I’ve been freelancing since July, but I haven’t touched this blog since June. Well, here I am again, a freelance mom.
I write, I write, I write. After that, I go to my job as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I write during my lunch breaks, and I send pitches when I don’t have writing projects to do. I update syllabi after that. When I get home, I snuggle my kid, give him a bath, feed him some food, and I sit down on the couch to watch a bit of TV before I go to bed. While I’m watching TV, I write again. When I get in bed, I read for my classes. I highlight and make notes. On Fridays, I stay home with the boy and try to get him to pee on the potty. Sometimes we watch movies, and sometimes we go to the nature center and look at turtles.
I took a 40% pay cut to go part time. I have one steady freelancing client, with bigger clients in between. I remind myself that I am at the bottom of a very tall mountain, and that being a writer takes time. I am happy, though, and for the first time in my adult working life, I feel like I am headed in a direction that is exactly where I want to go. I work more, and I work harder than I ever have in my life. I am satisfied, and I know I have found work that will sustain my soul and push me to be a better person.
I decided to change my career because I had reached stagnancy at my former job. When I woke up, I waded into murk, and at the end of the day, I waded back home, with bits still stuck to me. I was weighed down, hurt, and tired because of the emotional output that my job demanded of me. I also felt like I had no room to move or grow. I can write about that more sometime, but I’m not able to just yet.
I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, and sometimes that stresses me out, but I’ve pointed myself in the right direction. I know that this is probably one of the most important decisions I have made because I made it with my son in mind. There were a lot of conversations, and there may have been a bit of crying, and there was some downloading of finance apps to see if we could actually pull this change off. My husband supported me, even though he was nervous, and the people I love have all cheered me on.
Sam doesn’t know much difference at this point. Maybe he knows that he’s home with me a little bit more — that change is probably mostly just for me right now, but it could affect him; it’s not apparent. However, I know that the change in me is the important thing, and it will continue to be important as my son grows up. I think there are some people who have assumed I switched to a part time teaching job just so I could stay home more with my child. This is not the case. It is certainly a bonus, and it has made my transition that much sweeter. The true crux of the issue is what I want to teach my son. When I started thinking about leaving my cozy job with its very nice salary and stellar benefits package, I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Did I want my kid to have a mom who trudged to work? No. Did I want my son to see a mother smiling and happy at her job? Certainly, yes. Did I want to set an example of someone who is proactive, adventurous, and positive? Yes, because those are the things I want him to be. Did I want him to see his dreams as something he could definitely accomplish? Why, yes. So, after many job applications, a lot of horrible SEO writing, and some blind pitches to companies and colleges, I made a change. It fell into place, and now it is what I do. I’m still at the bottom of that mountain, but it’s not unscalable. After my leap, it seems that nothing is impossible.
When Sam grows up, I don’t want him to shut his dreams down because they aren’t immediately tangible. I don’t want him to look at his desires and only see impossibility. I want him to see opportunities everywhere he looks, and I want him to see adventure in the choices he makes. Above all, I want him to continue to value fun and pleasure in the passions he has developed. In being a teacher and in being a writer — the two things that I love and am good at — I am setting an example for him that will last for the rest of his life.
In a book I was reading about self-esteem, the first few chapters focus keenly on the way you, the reader, were parented. If your parents were consistent, loving, and positive, then you’re likely to be a stable, self-assured person. I also heard that what you tell your kids when they’re young becomes their inner monologue. It follows that the examples you set about your chosen work will influence how your child thinks about his. When Sam’s inner monologue starts rambling about his major in college, or his decision to go to Barcelona and take photographs for a year, or his yen to travel the world and read stories to children, or his desire to paint, or make music, or do math problems like his dad — I want it to say,”Yes.” That one simple word will make all of the difference in the way he chooses to live his life, and I want it to reverberate through his brain, and his soul, and his body, and his actions. As he grows, I want to see him glow with positivity at the thought of trying something challenging, I want him to reach heights that I cannot, and I want him to be content with whomever he becomes.
