Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflections of a Mostly Pleasant Pregnancy

There’s really no way around it: the final month of pregnancy is extremely uncomfortable. You can stay active, watch your weight, eat right, stay hydrated and chant mantras until you’re blue in the face (I did very few of those things, but I’m just saying….you CAN). But in the end, the hormones, the swelling and the muscle and joint pain will get you. They will get you.

Once I realized how busy my summer would be, I made a deal with my baby: let’s hold off on all the unpleasantries until July is over. Sure enough, I had the energy to drive to (and ALL OVER) Eastern Washington and North Idaho for a long weekend of weddings in late July (at 32 weeks pregnant, by myself) and have “stuff” going on almost every single day of that month (I think I had two days total where all I had to do was work), only to wake up on August 1 nauseated and aching from head to toe but smiling because she kept her promise. 

Now suddenly I’m in what could very well be my final days of pregnancy, my final weeks for certain. Despite the fact that it seems like I’ve been pregnant forever (especially when I think about the fact that my last martini was in JANUARY), to say that went by fast was an understatement. It’s like I blinked and I grew a human. A lot of life was lived this year. The only consistency has been change.

I consider myself very lucky because I’ve managed to avoid some of the more unpleasant side effects. No gestational diabetes, no pre eclampsia, no HG (morning sickness too severe to drink water), no high blood pressure and, knock wood, no visible stretch marks yet (though I keep hearing there is still time). I have not cried over food, I have not lashed out at friends or strangers, I have not wanted to murder my husband.

But that doesn’t mean it has been a walk in the park. No pregnancy ever is. There have been swollen feet, nausea, fatigue, fogginess, “pregnancy brain,” anxiety, stress, body aches, rib pain, popping and cracking of joints as they expand, moodiness / wanting to kill strangers, road rage and a brief encounter with something called a PUPP rash which is not as cute as it sounds. Pregnancy is not for the weak, and I remain absolutely convinced that a lot of people couldn’t handle it. In fact, no one should ever HAVE to handle it that doesn’t want to….but that’s another post for another time.

Still, even as I sit here with a big old belly, a fat face and swollen everything trying to stay awake because I no longer sleep more than two hours without getting up to pee or roll my giant self over, knowing full well I’ve always wanted to do this just once and it’s almost over, I know I’ll have times when I miss it.

I can’t explain what it is like to grow another life from the first heartbeats to the final kicks and punches on the way out. It has changed me profoundly in ways I never expected...not in the stereotypical sanctimonious “Life is sacred from conception! Babies are blessings!” annoying bullshit ways, but in others. I am humbled and I am in awe at what my body is capable of doing. I see it not only as a superficial thing but as something I need to respect. I am much more wary and paranoid on the streets now. Unfortunately my neighborhood no longer feels safe to me, and as much as it will break my heart, we will leave it when our lease is up. I trust strangers less as a whole, but I also value human kindness of strangers more. I know a lot of women hear some really shitty comments when they’re pregnant, but I’ve received more smiles, compliments, kind words and gestures than I ever have in my life. I’m extremely grateful for that.
A somewhat  creepy but very cool image sent by a dear friend.


And while I’m so very excited to meet this little girl who has been kicking, punching and rolling in me for months, whose hiccups stop me in my tracks with their cuteness, and show her the world….I know I need to cherish these last few days or weeks where it’s just us. I haven’t been weirded out by people touching my belly or talking to her because I’m excited to introduce her to others. I want her to see it all, to experience it all, to know the world. I don’t want to be one of “those moms.” Sure I’ll cry on her first day of kindergarten and worry myself to death while she’s on her first date. But once that umbilical cord is cut, it’s cut. I owe her, and myself, that.

But for the last nine months I have been the one solely responsible for her life and her safety. She has been with me every step of the way during this emotional, difficult year, and I know I’ll have days where I’ll miss those little reassuring kicks and punches. And the hiccups. Seriously, baby hiccups in utero are the sweetest things ever. No joke. 

This year has been full of difficult lessons, but one thing I’ve learned is that I need to release my need to control an outcome. I can’t fully control when I’m going to have more than enough writing work and when I’m going to struggle for it. I can’t control what happens to my loved ones. I can’t control how my friends will, or won’t, accept me as a mother or even how I’m going to be as one. I couldn’t control when Dexter got sick or stop him from dying in our arms. I couldn’t control when my grandfather decided he’d had enough of this life and it was time to move on. And I can’t control when this baby will make her debut.

