Still crying it out

September 20th, 2007

“Not knowing is most intimate”
– Zen koan

I’ve been writing more than reading lately, and I’ve just backtracked to a fascinating article in the Sept. 17 issue of The New Yorker. Fascinating because it is sublimely inconclusive and oh, so close to home. I wish I could link to it, but it’s not online: “Crybabies” by Jerome Groopman. “The conundrum of colic” is the subtitle. My life had that exact subtitle too, for a few months back in 1999. The colic, of course, is ancient history, but the subtitle still lingers, and fits every now and then as I enter some new, inscrutable chapter.

If you’re intrigued, you can read abstracts here and here and another mother’s perspective here.

I love to read Groopman for his open-eyed examination of how little is known by medical science. I love to read him because he is a doctor, and he knows what he doesn’t know. He also knows what the medical establishment doesn’t know, the kind of unknowing that few doctors – and patients – can honestly admit or accept.

Colic seems to be related to maternal temperament. Or not. It seems to be tied to immature digestive systems. Or not. It seems to improve with babywearing. Or not. It is sometimes associated with diet. Or not. It seems to be relieved by antacids, herbal tea, rocking, swaddling, cuddling, and motion. Or not. It seems neverending. But it’s not.

Colic arrives just as you begin to think you have a grasp, a handle, a way of living in the new world. It tears that grip away from you. It steals every ounce of optimism, every hopeful conclusion. It shreds every fix and remedy. It leaves you with nothing to try or trust. Nothing but time.

Colic is the last thing you expect to give birth to. No one wishes it on anyone. But in its own ravaging wake, it leaves a gift. That’s the gift of not knowing. Not knowing when or how or if. Of surrendering to futility. Of succumbing to the tears. Of accepting the certainty of nothing but another day, and a different ending.

Everyone always outgrows colic. But I’m not sure anyone ever outgrows colic. Least of all the parent.


  1. I’m bookmarking this post.

    Comment by kathryn — September 20, 2007 @ 5:25 am

  2. My babies didn’t have colic, but I”ve still found myself surrending to futility. Kind of peaceful.

    Comment by Shannon — September 20, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  3. Thanks for the link, Karen. You’re so right: we don’t outgrow it.

    Comment by Libby — September 20, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  4. Wow.
    This was amazing.

    Comment by bella — September 20, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  5. Kathryn my dear one whom I am doing my best not to bother in her first month: a bookmark will save the post but it won’t save you should the need arise . . . should the need arise call me and I’ll come in person to medicate you.

    Bella: written entirely with you in mind.

    Shannon: I hate you for that first part; love you for the last.

    Comment by Karen — September 20, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  6. Funny, I am also behind on my New Yorker reading and just got around to the same article. And you are so right, we parents never outgrow it!

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — September 21, 2007 @ 4:23 am

  7. I loved this posting. I’m not a parent but your words speak to anyone who’s dealing with something beyond the expected. Poetry.

    Comment by Moanna — September 21, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  8. I loved this! So true. I remember so clearly walking this little bundle of misery through the halls praying she would finally fall back to sleep. All the “trying hard” didn’t seem to work at all. Turns out it was my drinking milk that caused it! I didn’t even like milk! I thought it was what I was “supposed” to do! ha!

    Thank you for a lovely post. I’m so glad that I found your blog.

    Comment by Karen DeBolt — September 21, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  9. When one of my babies had colic; the other didn’t. Now, in sweet role reversal, the one who didn’t have colic is the emotional, tantrum-throwing princess and the other is (mostly) easy. So, I think I’ve been dealing with colic for about 20 months straight now.

    Great post, as always. I just love the way you view the world.

    Comment by Shawn — September 21, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  10. Now I’m back in my second month. Oy. I think your offer was made in jest? The past few days have been very hard, and I’ve desperately wanted it to be true.

    The dr. has diagnosed colic. (I read the article, by the way.) She said switching formula won’t hurt but probably won’t help either.

    I read what you emailed me about crying and am trying what you suggest.

    Comment by Kathryn — October 16, 2007 @ 12:24 am

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