Sunday, March 16, 2014

Colic is an invitation

I have been thinking about colic a lot lately and what it means for a family to experience it. What does it do to us to hold our own crying baby and not be able to fix the problem? Is there anything in the world that makes someone feel more powerless than this? Becoming a parent is a surrender in many ways. We have so little say over who this little person becomes - both of my children have exhibited such strong and distinct personalities from such an early age. It is humbling, and puts me in my place as their guide, grateful that I have been entrusted with these spirits.

I was encouraged by my doctor to wean August at six months because he was struggling so much with tummy pain and sleep disturbances, seemingly because he was not tolerating my milk (or, more specifically, the foods I was eating, and how they were translated in my milk). This recommendation did not feel right. But instead of outrightly rejecting it, I worried over it, seriously considered it, researched homemade formula, tried homemade formula, etc. etc. I exerted a tremendous amount of effort toward something just because my doctor said it was important, not because it felt right to me.

Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to wean August just because returning to a very restrictive diet felt impossible to me. It didn't feel right to take nursing away from him just because it was hard for me. (And, honestly, from a practical viewpoint, I looked at making homemade baby formula and it looked like a tremendous amount of work and not something I was willing to take on.)

So I circle back to the spiritual work that must happen when I decide to do something difficult. I remember reading "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron when Ellie was little and not doing well. In it, Chodron talks about when life is difficult people tend to run away from whatever is challenging them. But the thing we really should do is run right toward the challenge, she says. Immerse ourselves in it. Let it break us and let it built us back again, into a new form. I wrote a bit about the beautiful things that can happen when we open ourselves up to that kind of transformation here:

And let me be honest, when I decided to have another baby I was really not interested in taking on another difficult situation, no matter how transformative. But love can get us through some pretty tough spots.

I am reading a book right now called Lifeways: Working with family questions and it has a wonderful passage about colic and the transformative effects it can have on a parent:
"But infancy is not only peace and joy. Babies get things like colic, and their distress turns the whole house upside down. When we first meet such situations, we seem to have no ground under our feet. I had a baby whose digestive system was thrown into acute disorder by some wonder drugs given for an infection (which may nevertheless have saved his life). During his first weeks he would often cry for six hours at a stretch and those cries were ones of real distress. My husband would hear them still ringing in his ears while riding in the underground train to work. At the time, I was so distraught and involved in the child's misery that I believed I would never smile again.
"In such experiences, there is a schooling too. A baby in turmoil has such power that it can rob us of sleep and drive distraught mothers into post-natal depressions, breakdowns and even baby-battering. Yet, if we take the challenge seriously, as an opportunity to learn how to take the helm of our small boat, and to practise the art of keeping our balance and hanging onto our identity, then a new courage for the voyage may be found. Each mother's voyage is unique. But to understand its challenges is the first step in meeting them. And perhaps all will meet in one way or another these questions I have tried to describe - the need to re-form our identities, and to find a centre of balance and peace."

Our culture right now seems so focused on the quick fix. It seems there is always a way to dull the pain or lessen the discomfort. To take a shortcut. But is the easier way the right way? I've found that the answer is often no. And this is never more true than when it involves questions around my small children's well being.

Would it be easier for me have weaned my babies and not nursed them through difficult digestive troubles? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Would it have been easier for me to say "I can't do this. I shouldn't have to do this."? Yes that sounds quiet appealing today, actually. But this is what it is to be a parent. We choose to carry our children through good times and bad. We don't get to walk away when it gets "too hard."

And the beautiful thing about going to that dark place and really feeling scared and thinking "maybe I really can't do this" is that we discover that we are capable of so much more than we think. We can move mountains when we are motivated by love for our children. 

I have started thinking of colic as an invitation to go deeper. An invitation to ask myself what's most essential in this brief season of my life. An invitation to live with imperfection. There are all of the practical elements of course to nursing a baby who is reacting to foods like food journaling, religious adherence to your dietary restrictions and self-care, but there is also space in this experience for real, mystical transformation. I would never trade this experience because in so many ways it has made me who I am. I have truly found a new center and a sense of peace that can only come when I act in harmony with my conscience.

I am immensely happy with my little boat these days. It carries two beautiful children and a wonderful husband. Even though our journey started out on rough seas, I know it's going to be a fantastic voyage.

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