So basically, until then, life remains a giant question mark. I wake up every morning knowing I might be full of energy or in too much pain and too fatigued to do anything. I clean my apartment, just in case. And then I sit down at my laptop and get as much advance work done as I can possibly do, knowing that I need the checks to keep rolling in even while I’m figuring out how to care for a new tiny human and can’t work. 

And in the meantime, I cherish every kick, punch and hiccup.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Diary of a City Girl on Vacation

Day One


As your car gets further and further away from the city skyline, the permanently tightened muscles in your neck and shoulders slowly begin to unwind. You press your nose to the glass and you just can’t believe how green everything is...the trees, the grass, the rolling hills. You lean back in your seat and push the “busy” thoughts from your mind. The work deadlines, the pressure, the people on the street constantly begging you for money, the permanent background noise, the sirens—so many fricking sirens—get put away into a mental file you won’t have to access until Monday.


Each little coastal town gets cuter and more charming. You stop for a Seaside lunch and you find parking within a few minutes...and it’s free. You reach your destination at the end of “rush hour,” but there’s no rush hour to speak of here. You park in the big parking lot at your resort, completely free of charge with no swarming valet attendants awaiting their tip to park your car badly in a cramped lot for $35 a day. Your suite is the size of a studio apartment and faces the ocean….the beautiful ocean with the rolling waves making a soft, soothing sound. You can never get enough of this sound.


It’s a different sound than what you constantly hear from your apartment windows in the city, a mixture of the hippies at their art collective home making art projects and “music,” the shouts of the tormented men who have been dropped off to detox at the recovery house up the street, and the sirens (SO MANY FRICKING SIRENS). There is none of that here. All you can hear is the sound of the waves and the cries of hungry seagulls and condors.


As you lean into your husband and gaze into the water, you both catch the unmistakable big, black tails and blowholes of whales. WHALES. You’ve been here fifteen minutes and you’re seeing motherfucking whales. No, this does not happen in the city. Not ever.


You walk the seven blocks to a brewery on the bayfront, where the server slips you a tiny taste of beer even though your bulging pregnant belly is very visible. You savor those few sacred sips of delicious amber ale, and you and your husband laugh at the bad dinner service you receive because, oh, this server must be SO overwhelmed by all these busy 4th of July tourists. This is such a quaint little beach town and the swarms must be too much for these places to handle. The service is quite terrible, but you tip 20% anyway because he’s just brought you the best clam chowder you’ve ever had in your entire life and you’re from the city. A 20% tip is your standard.


You walk to the boardwalk to catch the firework show and you and your husband treat yourselves to an ice cream come. You order single scoops on a waffle cone and you get the equivalent of a carton of ice cream. Both gigantic cones cost the same as one small organic preservative free hippie cone in the city. Yes indeed, you could get used to this.

'Merica



You walk back to your suite, laughing at the simplicity of the lack of sidewalks in this quaint little beach town. No one has to walk here, unlike the city where walking is much easier than driving half the time. You don’t have to carry your keys in your hand to be used as a weapon if need be like you always do at home.


You fall asleep to the sound of the ocean and you sleep better, longer and harder than you have in months.


Day Two


You awaken slowly and leisurely, without the blaring of an alarm clock. The sun is shining down on the beautiful ocean waves, which is the first thing you see as your eyes open. You sit, sipping coffee and eating toast from your in-suite toaster, chatting with your husband and taking in the view. God, this is nice. The permanently tensed muscles in your neck and back are now just a distant memory.


Later on as you stroll through the beautiful Nye Beach area hand-in-hand with your husband, you will spot real estate listings and you won’t believe your eyes. So affordable! But in your mind you have already envisioned how it will be when you move here. You will own a little beach house mere steps from the shore….not in the heart of the tourist district, but within walking distance to all of the cute little shops and restaurants. You will decorate it with all the beachy decor from these darling boutiques, and you will pay your mortgage by writing great masterpieces from your oceanfront patio as you gaze into the waves and your daughter and husband frolick in the sand. The ocean will magically fuel your endless creativity, and you will live to be 120 because you will be so relaxed and at peace.


In the afternoon you and your husband decide to grab drinks on a bar patio—ginger beer for you, of course, but he has decided to try several concoctions on the menu. But he just can’t seem to get the server’s attention. In fact, you receive even worse service than you did last night. Being a former server yourself, you know your standards really aren’t that high. When your husband’s beer glass remains empty for 30 minutes, you give up and demand a check. You tip 13% (the equivalent of spitting in someone’s face for you) and leave a little miffed, thinking of how rare that is in your service-oriented city, where your glasses always stay full of brew. Why is it so damn hard to find good help in a touristy beach town in the summer?


