Today was the first time in months that I invited my beloved canine, Bubba Gump, into bed for a good cuddle. He was the baby before Roman came and would sleep in bed with us every night despite taking up as much room as a human adult (and no, he never curled up at the end of the bed out of the way). As my baby bump grew and sleep got more and more uncomfortable Mr. Gump had to be ousted to make room for the behemoth pregnancy pillow. With the arrival of the baby we opted for one pet-hair free zone in our house and our bedroom doors were closed to animals indefinitely.
Since the arrival of Roman my relationship with my ever-compromising animals has been strained and full of anger, guilt and gratitude. To lay it all out there I am responsible for 5 cats, 2 dogs, and 1 snake - remember I was the assistant director of an animal shelter in my last life! Often when I come home after a long day of caretaking and I sit on the couch to nurse Roman one more time before he goes to bed (aka sleep for 3 hours before getting up again) the last thing I want is a cat to get in my face or a dog to try and jump in my lap. "CAN'T YOU SEE THERE IS A BABY THERE?!" I yell. Or "GET OUT OF MY PERSONAL SPACE!! I NEED IT TO MYSELF FOR LIKE 5 SECONDS!!" And the animal gets pushed out of the way. Then I remember that 8 months ago, through no fault of their own, they were completely demoted. They used to see me sitting on the couch and they could soak up all the love they wanted! Now they are no longer the center of attention or have free reign throughout their home. They get their basic needs met, but extensive play time and cuddle parties are few and far between. When I compare their quality of life from last year to now I'm crushed with more guilt. I promise myself that I will do better and try harder to enrich their lives.
Once again through these difficult emotions I'm faced with a new perspective. Working at the shelter I used to judge families pretty harshly for rehoming their animals after having a baby. I felt like they were flippantly giving up on the commitment to their animals simply because they had a baby now instead. Like they were trading in used goods for something better. Not only did I think they were uncompassionate, but that they were going to be pretty terrible parents since they were going to teach their children that animals were so dispensable. I thought that way because all of my conversations would go like this:
Me: "Thank you for calling. This is Shannon, how can I help you?
Them: "We need to rehome our 10 year old dog."
Me: "I'm sorry to hear that! What is going on that you need to rehome them?"
Them: "We had a baby."
Me: "Ok...Is there anything else going on?"
Them: "...no, it's just that we have a baby now. We can't take care of the dog anymore."
Me [judging away in my head]: "Umm...ok, let me know more about the pet and I'll see what we can do."
Pre-baby Shannon only heard the conversation as it was communicated. I didn't understand at all why someone would give up a pet that they've had for so long because of a new baby. Heartless monsters all of them! Post-baby Shannon knows there is so much more going on. Things the person either doesn't know how to communicate, or is afraid to say because having a new baby is supposed to be the happiest time in our lives. There is struggle. There is sleep deprivation, frustration, depression, being shockingly overwhelmed, having no strength or energy for your basic responsibilities and yet you have this brand new, all dependent life to add into the daily grind. There is, once again, guilt. Guilt that for years your dog and cat had it all. Had all the treats, all the cuddles, all the exercise and now they are lucky to get a feeble pat on the head. OF COURSE it seems like another family would be better for them. Another family that has the kid thing figured out so they can dote on the dog. The doting that you want desperately to do, but just. can't.
I'm so sorry I judged you. I'm so sorry that I didn't offer more forgiveness or comfort. Mostly I'm sorry that I didn't say this:
If you can stick it through (and I know there are some instances where people won't be able to), your animals will be OK. Better even than if they went to a perfect new family (more on that some other time; shelter life deserves a post of its own). They love YOU. Your presence is enough to get them through those days you only have the stamina to feed them and let them outside (or for cats, just feed them - scooping litter boxes be damned). They sense your stress and they want you to be relaxed again too, but they are patient and will wait. I think they have a better sense than we do that this too shall pass. They will continue to love you and never be resentful for the months or year it took for you to return to yourself. In the midst of infant-hood it feels like this life is the new normal. It's not. One day you will wake up realizing you just got 6 (or *gasp* more!) full hours of sleep. The sun will shine. The coffee will drip. You will play fetch with your dogs and drag around a string for your cats. You will snuggle. Your baby will love them too. By the time this has come full circle they will have a new family member that has the energy and attention span to throw the ball enough times to wear them out. Even in my glory days I never accomplished that feat!
You are still a good Mama to your furbabies. You all will be fine.
My animals are safe and loved. That's the most important part. As Roman grows slightly more independent I'm able to dedicate more time to them and the stress of their care decreases. They still come when called and I'm forever grateful that they have stuck it through with us.
Perfect Stranger, tell me about your pets!