When I was heavily pregnant, I can distinctly remember doing a few things to prep my puppy to meet the new baby. I’m a self-confessed dog nut and Lily was my baby for a whole year before the little dude came along. She was and still is a gorgeous Cavalier King Charles, full of personality and energy. But kids frightened her and I was worried how she’d react to the baby and to his crying. She’s the sort of dog who barks at animals and kids on the TV, weird noises, or anytime she’s faced with danger.
So after asking my Vet for a few tips, she suggested that when the baby did arrive, that we give the dog one of his worn baby grows to sniff and play with, so that she’d be familiar with him when he came home from hospital. She also suggested I play some baby crying sounds on and off so that she got acclimatised to the noise.
The dutiful student, off I went and Googled baby crying notices later that day and pressed play.
Oh holy mother of Jesus.
The baby sounded as if it was possessed. Shrill, urgent, sustained and ear-piercing are just a few of the words I could use to describe it.
It was awful. It was the most stressful sound I’d ever heard. I immediately felt uneasy and worried.
Okay, I thought, that’s probably just a bad example, so off I went to Google more.
Same thing. It was as if the child was being murdered. It was like a bag of cats being skinned alive turned up to 11, with a flock of 100 frantic seagulls chiming in at the same time, while a banshee wailed in the background.
This cannot be right, I thought to myself. These poor babies must be feeling unwell, or have a medical condition, this cannot be what normal baby crying is like.
Naivety thy name was Niamh.
You see I’d never really spent any time with babies, other than having a quick hold of someone’s newborn while I faux gushed and then handed them back within a few seconds. And I’d certainly never heard any babies in the depths of what I now like to call the ‘death roar.’
Every example I played was the same. Horrible.
And I remember panicking. I looked at the dog, who seemed bemused by the whole thing, never batting an eyelid at the screams coming from my laptop. I on the other hand was having major palpitations. What had I let myself in for? How the hell was I going to get a baby to stop roaring like that? What if I couldn’t make him stop? What if I didn’t know what to do?
I was terrified at the prospect.
Sure, my baby won’t cry like that, I assured myself in order to put it out of my mind.
But guess what. He did and almost 18 months on, he still does.
I’m quite sure there are times that the neighbours think I am actually breaking his chubby fingers one at a time or scalding him with a hot poker, the caterwauling he does… which is why I call it 'the death roar.'
No it’s fine, I’m not killing him, I’m just trying to change his nappy.
No, he’s roaring like he’s on fire because I gave him the blue Sippy cup instead of the green one.
No, I’m not chopping him up into little pieces, I just tried to offer him some broccoli.
No, don’t worry I’m not running after him with an axe, I just told him he couldn’t climb up on the table.
Well you get the idea. And that’s just now that he is a toddler. When he was a babe in arms, there was sometimes no rhyme or reason for the bouts of screaming. He had silent reflux which was often the cause in the early days, but even after we got that under control with medication, he still had times when he unleashed the ‘death roar,’ for no obvious reason.
Today, it is still one of the most distressing sounds I’ve ever heard. Thankfully most of the time, it’s guff on his part, or tantrums, not because he is in pain. But nevertheless, a baby’s cries, or more specifically your baby’s cries are proven to switch on the primordial side of your brain. Yes there really is science behind the 'death roar.' You respond on instinct, on autopilot, it turns on your flight or fight reflex. It’s like a horrendously distressing alarm going off in your brain, making your entire body shiver and worry until you make it stop and when I can’t soothe him I feel like a complete failure.
And then, when you think you cannot take another second of it, and you’re out of ideas, all of a sudden it quietens. You go through all the possible reasons like a checklist in your head. Nappy, food, water, in pain, being sick, temperature. But in the end, it can be none of the above, instead it’s your voice or arms that tend to be ultimate fixer and you suddenly realise you might not be such a bad mum after all.