You retreat to your suite, getting lost in popcorn and a movie, and suddenly it’s after 8 PM and you’re hungry for dinner. You freshen up, thinking you’ll just enjoy a nice meal at the onsite restaurant. It’s such a quaint little beach town, so there’s no need to make a reservation here. But when you step inside the restaurant at 8:30, you see every family in town with all of their little snot-nosed children, cranky from spending the entire day running through the sand. Rather than wait two hours for a meal, you decide to look elsewhere.


It is then that you discover that damn near every restaurant in this “quaint little beach town” closes at 9 PM. You go back to the bayfront, hoping for some more of that Best Chowder Ever that you had last night. You drive this time, because no idiot here knows how to let a pedestrian cross and there are no damn sidewalks. Your hopes of chowder are dashed when the same idiot server, who clearly doesn’t remember you from 24 hours before, cards your 35-year-old husband, who has forgotten his ID back at the hotel. You can’t get into the brewery, which is probably just as well because you’d punch that prick server in the face if you had to endure his shitty service again.


After a futile search for another spot you end up eating a sullen meal at 10 PM at the onsite restaurant, which has now devolved into a pile of breadcrumbs, screaming kids and grumpy, tired staff members, and you eat the last of the kitchen’s food as the stench of hours-old seafood permeates the air. You point out that at home, you can have any damn thing you want at any time of night, and half the time you can have it delivered to your door.


You pass out, exhausted from the search for food, and still sleep harder and better than you have in months.


Day Three


You’ve come to accept the truth: it’s amazing to get away. It’s incredible, refreshing, rejuvenating. Hell, it’s necessary. But you are a city girl at heart. As annoying as those beggars for money are, as jarring as the sounds of the sirens are and as silly as those damn hippie neighbors can be, they are your people, and you are a part of that culture. It is as ingrained in you as the bullshit is ingrained in the drivers of all these god damned minivans with the bumper stickers telling you who to vote for, what to believe and what to do with your own fucking body. And if you see one more fucking stick family bumper sticker with 15 little stick children, you’re going to break that Dodge Caravan’s window.


You enjoy a peaceful stroll to breakfast with your husband, which miraculously has plenty of sidewalks and turns out to be an incredible and reasonably priced meal served on a sunny patio. Finally, at long last, you get wonderful service. You walk the mile back to your suite directly on the beach, and once you’re inside you plug in your laptop and you type away as you stare at the surf and the sand. It really is a beautiful little place.


Tomorrow you will return to the smug hipsters, the traffic, the perfect coffee, the organic non-GMO food and the filtered water of home. And you will embrace it, for that is your life. But until then, you take in every peaceful moment on your getaway, and you resolve to eat dinner by 7 PM.





Sunday, June 15, 2014

On Father's Day



Physically, it’s pretty damn easy for a man to father a child. I mean, really, it is. I know that now more than ever, from experience.


The harder part is being a father. It’s being just the right balance of disciplined and loving, of strict and fair. It’s imposing a good set of values on your kids without imposing your own preconceived judgments and other opinions that might negatively affect their growth and development. And more than anything, it’s showing up…. not just for baseball games and dance recitals, but for everyday life. For the first steps, the bad days at school, the broken hearts and skinned knees.


Not long after I learned we had a bun in the oven, I received a Facebook message from a friend that broke my heart. She was out of town with her fiance to celebrate his birthday, and she’d gotten emotional when she saw a father and daughter enjoying themselves in the restaurant together. Clueless, I asked why. She explained that, many years after her own father abandoned her family, it’s still a little hard to see fathers being good to their daughters. It makes her emotional.


For some reason, her dad decided one day that he couldn’t handle being a husband or a dad. So he left them. He left her even though she was a kid and she needed him.


And that’s when it hit me….and I mean, really hit me….that the little girl I’m carrying is so damn lucky. Because my husband isn’t capable of that. He will never leave her.


I’d like to believe that Mr. W and I will last forever. I mean, it sure looks that way….we’re about to celebrate nine years of marriage and despite a metric ton of crap the world has thrown at us, we’re still going strong. But I know that nothing in life is guaranteed. I’d probably bet on us on the tables in Vegas, because I like our odds, but I wouldn’t, like, bet my life on it or anything because that’s just silly.


But I do know with great certainty that, no matter what happens with us―even if we fall out of love, even if he decides he can no longer tolerate my utter craziness, if I decide one day that his epic rants and skewed world view are more than I can bear, or if he falls in love with some sexy stick thin bombshell named Celeste and decides to be with her (that fucking bitch, Celeste)―he will never, ever abandon our little girl. Not ever.