I owe a lot to my own parents. They said to me over and over that I could do or be anything I wanted, and overall, they were happy with what they did for a living. This has made it possible for me to make the next leap forward in my own life. This is not a part-time job that I am taking so that I can spend an extra day or two a week with my kid. That’s just the bonus, as I said. This is the tender little beginning to the rest of my life. It is raw and new, and I don’t know what I am doing. I run to work with a smile, though, and I sit and write with satisfaction. I can only hope that Sam will someday know that every bit of my weird little career is completely for him. May you always be happy, my boy.
So I scrapped the first draft of my birth story, but I guess I’ll tell you how I started out. I was going to tell you about the process of my labor — when contractions got intense, how far apart they were, and how I figured out how to cope with the pain. When I started writing it that way, it became pretty clinical and dry, which doesn’t accurately portray the experience that Eric or I had. I also had an eloquently written disclaimer about natural birth — how it is right for some people and might not be right for others. But that seems pretty distant from my emotional experience as well.
What I can tell you for real is that I am a whole new person. Birth is a bridge you cross, and the whole of it collapses behind you once you step foot on the other side. I know now that I will never be the young girl that I was at twenty-two, carrying on about frivolous things, and I won’t be just a wife to my husband anymore. Sam will always be in the mix. He peppers the thoughts of my future with birthday parties, long nights dealing with fevers and coughs, after-school activities, growing out of clothes and shoes too fast, getting dressed for prom, and graduation, prepping for college in the month of his birth, and finally, leaving us behind to become his own person. It molds my future with possibilities that are not my own, tears and laughter that belong to someone else, and hopes and dreams that I will do anything to defend.
But it’s the bridge that I’m talking about here, the one that led me to this place.
There’s nothing that you can do that will completely prepare you for labor. I tried my damnedest to learn every possible aspect of what would transpire within my body to deliver my little boy. I read for hours, took my twelve week class, had marathon conversations with my doula, and figured out the process that I thought we would follow. I made a birth mix on my iPod (didn’t use that at all), practiced my cat-cow stretches (unbearably painful during labor for me), and packed my bags weeks beforehand (the only useful items for labor were cold, cold water and chapstick). I am a planner — and I tried to plan everything. It doesn’t happen like that, but I’m truly glad I did all of the work and preparation, so that I could be as ready as possible.
I went into labor at 39 weeks and 2 days, on Sunday afternoon, September 12th. Contractions actually started the night before but didn’t get regular until about 3PM that day. First they felt like strong cramps, which didn’t really bother me. In fact, it made me feel that I could cope the whole way through.
We called our doula to come around 8PM that night, after I had started my labor song, which would continue for the next fourteen hours. A friend of mine (who delivered the week before) had suggested that I hum to match the pain, which is probably the best advice that I got or could give. I vocalized with big “Ohhh” sounds in time with each contraction. This is what got me through much of my labor. I also used my doula’s Tens Machine, which helped for a long while during early labor. The other gigantic help was that my doula came to labor with us at our house for three hours, and chatted with us and petted our dog while I paced and moaned. The feeling in me at that time was nervous and anticipatory, and the pain was low, strong, and pressing. I happily talked away during each pause between the pains, not yet withdrawing into what my doula terms “labor land.”
At 11PM, we decided to go to the hospital. By this time the contractions had become more intense, and I had three in the car. This had me clawing at the seat and arching my back in the air — all I wanted to do was walk off the pain. Be mobile, pace, moan.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was placed in triage for two hours, viewed by residents and medical students, and strapped to the bed with monitors on my swollen belly, all trying to get a “good read” on Sam’s heart rate.
Want to torture a naturally laboring woman? Strap her to a bed and tell her to be still while a 24 year-old med student asks her if she has AIDS or Hepatitis B.
