"Could he have colic?" I asked my infant son's pediatrician on a well-baby visit. My son Max cried often, slept little and nursed constantly. I hadn't expected new parenthood to be easy, but I hadn't expected it to be so hard, either.
"Well, the rule with colic is generally at least three hours of crying a day, for at least three days a week without being soothed," his pediatrician answered.
Max didn't fit those rules. He could be soothed but by breastfeeding every 20 minutes. And three hours of crying a day? I hadn't bothered to tally up the hours. But I wanted it to be colic—because as nightmarish as it is to have a colicky baby, at least colic has an endpoint, usually disappearing when the baby is 3 to 4 months old.
In those early, miserable months, I scoured the Internet and crowdsourced mom groups for answers.
When someone recommended seeing an osteopath after hearing about Max's difficult birth, we tried that.
"I can feel the will coming off of him," the osteopath pronounced after examining Max. The night after his first osteopath visit, our son miraculously slept for five consecutive hours. We didn't know how the doctor's light touch could make our son sleep, but we were believers.
After that first visit, though, the treatments didn't seem to do anything. That sweet stretch of sleep had apparently been a fluke.
We tried gripe water and ordered an expensive infant hammock bed. We visited a homeopath and tried reflux meds.
But nothing seemed to calm his fussiness, his constant desire to nurse or his inability to string together more than a few hours of sleep. I was exhausted and frantic.
Next, I became convinced that my son was reacting to my breast milk. I eliminated dairy, and then soy as well, but Max kept screeching.
As I got crazier from sleep deprivation and frustration, so did my attempts to fix my son. We visited an applied kinesiologist that another mom swore by. By using muscle testing, the kinesiologist had helped identify her son's food sensitivities—and after eliminating those foods from her diet, her son became a much happier baby. We loaded up our car with the foods and spices I most often ate, and hauled them to a nearby town where the kinesiologist lived. In her home office, as I held a squirming Max, the kinesiologist held each food up to him, then wiggled her fingers as my husband and I looked on with wide eyes.
Many moms had stories like mine and Max's.
One by one, the kinesiologist told me which foods most bothered Max.
It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen, but I felt strangely hopeful that this would be the bizarre solution to our son's fussiness. As I converted my diet to one mostly consisting of wild rice, sweet potatoes and eggs, Max did seem slightly less fussy. But the biggest thing that changed was my weight, as it plummeted to a number I hadn't seen since my junior year of high school.
Over time, I began incorporating more foods into my diet. Max grew older and began eating solid food. His crying decreased as he became mobile and more able to communicate with us.
As it turned out, the osteopath's diagnosis was closest to what we'd slowly realize was the truth—we'd been blessed with a strong-willed child. Max was what Dr. Sears refers to as a "high needs baby." He's a highly sensitive child who found the world outside my uterus to be perplexing, overwhelming and often unsatisfactory. With time, he slowly adjusted to life outside the womb, a life where he might be cold or hungry or unheld.
I recently asked several of my mom friends if any of them had babies who were extremely unhappy but didn't have colic. A surprising number of them identified. A few said their baby had either reflux or food allergies that were the culprits of their distress. But many of the moms had stories like mine and Max's; they'd had unhappy babies who slowly morphed into sensitive, particular and determined children.
I see now that my son didn't need to be fixed. He just needed our patience.