I realize that’s pretty ballsy of me to say, especially after saying that nothing in life is guaranteed. And this is, of course, barring some unforeseen catastrophe like mental illness or something even worse I can’t think about. But my husband, in his right mind and of sound body, would never, ever abandon our daughter. That’s something I WOULD bet my life on.


Perhaps it’s because he has spent every day of the last 13 ½ years loving me, cherishing me and respecting me. When he has fucked up, he has admitted it, and he has learned from it. He has always been especially respectful of women, from his mother to my mother and every single one of my friends. He has supported my dreams, even when they have been crazy. And even when he could have, he has never given up on me. I know he’ll be that way with her.


In some ways, he’s already a father. He was a great daddy to our dog for eleven years, even when he didn’t think he was. The first thing he said to me when I tearfully showed him my positive pregnancy test was, “It’s OK. We’re in this together.” He spends every evening with his hands on my belly so he doesn’t miss a single kick. He takes an active role in discussions on how we will and won’t raise our daughter because he cares. He already understands the important role fatherhood will play in bringing her up, and he’s ready to take it on full force even though I know it scares the hell out of him.


I have worried and stressed about a lot of things during my pregnancy, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t. But unexpected things have come up since January that have drained my energy, my emotions, my bank account and my positivity. It happens, and I’m doing the best I can to recover. But I have never—not once, not even a little bit—questioned the man I chose to be the father of my child. That is one area where I know I did the right thing. And I can’t think of a bigger blessing than that. Knowing that he will always be there for our little girl, knowing that she will grow up having a father who loves her more than his own life, is the greatest gift I could ever receive, and it makes everything else seem just a little less terrifying and stressful.


Mr. W thinks I have the hard part because I have to endure pregnancy and childbirth. And I admit, there are days when I would kill to eat a dozen oysters, drink a dirty martini followed by a bottle of wine, go out and drunkenly dance my ass off until 2 AM and pass out on my stomach without once waking up to pee. And I won’t even get into the terror of labor. But honestly, after thinking of my own upbringing and how my father being so present in my life affected the way I turned out, after witnessing the sadness my friend STILL feels after her father abandoned her as a child despite the fact that she’s done so much to heal herself, and after reading up on just how much a father’s role matters—I kind of think he has the hard part.


But he’s going to nail it. I know he is. And that’s why I will spend every Father’s Day from today until I die honoring him, cherishing him and reminding him of how much he means to his girls. I hope I will do this every day, of course. But on this day, his day, I will never forget.

But seriously, if you see that bitch Celeste, tell her to step off.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Open Letter To My Daughter: Your Modesty Is Your Choice

To my sweet daughter,


While I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what you will be like as a person, I haven’t given much thought to what you will look like. I’m curious, of course… will you be a redhead like your grandpa? A brunette like so many in your dad’s family? Curvy like me, slender like your dad, or a lumberjack like some of your other family members? That I don’t know. What I do know is this: you will be beautiful. Of that I have no doubt.


While your physical beauty will matter so much less than what is in your heart, it will be there. And that’s part of the reason blog posts like “Confessions of a teenage bride: Modest is NOT Hottest” bother me so much. Your beauty, your body and how you choose to express yourself will be entirely about you, not about anyone else…..not about other girls, not about the boys who will surely notice, not about the people you date, not about your dad and me….your self-expression is yours and yours alone.




I won’t say anything unkind about the teen bride who wrote this. I’m sure she’s a lovely, kind girl who is very happy. Unfortunately, though, she is a victim. She is a victim of a preconceived mindset that tells her that certain feelings, urges and actions are morally wrong. There’s nothing wrong with living her life the way she does. There’s nothing wrong with settling down young...I was extremely young when I fell in love with your dad, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.


But there is plenty wrong with encouraging other girls to base their self worth on the way they dress, how much skin they show, the way they present themselves to boys and to “other wives” (honey, you don’t owe SHIT to anyone else’s wives other than not crossing the line and sleeping with their husbands)  and saving their bodies for “the one who will love them” because “they are worth it.” This is not only incredibly damaging, it’s flat out wrong. It contributes to a dangerous part of society that I’d hoped would be annihilated in my lifetime, the part that pits men and women against each other in some kind of bullshit “blame game.”