At the end of this marathon triage, I was told I was only dilated three centimeters, which meant I was still in latent labor, and not in active labor. Apparently you enter active labor at four centimeters, and all of the work before that is … what? Not active? At that point, I was pretty disheartened. With the pain the way it was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all through the night, and it would likely be all of Monday and into early Tuesday morning before I would deliver Sam. Up until that point, I had been excited. Hearing that my labor might take another whole day took some of the wind out of my sails — especially since I was hearing this around midnight. They told me I had the option of going home and coming back, but that seemed like such a step backwards in time. I told the resident I’d rather not go home, since my parents were on their way, and everything was in order for me to be in the hospital.
After that, I walked. I walked through the hospital while my parents talked to my husband. I walked off the anxiety and tiredness while they readied my room. I walked through the labor and delivery room to which I was assigned, and I only barely tolerated the fetal monitors that strapped me to the bed, like clockwork, every forty minutes. I moaned and breathed deeply, sighed and paced. I rocked in the shower and swayed and sang out my labor song. Sometime around two or three in the morning, the room was darkened, I was in the hot hot shower for a brief respite between monitoring, and I began to dream as Sam moved lower in my body, and I opened more and more. Scattered images crossed through my mind, words and phrases came and went, nothing making sense, and I closed my eyes as I lay against the cool metal guard rail, the hot water running over the pulsing muscles in my back.
I wailed to be checked when my nurse came into the room around 4AM. I told Eric that I didn’t know if I could keep going if I hadn’t progressed — and I just knew that I had. The pain had seemed to intensify with each contraction, and I felt my body doing rapid, solid work.
When my nurse checked me, she smiled and said that all that walking had paid off. She told me I had dilated to six centimeters … I felt so proud of my body for accomplishing that much so quickly.
I said, “So it’s going to be today?”
She replied, “Yes. September 13th is going to be a cake and ice cream day in your home for many years to come.” Did I mention my nurse was amazing? She was the most positive and upbeat influence — and she was very relaxed when it came to how long I stayed on that awful monitor that tied me to a three foot area next to the bed.
After that, my sense of time began to blur. I remember the pain increasing, I remember seeking out the shower again, I remember vocalizing over and over.
It seemed that suddenly there were multiple people in the labor and delivery room — I’m not sure how much time had passed, but all of them insisted I stay hooked up to the monitor so that they could get a solid read on the baby’s heartbeat. They said it was too slow, but I could easily tell (even while in the depth of labor) that the monitor was reading my heartbeat and not Sam’s. When the monitor caught his heartbeat, it was strong and solid, so it baffled me as to why everyone was acting like something was wrong. When I saw my OB enter the room, I knew that something was happening.
My nurse was gone at this point, and a temporary nurse had replaced her. She told me that my doctor would have to break my water in order to insert an internal fetal monitor. I started to cry because I knew the contractions would hurt a lot more without my bag of waters as a cushion, and I knew that they would have to stick the monitor into my baby’s head. I had so not wanted any intervention, and it hurt me to know that I had to have it because the hospital equipment couldn’t see the strong heartbeat that was so clear to me. Eric and my doula assured me that it was best to listen to the staff — after all, now I would be able to walk around in my three foot space and not have to lie on the bed while being monitored. And I would avoid a c-section if they had a solid read on Sam’s heart rate.
“I can’t do this,” I said. I was in agony and knew I couldn’t take anymore.
“You can,” said the nurse whose name I don’t remember. “I did it twice, so you can do it.”
“You had two natural labors?” I asked her. “And you did it?”
“Yes, so you can do this.”
“I won’t want another baby,” I said. “I can’t do this again.”
“You will,” she said. “Don’t say that. You will.”
So I laid back and let my water be broken, felt it flow from me onto the plastic sheets on the bed, and watched as the strong heartbeat I knew was there register on the monitor as they attached the probe to Sam’s head. The nurse who had given me those words disappeared, and was replaced by a calm and gentle woman who would guide me through transition.
