Thursday, 22 October 2015

Why there's no such thing as an easy baby, but there is such a thing as a bloody hard one



People told me that there was no such thing as an easy baby – they told me that all babies are difficult, and, having had two, I know this to be true. But this comment did not appease me when my firstborn cried for hours on end. I would express how hard he was and I would hear the same response: "well, babies are hard, love."

Other parents made light of it, as though I was a naive first mother. Of course I knew that most mothers had been in my shoes; the sleepless nights, the relentless feeding; the monotony; the not knowing whether they were getting enough food, the not knowing if something was wrong. But the crying; the endless crying? I wasn't so sure.

He was the only one in the hospital that you could hear down the corridor (even though I had my own room). "Bloody hell, he's got some lungs on him,' the midwives would say. I kept pressing the buzzer for help all night: "He just won't settle," I said, at my wits end. One midwife told me I would just have to stay up feeding him all night, another more sympathetic midwife propped me up with cushions because she realised I was going to fall off the bed with my baby in a heap of exhaustion.

We were lucky enough to have friends who delivered meals to us after I got out of hospital. Some timed it at the rare moments he napped peacefully, others as I was wrestling to feed him, and others left their meals outside the door with great understanding that perhaps I did not want to be seen after two hours of sleep. One friend delivered a meal on week two and asked how we were getting on. "He seems so restless," I expressed anxiously. My friend chuckled: "babies are restless." Despite all the kindness we had received with gifts and meals and blue balloons left on our doorstep, I just wanted someone to tell me that it would get easier, that it wouldn't always be like this, that it's bloody hard sometimes.

My husband went back to work and I felt quite isolated in the house, not knowing who to call for help. Who could I ring who wouldn't tell me that all babies were hard? My baby would cry for hours on end. I began to suspect the C word.

Colic.

That word that no one else understands unless you've had a baby with it.

"Isn't that just a made up diagnosis?" one friend asked, as her baby laid quietly on a baby mat for the whole hour she visited. The same friend who told me that her baby never cried.

No one believed me about the colic because he never seemed to time his crying fits when people came to visit. I thought that perhaps it was all in my head until my mum happened to see it one day. She thought I should call the doctor because she'd never heard a cry like it. "He's like this everyday. mum." I said.

I tried everything; the colief, the gripe water, the infacol, baby massage – all of which seemed to make him worse. I tried feeding him at different times, for longer, for shorter. My days were filled with trying to find ways to overcome it, to beat this thing that was killing me inside. How long would it go on for? Was my baby in pain? What was I doing wrong?

And then after four months the colic stopped. But he still cried. He woke up screaming every morning without fail until he was three and a half years old. He cried whenever the wind blew in his face or if a bus went past.

Other people seemed to stun him into silence, or at least distract him. Everyone interpreted this as a 'chilled' personality, as though two hours in Costa is a good enough assessment of temperament. I would express that he was far from chilled and I would get the response "well, he's chilled every time I see him." What, am I making it up? I felt like I was going mad.

Four years later I was expecting another baby and my whole being was filled with complete and utter dread. But when my second was born he just laid in my arms and stared at me. I figured it was just the birthing drugs that must have got into his system or something; of course babies aren't that placid, right? There's no such thing as an easy baby. The midwives nicknamed him 'happy' because at two days old he looked like he was smiling.

I got home and he slept quietly. He woke from his naps by cooing. I tentatively awaited the chaos that was about to explode. And it never really did. Sure, he didn't sleep very well, and I had difficulty with feeding him, but all that seemed a breeze compared to the first time around.

"Second-borns are always easier," people told me. "You're more laid back with your second," they'd say, but I was still listening with my first-time-mum ears – the ones that heard dismissal of mothers who found things harder than others. And sure, perhaps I am more laid back, but could that stop my baby from crying for hours on end? And if so, was I to blame the first time around? Do all babies and parents come from the same mould? Along with all those who find their second baby easier is an equal number who find them harder.

My second born is nearly a year old, and he is hard work. But the whole baby phase seemed to pass me by and I look back on it with fondness. And yes, part of this is because I knew I wouldn't be doing it again, but part of it was out of sheer relief that it wasn't like it was the first time around.

Why am I telling you this and why does it matter? Because I almost didn't have another baby at all for the reason that I thought all babies must be the same, or that I somehow inflicted the hard work upon myself the first time around by not being laid back enough. If I had had a baby like my second born first I would have been very smug, likely to come out with comments like "Isn't colic just a made up diagnosis?". And I meet mothers of 'easier babies' who do this; who speak of motherhood with ease and push the mothers who find it hard into a corner. If you've never experienced a baby with colic you have no idea how horrendous it is. If you've never had a sensitive baby who screams every time a bus goes past you have no idea how trying to calm him takes over your life.

And if your baby cries incessantly please know that it's not your fault. It won't always be this way. And should you choose to have another it may be easier, or it may be harder (unlikely), but it will be very different. No matter how many rules and routines you follow, no matter your own temperament, or your genetics, there is no given for what sort of little person you will be graced with. So let both the hard and the easy things humble you, not make you cold to those that struggle or bitter to those that seem not to. There may not be such a thing as an easy baby but there is such a thing as a bloody hard one. Hang in there, it will get easier.
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