You are here

What Colic Taught Me

Push And Pull

Babies come equipped with certain attachment-promoting behaviors, so called because parents can't help but respond positively to them. These behaviors are, as BabyTalk contributing editor William Sears, M.D., writes in The Baby Book, "so irresistible they draw the parent to the baby, in language so penetrating it must be heard." A baby coos or whimpers, and his parents run to him. He curls his fist around Mom's index finger, and she falls in love. Dad wants to cuddle and protect; he and the baby grow more attached.

A baby's cry is the most powerful of these behaviors. "It is the most effective mode for attracting a caregiver," writes baby guru T. Berry Brazelton in The Earliest Relationship. "A crying baby sets off an automatic response of concern, responsibility, and guilt in parents." But, as Dr. Sears notes, the colic cries are a very different beast: They "sometimes invoke anger rather than sympathy." These cries fall into the category of detachment-promoting behaviors: They engender bad feelings toward the creature we are supposed to be nurturing, and they shut down our caretaking impulses.

Ezra's colic did make me angry. It made me furious, in fact; it made me want to flee. I was helpless, incredibly frustrated. I was at my wit's end. Of course I loved him, but when he cried like that, he became so heavy in my arms, an impossible weight, a burden, something I didn't want to hang onto.

Indeed, he himself seemed to be pushing me away. He cried harder, sometimes, when I tried to comfort him. He looked at me with such rage in his eyes. He lifted his head from my shoulder, rejecting the warmth of my skin. He arched his back, his body forming a close parenthesis, cutting me off from his secrets, keeping me at bay.

But in retrospect, I don't think Ezra was shutting me out; on the contrary, I think he was letting me in, allowing me to experience what he was going through, enabling us to get attached in a deep and potent, if not always visible, way. As trying as it was, I believe his colic  -- beneath the surface of exhaustion and frustration and helplessness  -- was an attachment-promoting behavior in disguise. I believe it helped us grow closer.