The rest of my labor, lasting about five hours, was the most intense experience of my life. After my water was broken, the contractions had very little pause between them — maybe thirty seconds to a minute of rest, followed by a lengthy contraction with a mighty peak of grinding downward pressure in my body. After a while, my moaning vocalizations became wails and loud, long screams — the only sounds on the otherwise silent labor ward. I would cry and tell the nurse over and over, “I can’t.” I told Eric, “I can’t.” But they kept telling me that I could, and that I was doing it. I told Eric I thought I would need an epidural if it continued like this, and he reminded me that it wasn’t what I wanted. My body was so tired that I went into my dreamlike state again, trying to lie down on the bed when contractions ebbed, and standing when the pain became so strong that I had to move my body and sway my hips.
The thoughts that circled through my head were the San Culpa affirmations that I had practiced in prenatal yoga during Savasana relaxation. I am powerful. I am connected to all the women who have come before me. I am a strong woman, and I can accomplish anything. Even as I screamed, “I can’t,” I tried to take in the “You can” from those around me, and I focused on the positive affirmations I had practiced over the past months.
When my nurse checked me again, I was dilated to 9 centimeters, with only a small bit remaining until I could push. I kept trying to convince her and my husband that I was ready to push. (Eric said this lasted for an hour or so before I actually started pushing, but it seemed like a short time in my mind.) My nurse told me I would know when I was ready, and she went calmly about setting up a delivery table and notifying my OB that I would soon be ready to have a baby.
As much as I wanted to push, I was terrified that it would hurt more than what I had already gone through. But yes, I knew. I could feel my whole body thrust down, the pressure overtaking me, and I screamed fiercely as the feeling swept through me.
“It’s time,” I said, and this time, the nurse believed me. “I’m ready to push.”
Let me pause to say that I thought this would be the scariest part — after all, a woman’s body opens completely to birth a child, and with that, the experts are fond of saying, comes pain. (If you haven’t read about the “ring of fire,” you will in your birth related studies.)
So I was scared. But here’s where the magic comes in — the pushing, the part that we as women are groomed to be terrified of, is exactly why I am so glad I didn’t have an epidural. I would have missed out on the most powerful experience of my life. I can’t imagine not feeling every push, not knowing when to reach down and touch my baby’s head, not FEELING him enter this world.
If you’ve done your research, you know that you have all sorts of chemicals in your body that do work for you. Well, adrenaline and endorphins are at work when you are pushing.
When Eric and the nurse helped me up onto the bed to start pushing after that last horrible contraction, these chemicals flooded my body. I felt an amazing rush of energy, and suddenly the pain vanished. As Eric and my calm, collected nurse held my legs, I finally bore down and felt my baby’s head travel lower and deeper through my body. The feeling was incredible — I was able to do work after ten hours of crushing contractions. Sam was moving lower — and I could feel him with every push. I watched Eric’s face between pushes. He was smiling and laughing as he saw our child’s head come into view. I could feel my the top of his head as he started to crown, and I reached down to touch him and his wispy hair. I was overcome with emotion … I was birthing my child.
The nurse told me to control my pushing so that I wouldn’t tear — and so that the doctor could arrive in time to deliver Sam! I tried to breathe through each rush of energy and slow down, but I couldn’t. He was coming fast, and my body was thrusting him quickly forward. I yelled that I had to keep pushing; the pressure was so great that I could not possibly stop. My doctor arrived about ten minutes before I gave birth — just in time to catch Sam. I gave my final pushes, guided by my doctor, and felt my baby’s head enter the world. In just one more push, his body followed. I heard a throaty, forceful cry — his first announcement of life. I watched as Eric cut his cord, and they put Sam onto my bare chest. My first thought was that he looked like my husband; my second was that I would have to try my hardest to be the best mother possible for the rest of my life.
My legs were shaking and I was shivering as I held him. The nurse covered us with warm blankets and brought me ice water. Sam was fussing and making noises, still covered in milky vernix and fluids. I was examining his fingers and toes as the doctor told me to push one last time to deliver my placenta. I barely felt it — I was still on the incredible high of delivering Sam.
