I get defensive when it comes to my experience with my newborns.
My daughter Abigail had colic, and my son, Zachary, we called Abby-lite in the early days. He was as fussy as a baby can be without being colicky.
So I’ve done my time.
That doesn’t mean I have the market cornered on difficult babies. Heck, one woman I know of had to take shifts standing under the kitchen light with her colicky newborn, 24 hours a day. It could always be worse.
You can’t possibly know if you haven’t been there. You can’t know the feeling of helplessness, the feeling of unworthiness, the feeling of failure, the feeling of frustration, the feeling of isolation, the feeling that it will never end, and that there is nothing you can do to change it.
You can’t know the true meaning of the insufficient word ‘fussy‘ until you’ve been given a Fussy Baby to care for and love. You just can’t possibly know.
There are levels of everything; levels of colic, levels of fuss, levels of high need. Everything falls within a spectrum. But to have a baby who falls somewhere on this spectrum, who is truly colicky, fussy or high needs, is to know a reality unlike that of your friends with children who are what anyone else would usually consider ‘normal.’
I felt alienanted from my friends with newborns when I first had my daughter. They were wonderful and helpful and kind and understanding. They held my daughter and let me lean on their shoulders. They were incredibly supportive. But they didn’t know. They could sympathize but they couldn’t empathize. I didn’t wish it on them. But I wish one of them could know. Any of them.
Being around their happy babies made me feel even worse about my miserable one. Are they judging me? Do they pity me? Are they glad they’re not me?
I wouldn’t wish colic on my worst enemy. And I really hate my worst enemy.
A Fussy Baby isn’t a baby who fusses. All babies fuss. All babies have off times, off days, off hours. They can’t talk. They can barely cognate. Lots have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. But, Fussy Babies are a particular breed. They take much more effort to soothe and to handle. They are unhappy more often than not, even if they’re not constantly crying.
I get defensive about my experience because of how markedly different it was from the people I was surrounded by in those days. I wished, during every second of visits with friends and their babies, that my baby could be more like theirs.
Why can’t she just sit on my lap and look around?
Why can’t she be awake and happy?
Why does she hate life so much?!?
There is something life changing about parenting a high needs baby. It changes your tolerance. It changes your perspective. It effects how you respond to other parents and their own experience. It can’t not. I was definitely quicker to freak out when my second child was fussy, because I felt I had already paid my dues with my first.
I now go out of my way to reach out to people who are going through what I did, because I know how alone they can feel. I get that there is a difference between someone who says they understand, and someone who actually does.
To have a resource of people who understand is invaluable. I wish there was such a resourse for me during those days.
I am grateful to have a voice, and to have a perspective and a medium through which I am able to offer the ear, the shoulder, and the understanding that I so needed.
Leslie lives in Toronto with her husband, her 2 and a half year old daughter and 5 month old son. She is presently on maternity leave and enjoying the hectic and harried life with two young children.