This teen bride has allowed herself to be a victim of a certain belief system. She has been raised a certain way and stuck to those beliefs without question, because she believes that’s the only path to happiness. She also believes that there is a big man in the sky smiling down on her for it, and that her reward for staying modest with her clothing will be eternal salvation in a mystical celestial heaven where she will reside with her husband and other Mormons who have remained “pure” and “good” and she can look down on the rest of the sinners from her VIP planet as she lives out her forever. She is a victim of falling prey to someone else’s spiritual experience (aka organized religion), and as a result she is of the mindset that her body and soul are not hers, but a prize to be won by another.


My sweet girl, if I succeed in allowing you to choose your own path to God, not falling victim to these shaming beliefs, and realizing very young that your body and spirit belong to you and to no one else, I will consider myself a success as a mother.


Make no mistake about it: you are a precious, wonderful, perfectly imperfect child of God. But, unlike many others will try to tell you, God is not some all powerful, judgmental, mean old man in the sky. God is simply an incredible energy force bigger than any human can comprehend. God is not male or female. God is all around you and inside of you…. and guess what? It’s up to YOU and no one else how you define God. Maybe you will find your path to God through one of the major religions already established. Maybe you will follow the path of your parents, who believe in a higher power but feel best when they don’t subscribe to any one religion. Maybe you won’t believe in God at all, but will instead choose to believe in only science. Maybe you’ll just call it “energy.” I assure you, it will be your choice, and your beliefs won’t make you a better or worse person than anyone else, nor will you be judged and damned to a fiery hell because you don’t believe everything one religion tells you.


You are a spiritual being having a human experience. But while you are having this human experience, your body is yours. I will do my best to teach you how to take care of it, eating good foods, avoiding the chemical shitstorms and high fructose corn syrup that will make you lethargic and complacent, and finding exercise that will make you feel good. And of course, there will be some rules. I want you to stay a little girl as long as you can, because trust me, you’ve got plenty of time to be an adult. You will have to obey any dress codes your schools set forth, and you won’t be parading around in tube tops and booty shorts when you’re 13….not because your body is something shameful to be covered up, but because, like I said, you’ll have plenty of time for that when you’re older (it’s called “college” and “Vegas,” my sweet, and it’s an awesome time I hope you embrace fully).


But when you reach a certain age, what you wear will be entirely up to you. You may express yourself however you see fit, whether that’s floor-length Bohemian gowns or micro mini skirts. Your body is your own, and how you dress it is your business and no one else’s. My dear, you are NOT responsible for “helping” boys and men control their lust. To make those statements is not only degrading to you, it’s degrading to men. It makes them sound like imbeciles who need “help” controlling their urges. What they look at and what they think is 100% on them, not you. Never let any Mormon or anyone else tell you otherwise.


And when it comes to “saving yourself” for “the one who will love you more than anything?” You’ll never hear me say that to you , because that’s up to you too. Maybe you will fall head over heels for the first man you ever date, marry him and only sleep with him. That would be wonderful. Maybe you will date around, explore your sexuality a bit and marry in your mid-30’s. That would be wonderful too. Maybe you won’t date men at all and women will be your cup of tea….and maybe you will never choose to get married. Hell, maybe you’ll date a couple. Whatever you decide, you will have my support as long as you are happy and not endangering yourself. You have my word on that.

Yes, your virginity is precious, because it’s YOURS, and it represents a sexual experience that only YOU will have. But it is not a “prize” you “must save” for a man. Far from it. Only you can write that story. It’s up to me to educate you on being safe as well as the pros and cons of abstinence. We’ll have those talks, and I’ll be honest with you. And of course I won’t encourage you to be sexually active in high school...but not because of some judgmental man in the sky who will send you to hell, because quite frankly those young boys don’t know shit about how to please a girl and quite a few of them won’t care. I don’t want you to feel obligated to do anything, I want you to do things WHEN and how you want to do them. Sex should be enjoyable whether you’re 17 or 27 when you start having it. Teenage pregnancy is also a valid concern, so of course we’ll have that talk, too. No MTV teen pregnancy shows for you, my dear.


But when it comes down to it,  it is YOUR body and YOUR choice, 100%. Your spirituality, your path to living your best life, your sexuality and the people you choose to surround yourself with will be uniquely yours. They will not be dictated by others’ judgments, by a fear of what men or other women might think, by any outdated patriarchal religious concepts, or anything but what you truly feel is right in your heart. Because you know what? I’m not going to treat you like someone that NEEDS those rules to be a “good girl.” I will raise you to be your own person, and in the end, I think you will turn out just as lovely, kind and wonderful as any girl who was raised to believe what Ms. Teen Bride believes.