Eric went to go get my parents to come meet him. I handed him over to my husband to be weighed and measured. I smiled and watched as my parents took pictures and bustled around the room. There was a whirlwind of energy and celebration that didn’t die down until Sam was safely asleep and I was delivered to my recovery room, legs still shaking.
I remember saying to Eric, as Sam nursed contentedly, “We did it. Look what we did.” And he replied, “No, you did this. It was all you.”
I can’t say that any birth experience is more empowering or life-changing than another. I only have mine to go by. I can say that I’m glad I made my plan, educated myself and got what I wanted for Sam’s birth. I know I am so lucky that the only intervention I had to have was the monitor — so many women plan to birth naturally and then need interventions that alter the experience they wanted. I know that I am blessed to have had a positive natural experience at a small hospital with amazing doctors and nurses. And I know that this experience was right for us — I feel so connected to Sam because we were partners in this experience. I talked to him in my labor dreams and told him that we could do this. And we did — the first experience we had together as mother and child.
When you’re pregnant, you think a lot about the things that you can’t do. I try not to get too bogged down in most of the things you always hear you can’t do — I limit my caffeine but I drink some here and there, I’ve eaten a piece or two of brie and I would never toss goat cheese off of my plate, and I’m probably planning to break the sushi vow pretty soon. Mmm sushi.
What people don’t tell you is that you can lose parts of yourself that you never expect to lose. Along with the unwieldy body that changes the shape of who you are comes the things you can’t do, the trips you can’t take, and the people you can’t see. Anyone who knows me well probably has figured that I love to be social, travel, and generally enjoy myself. For me, this has recently taken the form of taking trips with my girlfriends, or planning a romantic getaway with my husband. In the more removed past, it took the form of jaunting off to the Philippines to get a diving license and swim with whale sharks. When in California, my van rolled from Santa Barbara through Orange County, LA and San Diego and up the 1 to Monterey, Big Sur, Salinas, San Francisco, and Berkeley. It saw rest stops on the highway, empty fields and vineyards, and the wild and beautiful California coast for hundreds of miles.
This summer has been, and mostly will be, at home. I’ve been invited out to see my California friends in LA and again for a girls’ weekend unlike any other in Tennessee. These are trips I would have bent over backwards to make before — and I have for the past two summers. It has been so important for me to stay connected to that adventure life where I could plan a trip and leave my normal life for a moment, to return refreshed and relaxed.
It has hurt me to lose this from my life this summer — it has hurt me to have to say no. I had tried to plan for a trip to California, but after my work retreat to New York, I knew I wouldn’t handle it well with my fatigue and the swelling in my feet. What has hurt me most is missing my Tennessee adventure. But with an eight hour car ride at thirty-one weeks pregnant, or a flight I would likely not be allowed to take, combined with my husband’s worry, I couldn’t make it. With these simple trips, I feel that I’ve lost a part of myself, and I wonder what else I might lose.
I am well aware that there may be no more trips to Cebu or Kyoto, and that I may not even be able to show my son the coast at Big Sur for many years to come. I’ve been mourning those losses since we decided to get pregnant, and I tried to cram as much into last summer as I could — San Diego, San Francisco, Lake Michigan, the Outer Banks. I’ve been trying to enjoy being at home this summer, and I’ve been working to look forward to the time I will have with my little boy and my husband. But I didn’t know that not seeing my friends, not releasing myself to a long, solitary road trip, or a flight to a new place would hit me so hard, and I never knew I would feel as disconnected from the person that I have been.
