This post is going to be about how I dealt with my super-fussy baby, who was a miserable wreck for the first four months of life.
He’s amazing now (see above for visual evidence).
He’s fat and funny. He laughs all the time. His favorite activities include flipping the pages of books, feeding himself Cheerios and going out just about anywhere — restaurants, friends’ houses, the grocery store.
Nevertheless, I did want to pay one last proverbial visit to our difficult first days together. I just want to let other parents of extreme babies know that they are not alone.
To recap, Max came shooting out of my womb and then proceeded to scream whenever he was awake for the next four months. He cried in the car seat, baby swing, stroller, and even in our arms. He wouldn’t take a pacifier. He refused to drink milk from a bottle (I was breastfeeding). The only way I could get him to nap was to do deep squats while lugging him around on our porch or somewhere else outdoors.
It was awful, and I felt like it would never end — probably because I had no way of knowing when it would.
Below are four things that helped me while I was in the thick of it, along with one thing that I wish I had done (but didn’t).
For parents of screaming babies, please don’t consider what I have to say to be advice: god knows you have enough of that. Everyone is different, so what worked for me might not work for you. Nevertheless, here we go:
Showering Twice a Day to Counteract Feeling/Being Gross
When Max was at his craziest, I showered twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, even if it meant putting the baby down for five minutes while he was crying.
After giving birth, my body was like a weird, alien creature. I bled “down there” for months, and it was smelly.
Sorry to get graphic; I couldn’t think of any other way to explain why it was so refreshing to keep myself clean.
I know that finding time to do anything can seem impossible when you’re utterly exhausted, but I really felt much better on the days when I squeezed in not one, but two, showers. It helped me feel refreshed, even more so than sleep.
Shutting Off the Endless Stream of Advice
When your baby screams all day, everyone has advice: Maybe he has gas. He obviously has a tummy ache. It sounds like he has asthma. Have you tried swaddling him? Have you tried the stroller?
YES. I did try all of that. And more.
When neighbors, friends and random people in the street made suggestions, my first instinct was to listen politely, and then to explain how no one really knows why certain babies cry so much. (That’s according to our doctor and the Mayo Clinic.)
Very quickly, however, I realized that I didn’t want to expend my energy talking about why babies cry — while listening to my baby actually cry.
I developed two tactics for ending such conversations as quickly as possible:
1. Just telling the truth and saying that I didn’t want to hear any more advice.
2. Nodding, smiling and replying, “That’s interesting. I’ll try it, thanks.”
I used the first strategy on friends who knew me well enough not to take offense, and the second on strangers. Success rate: roughly 100 percent.
I don’t mean to be ungrateful. I know people just wanted to help, but I was really tired and was basically a zombie, and had reached a point when more advice just wasn’t helpful.
Finding Someone to Commiserate With
At the worst times, the only person I really wanted to talk to was my sister-in-law, who had a screaming baby of her own.
I’ll be the first to say that there’s no such thing as an easy newborn. Raising a kid is hard.
But I sometimes found it difficult to relate to people whose babies were calmer. Like when one of my friends told me that his kid once fell asleep while playing on the floor, and that one of his most important piece of parenting advice was to have a diaper changing station on both floors of the house, for convenience.
Such conversations would leave me feeling bewildered.
Your kid falls asleep how??
The misery of being attached to a wailing, inconsolable baby 24 hours a day is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there before. It’s terrible, and depression can settle in so quickly when you have no peace (or sleep) in your life.
Talking to other parents who had super-fussers of their own kept me sane. Even reading emails helped. Hearing other parents’ stories even made me laugh, like when one mom told me that she thought that the only way she would be able to put her baby girl down would be to euthanize her.
Such dark humor might sound cruel to someone else, but as the mother of a similarly crazy newborn, I got it. It was all too familiar.
Getting a PAID Babysitter
When Max was really mini, we had many people offer help, and they were WONDERFUL. Friends brought us food. Relatives often stopped by to take the baby off our hands for a few hours.
But the reality was that we could have used an extra level of help that we never sought.
If I could do it all over again, one thing I would change would be to hire a paid babysitter once a week.
It’s expensive, but what is money for if not to save your sanity?
Friend and family babysitters are great. They’re willing not only to hold your baby, but also to talk you through your problems and complaining. And they’re free!
However, when you need a simple, hassle-free break, sometimes a paid caregiver is the way to go.
When you’re compensating someone to watch your kid, you don’t have to feel guilty about asking them to follow whatever weird instructions you have (cloth diapers! naps at 9, noon AND 3!). If you hire the right person, you can feel confident that they have been around many pissed-off babies, and that they won’t get stressed out if your little guy gets cranky. Also, paid babysitters generally aren’t looking for conversation: They don’t worry about you or ask you questions about your life. It’s the perfect formula for those days when you just want to hand someone the baby and retreat to your bedroom to catch a nap.