She’s right about one thing: we do not need to seek value by being sexually appealing, nor will we find the love we seek by being traditionally “appealing.” But we ARE allowed to BE sexually appealing, confident, intelligent women who are just fine with or without a romantic partner. It is the confidence and self-love that will help us find love from another, not the length of our skirts.


I had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. I have been on the other side, where I was told I “wouldn’t go to heaven” if I behaved a certain way WITH MY OWN BODY. I didn’t wear so much as a low-cut top until I was 20 years old, but when I did, I was made to feel ashamed of it. It took me years to shed the guilt and the judgment and realize that I am in control of my body and my sexuality, and no one else is….not society, not one definition of God, not your awesome dad, who is super cool with me expressing myself however I see fit. It took me until my late twenties to appreciate the sexy curves in my figure, my full lips and my big old luscious ass. I will do everything I can to make sure you never feel the shame, guilt or confusion I felt.


You will not be defined by what you wear, how much makeup you use, how many people you sleep with or when and if you get married. You will be defined by what is in your heart and soul, my sweet girl. And though I haven’t even met you yet, I have spent enough time bonding with you lately to know that you are going to be an amazing person. I can say that with confidence.


I already love you so much, and I just know that everyone who matters in this world will love you too.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Sound of Silence

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.... - Pablo Neruda 

I wasn’t going to write anything about Dexter’s passing. I didn’t think that I could.

But yesterday, I woke up to this in my email inbox….




….and I was like, OK. Fine. I can do this, I think.

I can’t go into great detail about Thursday. But I will say that, despite the fact that it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life, I have a lot to be thankful for. Dexter only had the one really bad day. Until Thursday he was eating and drinking water and walking. Thursday, his last day, was a bad day. I didn’t realize it until I went to wake him up to take him outside and realized he was too weak to make it out.

Every day at 5:30 PM, Dexter would wait by the door for his daddy. And on his last day with us, he waited for his daddy to get home. I texted Mr. W and told him he’d better come home from work, and he did. Given the nature of Dexter’s disease, we still weren’t sure if it was the end or if it was just a bad day….but just in case, I gave them some time alone together.

And before Mr. W got home, I cuddled with my sweet boy and I thanked him for making me a mother. I have always believed that parents of animals are just as much parents as those with humans, but seeing as I’d never had a human child, I didn’t know it to be true. I do now. I was every bit that boy’s mama. I didn’t realize just how deeply we were connected until I lost him. But he was my son in every sense of the word. Losing him hurts just as badly as losing the baby I’m carrying would. I know some people won’t be able to relate to that, and their pets are just pets, but it wasn’t like that for me.

We spoke to the vet, had a tough conversation and looked up at home euthanasia options, but before we could make final arrangements, our boy left us his own terms. It was actually very peaceful. He didn’t fight it. He let go with us both by his side, holding him, holding each other, telling him we love him. It was agonizing, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

May 1, 2014 was the best day of my entire life. Holding my husband’s hand and looking at the little baby girl we have on the way, talking about her name, wondering what she’ll be like…. it was amazing and surreal.

And now I can say, without a doubt, that May 8, 2014 was the worst day of my life. Again, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I can accept that it was Dexter’s time to go. I’m so glad he didn’t suffer and I’m so glad we both got to be there. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt worse than any pain I’ve ever felt. He was so much a part of our family, so ingrained into our daily routines, that having him ripped from us was, and still is, devastating. I’ve spent weeks trying to prepare myself for this, and the truth is, there was just no way to prepare.

At night when my pregnant bladder wakes me up, I can’t go back to sleep without the comfort of his snores. Every time I emerge from the shower and he’s not waiting by the door guarding me (seriously, had he seen Psycho? Where did he think I was going to go?), my heart hurts. Every time I walk through my front door and the entryway still smells like him, I lose it. I keep reaching down to pet him as I work or give him a piece of food while I eat. I know these things will fade in time, but then it’s going to hurt because I’ll miss the routines themselves.

People have been so kind. I keep hearing that he was lucky to have us and that we gave him a good life. And I believe we did….but the truth is, we could have done so much better, and we know it. I wish I’d taken him on more walks. I wish I’d trained him better from the time he was a puppy, but I was just a stupid puppy myself. I wish I’d really understood that we were his whole life and acted accordingly. Of course, in the end, we did the best we could, and we had lots of good times. I don’t think we were bad parents. But we could have been better.

But he loved us anyway. No matter what we did, that dog loved us unconditionally. Mr. W and I spent Friday talking about everything we did right and wrong with him and how we don’t want to half-ass it as parents. And we won’t. I know that now.

