Guest post by Jamie Stevenson
I’m pretty sure my mom was the first one to say it out loud. “I mean, what could it be? Do you think it could be colic?” That feeling at the bottom on my gut started to bubble up, as it usually does when I’m annoyed by a question because I know something about a topic, but not enough to adequately describe it. (It’s an impatience thing – I’m working on it.)
I’d been researching all about this daunting term for many days at this point. My son was just a couple weeks old. From day 1, he had the ability to cut out our hearing with the intensity of his cries. He was “inconsolable,” which is as good a definition of colic as any one person has been able to provide. There was nothing that we could do to calm him. Bedtime was always the hardest. We did a LOT of bouncing. We are officially expert baby bouncers. And we took turns alternating between bouncing our screaming child and burying our heads in pillows.
Bringing it up in conversation made it real, and I knew I was going to have to deal with it. What I told my mom was that to my knowledge, “colic” doesn’t really mean anything. Not anything useful anyway. It’s a very generic term, allowing us to put a label on something that is undefined. The actual dictionary definition narrows it down to pain, specifically in the abdomen, but still not much help. What would that mean for my baby?
It must have been about our 4 week visit when our doctor used the word. We had been desperately trying to communicate our experience at home and describe the symptoms in a way that would trigger some kind of light bulb. “Yes, this sounds like it must be colic. This is very emotionally taxing situation for parents to go through. I hope you have a lot of support at home?” As thoughtful as these questions were, it was incredibly frustrating to again hear this generic term which in no way linked us to any viable solutions. And the kicker: most babies don’t get better for 3-6 months.
When you’re a new parent, you’re at the mercy of others in many respects to help guide you. You’re so incredibly exhausted that you don’t have the extra energy to logic things out as well as you might have otherwise. Three months seemed like an eternity. We had no idea how we would survive it. We pushed our doctor for more help and explanation. He decided that we should first try eliminating milk (lactose) from my diet. I had been breastfeeding, and he said this is always a good first step because many babies are allergic to lactose. If his symptoms got better after I eliminated it, then we could stay the course and slowly try to introduce lactose back into his diet after his digestive system matured. We were also sent home with a prescription for gas drops. As I understand it, this is another “go to” remedy. If he wasn’t digesting properly, then the gas could be causing the pain.
Neither of these actions produced any viable results. I can’t remember exactly when or at what week we decided to ditch the drops and make another appointment. My mother-in-law lives close by, and she offered to come with me. As we sat there, and I tried to answer all of the follow up questions that the doctor was throwing my way, Karen nailed it on the head. She used the word “distressed.” Yes, that’s it. My son is in distress – HELP!
This seemed to get the doctor’s attention. The other thing that got his attention was the fact that my son’s cry began with the flip of a light switch (as usual), and this was the first time that the doctor was able to see what we were seeing at home. “Is it always like this?” he asked. “And does he ever arch his back and pull up his feet at the same time?”
That was the lightbulb I wanted.
When we emphatically answered, yes, we had our diagnosis: silent reflux. There is a valve at the top of the esophagus that often doesn’t get fully developed in newborns. If it doesn’t open and close itself normally, then the acid is able to travel up and cause the reflux and heartburn. This causes a lot of pain, and the baby doesn’t know what to make of it. We weren’t alerted to this sooner because he hadn’t been spitting up that much. Silent reflux – it’s a thing. The doctor said he wanted to start us on a PPI (Protein Pump Inhibitor) right away, and the more aggressive kind, which is basically the equivalent of Prilosec. This medication should help with the pain.
IT DID. But, obtaining this medication was another endeavor entirely.
In a nutshell, these liquid compound drugs for infants are nearly impossible to get covered under insurance unless you’re willing to work for it. At least, this was my experience. I went through two different insurance groups because my company happened to be changing insurance during this mess, and it was the same story with both. Luckily, the second company had amazing customer service, and they were able to work it out. The medication is $65 at cost, and we were going through at least 1 bottle per month. Not a huge impact in the grand scheme, but for us and our tight budget – it stung. We were more than willing to buy it to help our baby get through the worst of his pain – make no mistake about that. However, I was determined to get some relief from our insurance.
The loophole was there, in the dosage of the powder/pill. If you can get a script for the powder in a low enough dosage, then you can get the pharmacy to do the compounding. Not every pharmacy will do this, so we had to be directed to the one in our town that would. Finally, a phone call had to be made from the insurance company to the pharmacy to instruct them how to bill it.
Today, we have a happy, healthy 7-month old boy who loves to laugh and get himself into trouble by climbing the couch or chasing the dog. He is full of life and energy. Most importantly, he is no longer “distressed.” He still has trouble falling asleep at night, but it’s not because he is in pain. He’s just a little stubborn. 😉 He’s a “normal” baby, and I am soaking up every ounce of it.
So, what was the final verdict? Did my son actually have “colic?” Coming back to Google’s definition: “Severe, often fluctuating pain in the abdomen caused by intestinal gas or obstruction in the intestines and suffered especially by babies.” Yes, I know he had pain. But honestly, I still do not feel 100% confident as to how or exactly why. Did the PPI work? Not 100% sure about that either. True, it did seem to relieve his symptoms, but he was also growing and getting older and adjusting to life on earth. There were a couple of occasions when we forgot to give him his medicine, and that was followed by a really rough night of crying. So we continued the meds. But, maybe he just had a rough night? It is SO incredibly difficult to understand the cries of an infant. We’re not mind readers.
The important thing here, is this… we did something. There was a while there where we felt incredibly helpless. As a new parent it was an awful guilt-ridden feeling. The day we decided this wasn’t some supreme mystery and that we could take action in spite of doubt… that was a game changer.
Parents out there, the best advice that I can possibly give you is this: Do not feel like you’re overreacting when you seek help for your child. You’re not. Speak up! Follow the course and make a plan. And secondly, don’t feel guilty when you can’t fix it or when it just isn’t working. During this process over and over I would hear “do what works for your baby.” This is great advice! It’s intended to mean, “hey, what works for my baby may not be what works for yours.” That’s true and important to keep in mind. But, sometimes when I would hear this I would get discouraged and think – and what about when nothing works? Am I a bad mom? NO. You just keep moving forward. You put one foot in front of the other and eventually, you will see it through. And THAT is what makes you an amazing mom — or parent (I can’t stress this enough – my husband has been through every step of this, and we have been anchors for each other along the way).
Colic is a very scary word. You might find that people clam up when they hear it or try to change the subject. This might be because they had a similar experience and don’t want to be reminded about it. Others might confide in you about what happened to them, but will only do it privately. Don’t let this “taboo-ness” discourage you. I’m telling my story, because more than anything I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did in the beginning. Having a colicky baby doesn’t make you a bad parent. It’s not a bad mark or pox upon you and your little one. More than likely, in the end it will make you stronger and a better parent. It causes you to pour out your heart right there in the beginning – no holding back. It’s an ungodly demanding task, and it’s absolutely worth it.