I know now that I must look forward, but it hurts me to do this. I must now change my perspective, and in that, give away part of myself that I have so long struggled to hold on to. But in giving that away, I know that I will gain something tremendously valuable in return. My husband and I will be creating a family, building a home, and raising a child to create adventures of his own. I know that I will miss the person that I was before we moved to the East Coast, and my passport may well expire, but the adventures that I have will not disappear. Instead, they will be closer to home: catching fireflies in the summer, baking cupcakes, decorating a real Christmas tree, setting up a pool in the backyard, or watching our son realize that he is seeing his first snow.
I won’t ever say that my traveling life won’t remain valuable to me, or that I will opt out of any and all trips during the long, hazy days of summer. I may well keep many of the parts of who I have been, but they will be combined with the new task of raising a conscious, respectful, and curious human being who may someday take part in all of the adventures I dreamed of and many I cannot yet fathom.
I definitely intend on getting a Boppy Pillow for nursing (it supports the baby while he hangs out and nurses). It gets great reviews — both anecdotal from friends and family members, and just through sheer numbers on Amazon. However, I have heard a common complaint — there is a surprising dearth of waterproof covers! One reviewer on Amazon even said she had to cover the whole thing in Saran Wrap.
Non-moms may ask: why does the cover need to be waterproof?
Future mom answers: From what I understand, breast-feeding is a somewhat … juicy process. There are lots of fluids flying about — colostrum, milk, baby spit, baby spit-up, burbles and gurgles. And what does milk do? Even human milk? It spoils and goes sour and smells narsty.
Having recently considered this problem, I started a search for the waterproof Boppy Cover that must surely exist.
Etsy to the rescue! Ladies (and gents), check out this seller:
I think I may have purchased the last waterproof cover she has available in her shop, but I imagine if you email her, she can update you on when she’ll have more available.
You can also find one here. Actually isismaternity.com looks pretty cool — might want to check out the other stuff on there too!
For a Boppy alternative, check out My Brest Friend. Some people like one; some like the other. Make sure you find some waterproof covers!
I haven’t written a post about my emotions in a little while. It’s probably because I have so many. My iphone app tells me this is normal, so I am reassured. Apparently, pregnancy causes mood swings (total shocker), and my partner needs to be supportive. I told my partner this information from the iPregnancy app, and he was unsure of how to support my mood swings. I told him I was unsure as well. They don’t give you information on that part. You have to make it up as you go along.
I think this is something pregnant ladies don’t talk about that much. I think there’s a lot of shame surrounding the inevitable anxiety that comes with creating a human life, and as such there’s not a community of support when you’re feeling down. It’s a very lonely thing, sometimes, being pregnant. There aren’t always a lot of other pregnant ladies to commune with. When you find a community of ladies with bellies, in your prenatal yoga or Bradley Method class, they may not know you all that well, and they’re not going to say, “Hey, I’ve been feeling down, how about you?” It’s just not something you bring up in polite company.
All that you hear about pregnancy is that it’s this totally miraculous time, and you only see women being happy about it. All of my friends who have experienced it have seemed overwhelmed with joy, eager to meet their babies and transition into a peaceful motherhood. It seems abnormal when people don’t act this way, and such women are automatically stigmatized.
I myself had been expecting stable happiness, particularly after the nausea and fatigue of my first trimester. This is what the books and the websites tell you to expect. Happiness, peace, calmness, less pain and fatigue, breasts not as sore, glowing skin and lustrous hair. So they say of the second trimester.
