night - a land mine hidden every few feet - with no one there to cover you. The screaming doesn't stop. Not after you feed her. Not after you change her diaper. And on a bad night, not even after she is swaddled and turned on her side, and bounced and rocked and shushed, with white noise blaring in the background. All those things certainly helped, though, and out of all the books I read, I'd have to say Dr. Karp knows what he's talking about.
So I gave up dairy and caffeine and pretty much anything spicy or tasty. It may have helped. It may not have. It's hard to tell. Things got gradually better after the first month. She stopped crying all day long and limited the fits of rage to a long witching hour in the afternoon/early evening.
Like clockwork, between 2:30 and 3, Angry Baby would take hold and not let go until around 7.
At 4 weeks, she smiled for real and we cried. We still tear up at least once a day, watching her giggle and coo and bat her eyelashes, because we remember when we feared she'd never stop looking so miserable.
Around 8 weeks, she started having some feeding issues and the doctors diagnosed her with reflux. She started taking meds and got better, but colic, that motherf-er, was still hanging around.
Everyone told me it would end at 3 months, so we enjoyed every minute with her in the morning and at night, cuddling and playing and going for long walks. In the afternoon, I soothed her as best I could.
But along came 11 weeks, and the screaming fits were still there. I started to get discouraged. Do I have the baby with the colic that lasts 6 months? Do not even joke with me because I will cut you.
I can deal with most of it. She's got a big personality. I did too, as my mom likes to tell me repeatedly. Sometimes, I fear the complaining and the jokey references to "Angry Baby" overshadow the fact that we still think she is the most amazing, magical creature to grace the earth and we can't believe she's ours. Lately, especially, with the smiles and the heartbreakingly sweet baby noises, and the way she grips my finger and looks up at me while she's eating and how deliriously happy she gets when her daddy walks in the door... all that makes up for the fussiness.
Today, she's 14 weeks. She's still fussy and overtired in the afternoons, but I think we've turned a corner. She fights naps (that's also another post), gets cranky and sometimes it escalates into screaming again. I'm scared to jinx myself, but suddenly, it seems like she spends 85 percent of her day smiling and happy.
Now if only I can get her to stop sleeping in that damn swing. Baby steps.