If I were to pick a movie soundtrack that would define my baby years, I think I’d pick the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack, with jazz standards and big band favorites performed by Harry Connick, Jr. Now I’m not saying that I was a particularly “hip” or sophisticated baby, but the mood of the music…the smooth sound of brushes on the drums, the sweet, sometimes understated melodies played on the piano, the occasional blaring of the horn section just to be sure you’re paying attention…that fits my personality as a baby. I was a calm observer of the world and a self-soother, with a furrow in my brow and my thumb in my mouth.
My husband’s baby soundtrack (according to him) would be “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”. He was an easy-going, playful, and happy-go-lucky baby and (given the frantic nature of this music) apparently had A LOT of energy.
That brings us to our boy. My husband and I had imagined that our baby would be a balanced mixture of both our personalities, and since we had been “easy babies” there was no need to worry that fate would deliver karmic payback for anything we had put our parents through. But here’s the thing – your baby may have half the chromosomes of mom and half the chromosomes of dad, but he is 100% his own temperament and personality.
We weren’t expecting that.
If I were to pick a soundtrack for our baby’s first few months of life, I would choose the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey”. You know the one – It begins with the trumpets quietly playing the first note, gradually building in volume through the next two notes, then the orchestra joining in with two more spine-chillingly loud notes, followed by the reverberating tones of the drums.
Baaaa….Baaaa…Baaaa…BA! BA! (Boom, boom, boom, boom)
Ah yes, that was our baby boy.
His doctors had a medical term for his behavior – “colic”, which I assumed meant “really cranky and irritable for reasons we can’t determine”. Colic is actually distress caused by gastrointestinal pain. My little guy very likely had some stomach issues that were causing him discomfort, and we were giving him medicine for acid reflux and gas. But the more I read about colic the more I felt like that wasn’t the whole picture of our baby. He often didn’t appear to be in pain, he just seemed…discontented.
Our boy required nearly constant attention. He needed to be held, but not just held – he needed to be walked and danced and bounced. Feedings were a nightmare, because every time you took the bottle from his mouth to burp him he screamed and screamed and refused to burp. And he rarely slept. The longest stretch we could get him to sleep in his bassinet was 3-4 hours at night. He did take naps during the day, but only if he was being held. If you tried to move him ever-so-gently into his bassinet, then carefully slide your hands out from under his sleeping body, and then…DAMN IT! His eyes would pop wide open, and that would be it.
So I held him. A lot. I carried him everywhere and became quite adept at doing things one-handed. My husband made mix CDs of songs that a baby might like, and my boy and I danced up and down the hallway for hours. As he slept in my arms on the couch, propped on a pillow, I napped as well. (Otherwise, I would never have slept.)
Time started to lose its meaning. One day seemed very much like the one before, and they all blurred together, with no breaks to signify when one day finished and a new day began. It felt like a long, endless, dark tunnel. No light at the end.
I tried to create those peaceful scenes of motherhood, even the “scapbooking on the porch” scene I mentioned in my last post. But those scenes were desperately out of reach when your baby was not content to sit quietly in a swing, when he cried and howled and demanded your full attention at all times.
Exhaustion set in, and with the exhaustion came disappointment, bitterness, even anger, that my motherhood experience was so unlike the image I had created in my mind, the image of motherly bliss that I knew my alter ego was enjoying.
So I went in search of answers. My search brought me once again to the “Parenting” section of Barnes and Noble, where I found, The Fussy Baby Book by Dr. William Sears, which helped me properly label my boy, not with “colic” but as a “high need baby”. It was comforting to read quotes from parents who had been in my position and had survived to tell the tale.
At the same time my husband found an amazing video by Dr. Harvey Karp called The Happiest Baby on the Block. Dr. Karp is the Obi One Kenobi of baby soothing. Seriously, he’s like a “baby whisperer”. His techniques (along with a swaddling blanket aptly named “The Miracle Blanket”) helped us tremendously in understanding and controlling our boy’s superhuman powers over sleep and temperament. It became clear to us that our boy simply did not experience the world the same way that we had as babies. We just had to make him feel safe and comfortable until he reached the point that he could start to soothe himself.
How did my husband and I survive those long, long months with our sanity still intact? Humor. It felt so good at the end of a rough day to look at each other, shake our heads and say, “Holy crap, this is one crazy-ass baby.” We shared rueful but heartfelt laughs about the absurdity of what our lives had become.
When I asked my husband to think back to those days and pick what he thought our baby’s soundtrack should be, with a little smile and with no hesitation he looked up the video on You Tube for, “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis. I laughed – clearly he had either mentally blocked out the experience of our son’s infancy, or he was not taking the question seriously. Of course his song choice doesn’t make any sense, but, then again, logic and reason had been pretty hard to come by all those sleepless months in this crazy alternate universe. Best to just acknowledge that fact and laugh.