The Power of Knowledge

29Jul07

I’ve started calling Evan by a new nickname. Fussbucket. I tried out Fussalump, in honor of A.A. Milne, and Kid Fuss, an homage to rock. Crybaby was appropriate but too literal. But Fussbucket is the one that stuck. It’s sort of poetic, I think.

Which is good because Evan’s actual fussing is more cacophonous than mellifluous, more panic than poetry. Poor kid.

For a week now, Evan’s been getting increasingly fussy. Last weekend we thought it was just that he was thrown off by having Brian’s parents here. You know how we all get a little out of whack when company is in town. Imagine all that out-of-whack attacking a little tiny body like his! And yet it didn’t go away. By Monday, Evan was in full evening fuss mode. From about 6 to about 11 at night, he cried more than he was quiet, and even the quiet was the kind of quiet that balances on a highwire — the smallest wrong move and it would tumble into loud cries.

We moved quickly through our repertoire of soothing techniques: rocking, walking, wearing (i.e. putting Evan in the Baby Bjorn), singing, talking (i.e. narrating every little move, asking incessant questions, detailing the plots of films and television shows), sucking (on a pacifier or our fingers), bouncing, white noise. We were often able to calm Evan for a little while at a time, but never long enough to get him to fall asleep. We’d all been accustomed to Evan sleeping about 16 hours a day and here he was cutting out at least three or four hours he was usually sleeping.

After a few nights, we turned to our books: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, What to Expect the First Year, Your Fussy Baby, the American Association of Pediatrics book about the first year, The Happiest Baby on the Block. All of these told us roughly the same thing: babies fuss. Some babies fuss a lot. Often fussiness ramps up around three weeks of age and peaks at six, but may continue until three or four months. No one knows for sure what causes the fussiness and all we can do is just try our best to soothe Evan and help make it possible for him to sleep.

Knowing that Evan’s fussiness — his whimpering, crying, and full-on wailing — is normal is extremely reassuring. We’d probably be much more worried, frustrated, and stressed out by Evan’s crying if we thought there was something wrong with Evan or that we weren’t doing something we were supposed to be doing. The hours of walking the floor with an intermittently crying Evan would take a much larger toll on us if we thought that it was bad for Evan or that it was a sign that there was something wrong with him. So knowing has really helped us keep our calm and find resources for coping with the crying. It has also encouraged us to just stay calm and try technique after technique to soothe our little boy.

And, reading about other fussy babies has also helped us keep some perspective: we’re lucky that Evan does sleep at night with little fuss (so far), we’re tired but not stupid-tired. Some babies fuss a lot more then Evan and require literally nonstop soothing.

But there’s a flipside to the knowing, too.

Sometime in high school, maybe in health class or something, I really can’t remember, I learned about self-fulfilling prophecies. We’ve all heard of this, probably. It’s the phenomenon by which if you tell someone she is stupid, she will believe that she is stupid and therefore will not perform as well on a test, say. It’s often spoken of alongside standardized testing and race/class/gender.

So I can’t help but wonder: does us “knowing” that our kid is a fussy baby, “knowing” that he will fuss throughout the late afternoon and evening, “knowing” that he won’t sleep during those times make us treat him differently? Are we unwittingly encouraging Evan’s fussy behavior? Are we not putting him down for an evening nap because we don’t think he’ll go down even thought he might?

Some nights we do try the evening nap and sometimes he’ll sleep for 45 minutes or so. So I wouldn’t say we’re too strongly affected by the self-fulfilling prophecy. But what about the more minor effects? Are we affecting Evan’s fussiness in small ways? Not causing it, of course, but enabling it?

If we are it’s subconscious. If we are there’s nothing we can do about it but maybe try to tell ourselves that Evan’s not all that fussy and that he’s already passed through the fussy stage. So maybe it’s a very good thing that all the books tell us his fussiness will peak at six weeks. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy I can live with reinforcing.

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One Response to “The Power of Knowledge”

  1. 1 Christina

    I hoped Mira wouldn’t be a colicky, fussy baby like her older sister, but she was. Thankfully, she’s 9 weeks old now and starting to outgrow it. The crying periods aren’t as long or intense now.

    Baby slings work great for us, along with swaddling and the occasional use of gripe water.


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