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What Colic Taught Me

It was probably earlier than week four that our baby developed colic, but it was at that point that my husband, Alex, and I finally decided to admit it. Ezra had begun to wail for hours at a time. His cries were dreadful, lurching here and there, climbing higher and higher, as if scaling a dark and craggy cliff, bats circling, yellow moon: a horror story. Our evenings  -- and sometimes our days  -- were consumed with the task of trying to calm him. We bounced him, rocked him, wore him. We lay him across our stomachs, our forearms, our knees; we patted him on the back until our hands began to ache. We bathed him, we gave him massages with lavender oil, we fed him drops of chamomile tea. We turned down the lights, we turned on the vacuum cleaner, we held him in his car seat on top of the clothes dryer in the basement of our apartment building and fed it quarters  -- a slot machine, a gamble.

Really, the odds were against us; so little of what we did had any effect. Sometimes, Ezra fell asleep for a short while. He breathed in gentle, rhythmic sighs. His fingers uncurled, his limbs softened, yielding to our bodies, to our conception of how babies should be. But he woke up crying before long. And what had soothed him earlier might now make him wail even harder. There was no system we could divine, no pattern on which we could rely. We were not building, through trial and error, a foundation of knowledge about our child's preferences. We were not learning anything at all. Ezra, our son: still a stranger, impenetrable. His cries were so large and loud that they seemed to envelop him; they were so resistant to our efforts that they scared us. It was exhausting.

Often when Ezra was having a colicky bout, I put him into the frontpack, zipped him inside my jacket, and walked him. We went for miles through quiet, stately neighborhoods. Ezra cried out into the night. He held his fists tightly against my chest. The bones of my feet ached. I loved him and I hated him. We were a hot spot, an ember of touch and terror traveling these cold, broad streets. I peeked into the windows of the grand houses we passed, Victorians with fairy-tale details. Inside seemed like a fairy tale too: books lined up neatly on cherry-wood shelves, heads bent over the evening paper, silence.

For three months, meals went half-cooked; newspaper articles went half-read. The phone rang and rang. We did not answer. We did not do much of anything. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes Alex yelled. Sometimes we were rendered numb by stress and fatigue, by the need to get through the next hour, and our mouths hardly moved when we spoke. At night, before we passed out in the rumpled mess of our bed, we wondered whether we had made a huge mistake. "I mean, what was really so wrong with our lives before that we had to go and change everything?" my husband said. It was just us against Ezra, the interloper.