In my experience, I’ve had a somewhat different second trimester. In the scheme of things, I know my pregnancy has been low-risk and uncomplicated, but seriously, I’ve still got some crazy shit going on. I don’t glow. If I glow, it’s because of the copious amounts of oil I’m producing. If I glow, it’s because I’m sweating. If I glow, it’s because of the pain of my flat feet mushing down into my shoes. I also have back pain, heart burn, leg cramps … and my brain doesn’t wake up until about 11AM. This crap is normal, to be expected. It isn’t what you hear about in the common folklore, but upon digging in the books, you find that it can happen, and it does. And it doesn’t help with the emotional side of things …
To top off these physical changes, I am stressed. I am joyous, certainly, and I love to feel my baby move and contemplate his arrival. But I am stressed. I am tired. Most of the time, I walk about in a state of thinly veiled anxiety that can transition into tearful states. I get worried about finances, about if I’ll be a good mom, about if I’ll be able to care for my baby in the ways he needs, and about whether he’ll love me. I’ve even gone off about whether he’ll call me when he’s in college (I didn’t start calling my mom regularly until after I graduated. Whoops.). Recently, I can’t seem to calm down. It’s gotten hard for me to sleep during the week — when you combine the stress of teaching with the stress of growing a human, it gets hard to have calming, restful sleep. It’s hard for me to focus. It’s hard for me to sometimes complete a sentence. Sometimes, I am plagued by the strange sensation that I want something desperately, but have no clue what it is. It’s a feeling akin to thirst, but it’s an emotional thirst that I can’t readily identify. This feeling? They don’t tell you about that.
How does one cope? How do I cope when I fear so badly that this may transition into postpartum depression? How do I cope when I know I’ve struggled with depression for ten years, and dammit, I don’t want to go to that place during this amazing time.
I have to say, my writing helps me. It unwinds me. It centers me, and it makes me feel whole. I’m also blessed to have a kind and hilarious husband who knows me and guides me, friends who listen to me vent, and coworkers who are my second family. It helps me to stay organized, do my research and make decisions. It helps me to talk to my mother who said, “Oh Cami, I felt all of the same ways, and you’re the best thing that I ever did. Once you got here, all of those feelings went away.” Practically, yoga helps. (My teacher is way awesome.) And prenatal massage doesn’t hurt either. (Get one.)
In writing about this worry and anxiety, and I’m giving it a name. I’m facing it head on, educating myself, and allowing myself to feel all of the things I need to feel. I’m owning up to it, and I’m admitting that I’m not going to be perfect. I’m preparing myself for motherhood in the best ways that I know how, and on the days when I feel like I’ll never be able to do it, I try to take a deep breath and tell myself that I’m not alone. I have great resources of strength upon which to draw, and great love to give and receive. I might never get rid of the anxiety and strange feelings, but I can vow to not let them control me, even on the worst of days.
Perhaps this is my body and brain’s own way of preparing me for the anxieties of motherhood. If I learn how to master it now, nip it in its ugly bud, then I may be able to better manage a screaming child and a dinner that never gets made. I may be able to handle an unexpected illness, or a sudden dip in financial resources, or a son who refuses to eat his vegetables. Maybe my anxiety now is a key to my calmness later. Or simply — what if I choose to view it this way? Could I then turn my mastery of it into a tool in my arsenal of motherhood?
I choose this path. I will overcome my worries and my physical pains. I am a strong, beautiful woman. I will own this and integrate this, and conquer it. This is my San Culpa: I can do anything. I will not be defeated.
Eric and I have been Mama and Daddy for almost two years now. Just because our first baby doesn’t share human DNA doesn’t mean she’s not a part of our family. Nor does her species mean that she’s that much less trouble than a human baby. Certainly there are some major differences, but I don’t think I’d feel nearly as ready to have an infant if I hadn’t had a puppy.
We decided to get a dog when we moved to the DC area. In fact, I made my husband promise that we would get a dog. He did, caving to the inevitable. So, we looked for a townhouse rental with a small backyard and an allowance to have dogs up to thirty-five pounds. All ready. Or so we thought.
I started my research before we even moved across the country from Santa Barbara. I looked at rescue dogs, craigslist dogs, litters of puppies of all different varieties. I found myself falling in love with all of them, but it wasn’t until we got Leela that I was completely swept off my feet. It took Eric until July to feel truly ready to get a dog. He’d always been something of a cat person, though he is an animal lover through and through and knew my allergies would prevent us from having a cat.
