A funny thing happened after I wrote an essay in the magazine about how my relationship with my dog changed after I had my baby.
First, a little back story: the essay was one of those I’ve been writing in my head for years. It’s not exactly a subject for polite company; I couldn’t quite go around crabbing to my dog-rescuing mother-in-law, for instance, that Hoover had descended to my sh*t list. As a result, all of my frustration and resentment at my dog built up inside me like an untreated disease.
As I wrote in the essay, “In our culture, this is the hate that dare not speak its name.” This is even clearer to me now, thanks to the torrent of passionate response from readers in defense of Hoover and in condemnation of me. It’s not cool to admit you hate your pet. It brings into question your character, your capacity for love, even, apparently, your sanity.
And yet I know I’m not alone. I know of no scientific study on the matter, but I’ve spoken to enough mothers who quietly confessed a similar change of heart after they gave birth: sudden, dramatic, horrifying to those of us who had considered ourselves pet lovers. The pet had been their baby. Now that a baby was their baby, the pet had to be a pet. And pets take a lot of energy, care, and, yes, love–at a time when we don’t feel we have any to spare. (Our husbands will confirm that last point.)
I’m sure there are pet-owning mothers out there who feel no such thing. But I’m only telling you what happened to me. I happened to tell you on the back page of a magazine read by about 4 million people–3.9 million of you who apparently own or rescue basset hounds. Some of you would point out this was perhaps not the wisest move for someone who appreciates her privacy and does not appreciate being called a piece of excrement. But I’m glad I did. Here’s why.
Back to the funny thing. Writing that essay was intensely cathartic for me. Those of you who write, whether for yourselves or for a mass audience, know this can be so. All that pent-up resentment poured out of me into 800 words. Your responses poured in, and that, too, moved me.
A few days later, I was brushing Hoover’s fur outside as usual. When you brush under his front armpit really hard, it makes his back leg kick out in sheer pleasure. As he was spazzing out with joy, I realized I wasn’t feeling annoyed or impatient or pissed off about the clouds of dander that now stuck to my black pants. Over the following few days, during which he continued to get underfoot as usual and dribble urine as usual and projectile shed his danderous fur as usual, I noticed feeling–what could this be?–sympathy. He’s old. He’s getting older. And smellier, and more neurotic. But for perhaps the first time in almost three years, this fact elicited less irritation than pity.
I’m not saying we’re BFF again. His place at the fore of my heart has forever been usurped by my child. But writing that essay was for me like vomiting up some virus that had been eating up my insides for years. (Sorry for the image.) For those of you who plan to comment that this is a convenient change of heart, consider: what have I to gain by bringing all this up once more? You basset-rescuers are free to judge me yet again. But for those handful of working moms out there who might have gone through a similar experience, I’m here to share with you that it appears our relationships post-baby continue to evolve.
As I write this, the dog is lying here as he always does at my feet in my home office. And I’m not thinking about the stink coming off of him. Well, maybe a little, but only when the wind shifts.