I have known my husband for almost 14 years, but I was still surprised by the strength he displayed as he went through this with me. I have a partner who was strong enough to comfort our sweet baby boy in his final moments, to carry his lifeless body to the car and into the vet’s office, and who was also strong enough to allow himself to fall apart in my arms when it was all over. He is already the best father in the world and I love and respect him more now than I ever have. I absolutely would not be able to get through this without him.

This is a bittersweet Mother’s Day for me. I wish I didn’t have to lose my boy so close to it...we were going to have ice cream and cuddle on the couch tomorrow. But it has allowed me to reflect so much on motherhood that it’s almost like Dexter’s final lesson to me was his biggest and best. And I am so thankful that I will never have a Mother’s Day where I am not a mom. Timing is a funny thing, and I never imagined that letting my guard down and getting pregnant a bit before we’d intended would be the best thing I ever could have done.  

This will get easier, but there will never be a day where I don’t miss my boy. But it was worth it to get to be his mama. Even knowing the outcome, I’d do it all again. I hope he would too.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hellos and Goodbyes

It’s not easy watching your big, strong dog grow weaker and weaker.


This dog once chewed through a huge wire kennel….multiple times. He has effortlessly destroyed stereo speakers, a couch, apartment doors, a fence, and even a sliding glass door, a move that nearly got him killed long before his time. He spent a decade pulling me around on his walks, dictating where we’d go, leaving me no choice but to trudge along behind his 80 pound frame.


These days, as the cancer ravages his old, tired body, it’s a different story. He still has his moments of strength, but he saves them for climbing onto the couch or walking around the block. He uses an ice chest as a stepping stool to climb into the car, and he now takes only the elevator, never the stairs. His tumors grow larger by the day and the spring is quickly fading from his steps. His big, bright, beautiful brown eyes are growing dim.


It’s hard...in fact, it’s devastating. He is my baby. And I have to sit here powerless, knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this disease from claiming him, terrified he’s going to have a bleeding episode while Mr. W is at work or that the end will be painful for him. We’re doing all we can. We make his food now, which he’s more than happy to eat. We keep his pillows puffy and clean, we rub his belly and we give him a pain pill when he seems to need one. We tell him we love him and we’re sorry he’s sick. Sometimes we just cry.


Every day I sit at my desk and I work, listening to his grunts and snores, dreading the day I won’t hear them anymore. And then, just as I start to wonder how I will possibly be able to be alone in this apartment and face the sound of silence, I feel tiny little kicks….kicks that grow stronger by the day, kicks that I am so ecstatic to feel.


I believe everything happens when it’s meant to, even if the timing seems off. People have expressed their sympathy to me for going through the slow, sad loss of my dog while I’m pregnant… and I admit, it’s not easy to keep it together with all these hormones coursing through me. But If I have to lose him, I’d rather it be now, before I have an infant in the picture, so that I can give him the love and attention he deserves.


Last Thursday, we learned our sweet baby is a girl. It’s something we’ve felt in our hearts all along, but it was still a beautiful surprise. Let’s just say learning we’re going to have a daughter is a long time coming, much longer than that fateful night five months ago when we made her. We’ve both been getting signs for years, so strong that Mr. W admitted to me a month ago that if this wasn’t a girl, he was going to question everything he believed in as well as his own sanity. I agreed.


I was a wreck before the ultrasound. We’re only doing this parenthood thing once, so no matter what we heard, our lives would be changed forever. And in addition to the big reveal, there were so many things to worry about...I’d heard stories of babies with spina bifida, cysts on the brain, and tons of things that could put me on bed rest or (the horror!) “pelvic rest” (celibacy).


But when the elevator stopped on our way to the 11th floor and we heard “My Girl” playing in the lobby, I was all smiles and I was able to relax.


I can’t describe the way I felt when the ultrasound tech zoomed in on those little bits and announced, “It’s a girl.” I got an overwhelming sense of peace, and I started to cry, something I never do in front of strangers. Mr. W remained calm, squeezing my hand and saying “I told you so.” The rest of the appointment was euphoric as they counted ten toes, ten fingers that already know how to point and give a thumbs up (seriously), every little body part in tact and a healthy beating heart.


The very next day we took Dexter in for X-rays and ultrasounds of his own. The news was not good. The cancer has spread to his lungs, and there’s nothing more they can do for him. Hemangiosarcoma will take him from us soon. I was upset, but I wasn’t surprised. We’d both been bracing ourselves for bad news all week.