Some things just happen at the right time. We had looked at several rescue dogs and puppies, with little success in finding the right fit for us. In such want of an animal, we would visit Pet Smart to look at the animals and contemplate the new addition that would come to our family. On one of these visits, we saw a young man with a tiny puppy, probably about six or seven pounds. I’ve never had a problem with just walking up to people and loving on their dogs, and this was no exception. I learned that this baby was a puggle, a pug-beagle mix. As soon as I went home, I started researching puggles and found a litter with one girl left just twenty minutes away.
That little girl was Leela.
Oh those first months with Leela. She was our infant. We got her at nine weeks old, and started training her immediately. She slept in a crate next to our bed, and cried terribly when we put her to bed. She would wake up twice a night needing to go outside to go to the bathroom. She got three ear infections, giardia (an intestinal parasite), and needed multiple expensive vaccinations. Her spaying stitches got infected, and the vet reprimanded us.
At the time, I was unemployed, and I would take Leela to walk every twenty to thirty minutes so that she knew for sure to go pee pee outside. Still, she insisted on vomiting and having diarrhea indoors — always on the carpet. Leela also had allergies to the corn in her food, and she required skin medication and multiple food changes before we found something that wouldn’t make her mouth and skin itch. Not only that, we discovered we had a picky eater. We couldn’t find any dry food she would eat by itself. Everyone in my family insisted she would eat if she got hungry enough; however, this proved to be untrue. After two days of not eating, the poor thing vomited bile. Our solution? We supplemented with peanut butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, plain cheese, wet dog food of all different varieties, and bacon flavored dog food dressing. We finally found the right mix: Blue Buffalo Salmon and Sweet Potato and shredded chicken breast. In July of 2009, Leela did decide to eat a whole pack of Mint Mojito Orbit gum, and since this is toxic to dogs, we had to pay over a thousand dollars to the emergency vet to induce vomiting and make sure her liver and kidneys were okay. She also ate part of our living room sofa, two mouth guards, my iphone, my iphone case, lots of mail, and a large piece of chocolate cake. (Anything but her dog food, really.) Most recently, she has learned to jump the three-foot fence surrounding the backyard of our new house. Who knew a twenty pound domesticated canine could cause so much damn trouble?
I’m sure you already know the answer to the question, “Was it (is it still) worth it?” Yes, it absolutely is. When Eric or I get home in the afternoon, we have a one-puggle welcoming committee. She runs in circles, makes gremlin noises, sometimes howls, and licks ears and faces. She sleeps in bed with us, curls up to watch TV or read with us, and can speak on command. She responds to the questions, “Where’s Mama?” by searching for me or going to the window if I’m not here. She’s now fully house trained, no longer eats sofas, and has shown an endearing love for young children and babies.
I had so much unnecessary panic and worry over Leela in the first months we had her. She caused me to lose sleep, worry over her eating habits, agonize when she wasn’t meeting her milestones, and become anxious over whether or not I was a bad dog mom. I also worried that my husband wasn’t ready for the responsibility, or was annoyed at her many difficulties. He wasn’t. I watched him fall in love with our dog, patiently teach her tricks, and lovingly care for her when she was sick. Having Leela didn’t just make me ready to be a mom; it made me into a mom.
She gives so much back to the two of us, snuggling with us at night, and entertaining us with her antics. Leela has also been very tender with me when I have cried or gotten sick during my pregnancy. As I type, she is curled up behind me.
Many people speak about how their pets become less important when their babies arrive. My mother has confirmed for me that
this was not true for her and my father. Daisy, our American bulldog, was an integral part of all of our family activities. My parents let her sniff me all over when I arrived home from the hospital, and Daisy promptly adopted me as her puppy, letting me play with her however roughly I wanted. My first word was “Daisy,” shouted out of our back door.
Leela is not just our pet, she is part of our family, and the biggest personality in our household. Of course, she’ll have to share attention with Sam, but she’ll be part of all of our activities, and I know she will be loving on that baby. I know that she will be a wonderful big sister. I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared without her.
Welcome to the Savvy Mom Space
I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.