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What Colic Taught Me

A Mother Emerges

Sometimes a major challenge will bring two people together, so you might say this was a bonding experience, plain and simple. But it was more than that: The very toughness of the ordeal brought us both hope and taught us something encouraging about who we were as mother and son. Seeing that I would not give up (though I sometimes felt close) and that I could rise to the occasion built up my confidence. I believe it built up Ezra's, too. I truly feel he understood, in that dark, hidden, essential place where language isn't a prerequisite for comprehension, that no matter how bad he felt, we weren't really going to fall apart.

No, Ezra's colic did not break me; rather, it broke me in, opening the door to motherhood. Kaplan talks about the "personality reorganization" that a new mother must go through in the first few months if she is to be fully responsive to her baby's needs. She learns to adjust, to yield, to let go. Among the many things she lets go of are her assumptions about who she has been and her illusions about the kind of mother she will be. She gives herself over to the real act of mothering, which, I have to say, is both lovelier and more brutal. Some women welcome these renovations; others cling to the scaffolding of their former lives. I am that type of woman. I wanted to cook a three-course meal and get the cloth diapers washed. I wanted to fit into my size-four dress, get back to my seven-and-a-half-minute miles. Ezra's colic forced the issue; there was no way to pretend that it was business as usual, plus baby. The run had to wait. I was, first and foremost, a mother.

And I was doing an all-right job of it, down there in the trenches, though it looked very different from what I had envisioned. During the dreamy months of my pregnancy, I imagined myself rescuing my baby from whatever distress he experienced. I imagined that when he cried  -- in my mind, a kind of chirping, harmless song  -- I would hold him, rock him, nurse him, and he would stop. I alone would be the answer; my presence, my touch, would fix things. Hush little baby, mama's gonna...the mockingbird, the diamond ring, the looking glass, the billy goat: Whatever it took, I would find it. But this mama couldn't find it; instead, she had to just hold her baby and wait out the hardship along with him.

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