I thought the bad news would put a damper on the euphoria we felt on Thursday. But it didn’t. I finally felt at peace with it all, knowing where we stood. Mr. W and I bought Dexter a hamburger for dinner that night (organic and hormone free, even). Next weekend we’ll give him one last birthday with his traditional cupcake. And when it’s time, we’ll let him go. One day we’ll tell our daughter stories about our ridiculous dog, who will always be our only baby boy.

Life is bittersweet, but it’s beautiful. And I’m already more grateful to my daughter than she will ever know. Since I can’t drown my feelings in bottles of wine or fly off to Vegas to escape the pain, I’m forced to process my emotions with a sober mind and face my fears without a crutch. It’s hard. But it’s making me stronger. I’m supposed to be the one making her stronger right now, but what she doesn’t know is that she’s already doing the same for me.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning to let go



“You never think you’re going to miss animals as much as you do. It was just nice having some creature in my life who never disappointed me. Never judged me. Never showed up late at my 50th birthday with freshly pierced nipples and a barely legal Filipino boy named Pogo.”


I remember right where I was when I heard that line, delivered by Dr. Kelso on an episode of Scrubs where he dealt with the loss of the family dog. Mr. W and I promptly put down our drinks, looked down at the floor, and called Dexter up to the couch to wedge himself in between us.


Owning a pet is an interesting thing. The lessons, entertainment and experiences are invaluable—and yet, when you make the commitment to get one, you’re guaranteeing yourself a 100% chance of heartbreak if you have a soul. The average lifespan of a boxer is 10-12 years. If you make it past 10 years, you’re lucky. Dexter is 11.


My intuition has skyrocketed since I got pregnant. And if anyone has the balls to tell me that intuition is fake or imaginary, I will punch them in the face, because let me tell you, this shit is legit and it’s ridiculous. It’s more of a curse than a blessing, honestly. When you get a sense that something bad is happening and you can’t do a thing to stop it, you feel pretty powerless and sad.


So when I was assured that the recent thickening of Dexter’s neck was just blood clots and a build-up of blood from a surgery he had in January to remove a fatty lump (they had to close a blood vessel so that was to be expected), and my intuition screamed at me that it wasn’t true, I took him to see a canine oncologist with a heavy heart. I was expecting to hear bad news, but that doesn’t mean I was prepared. And unfortunately, I was right.


Our sweet baby has hemangiosarcoma, a very nasty cancer common in older dogs. Due to the location of his mass, surgery would be extremely risky as well as so outrageously expensive, we couldn’t even hope to consider it with a baby on the way. Chemo might be possible, but it wouldn’t extend his time with us much. On Friday we’ll take him in for an expensive round of tests, X rays and ultrasounds to see if it has spread so we’ll have a better idea of how much time we have left. From there, we’ll decide on a course of action for keeping him comfortable.


We have been preparing to lose our boy since we got him. We know this is a part of life, and truly, I feel grateful that he lived over a decade without something like this happening. He’s had his share of bad luck, like eye ulcers and undescended testicles and bouts with fleas, but he’s never had anything like this. In fact, after his surgery in January, the vet said his blood tests came back great and we’d done a good job keeping up his weight and health.


I’m still heartbroken. I hate looking at his sweet face and knowing his time is short. I hate seeing him still so full of energy for his old age, not having any idea he’s about to get very, very sick. I hate that soon I won’t be comforted by his familiar sounds. I hate that this is out of my control and I can’t stop it from happening. But most of all, I hate that I’m facing the loss of my first baby while I’m growing my second. I figured he wouldn’t be with us too much longer, but I wanted him to “meet” the baby. Every night he insists on lying on my growing belly as if he’s a mama hen incubating an egg. He always falls asleep and starts snoring. Over the last couple of weeks I have felt the baby moving around while he does that. I smile, wondering what boxer snores must sound like to something that has just formed ears.


One of the hardest life lessons for any of us to learn is the act of releasing control. It’s so hard. I know how I want my pregnancy to go. We find out the sex on Thursday and yes, we do have a preference since this will be our only child, but I know I’ll accept whatever fate has decided for me. I know how long I want my dog to live, but that’s not up to me to decide. It is true that sometimes when we give up control, things turn out better than we ever could have imagined. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.


There are a lot of uncertainties right now. Facing this battle with the dog while we’re trying to save for a baby, all with the fluctuating income of self-employment, is scary. All I can do is face each day with courage and do the best that I can for both of my babies. And I can be thankful that I’m not facing any of it alone. I truly do have the best life partner by my side, someone I grow to love more every day, and I have some extremely understanding friends.

There’s nothing that life could ever throw at you that can’t be fixed by the support of people who love you.



 
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