Babies are quite amazing. Designed at optimum levels of cuteness (enough to eradicate all previous frustration from your mind despite living on minus-hours sleep; not so ridiculously adorable that you actually burst – even if it feels like you might sometimes). Yes, their number one survival mechanism (the first of the two “Big C’s”) is The Cuteness. It’s what makes all the hard work and stress manageable; it’s what fills the well when it’s run dry after several weeks of painful breastfeeding or a really crappy night’s sleep; it’s what makes you fall in love with them all over again, every two minutes; it’s what makes a grown-up behave like a total idiot just to get a sweet giggle from their little munchkin.
It’s what keeps babies alive (and their parents from going insane).
Their number two survival mechanism, the second “Big C”, isn’t quite as delightful. Actually it’s not delightful at all. Actually it’s like your ears being stabbed by knives. It’s The Cry.
Designed at a certain pitch and volume to ensure the baby’s carer takes immediate action on their needs, trust me, if you’ve never had to deal with a screaming baby, it works exceedingly well. We adults cannot tolerate the sound at all, once it starts, nothing else can be done until we’ve succeeded in stopping it. And thanks to The Cuteness, we will inevitably seek out the kindest possible way of doing so.
Here’s the one small flaw in the above plan: how you’re feeling can greatly affect how you respond to The Cry. If you’re in good form, well and rested, you will respond calmly and patiently for as long as it takes to get baby happy again. If, on the other hand, you’re limp with exhaustion or you’re ill with mastitis and a fever or you’re in the throes of crippling anxiety and little baby starts wailing, well then you may find yourself sobbing wildly to the point of hyperventilation.
Under any of those conditions, The Cry is pure torture. The sound, most especially for the parents, hits a nerve much the same way tooth-ache does. Several times recently, I’ve experienced it. Once I had to pull the car over after feeling like I was literally losing my mind to the sounds of Little Boo screaming in the back while we were stuck in traffic. Unable to do anything about his intense dislike of the car-seat, I was bawling and pummeling my eyes while repeating like a crazy-woman “please stop please stop please stop” until I was finally able to pull over, get Boo out of his seat, feed him and call my husband to calm me down and bring me back from the brink of madness. And I wasn’t even tired or unwell that time.
On another occasion I was quite unwell and exhausted, recovering from a nasty dose of mastitis. From 6.30 am until almost 9 am, I listened to Little Boo wailing pretty much continuously, when all I desperately wanted was to sleep. It got so stressful that, along with crying my eyes out and throwing in a few frustrated yelps (“GO TO SLEEP!!!!”) I even attempted to leave him in his bed crying. But of course I failed massively and after about four seconds grabbed him and cuddled him close, telling him through my tears and snot how incredibly sorry I was. Eventually, Boo conked out on my belly and we both finally got the sleep we so badly needed.
So yes, how you respond to The Cry does depend a lot on how you are, both physically and mentally, and it’s one of the toughest parts to being a parent. But how you respond to The Cuteness will pretty much always be the same, whether you’re in flying form or feeling utterly wretched; with a grin from ear to ear and a heart melting with love.
And even if just a moment before you were ripping clumps of hair off your head while your little one screamed the house down, one sweet innocent smile will have you falling in love with your little one all over again…