Read Autumn — Chapter 8
Despite the fact that Dan and I had spent almost two years in couples counseling, the combination of marrying young and living with family had taken its toll on our marriage. As is often the case, there was also a strain between my desire to start a family and Dan’s desire to wait. As his final year at the university wound down, we decided our marriage was over.
We had moved from the apartment to a tiny little house with a small yard, a minuscule garden, and a park nearby for the dogs to run and play. Dan moved out of this little house and back into his parent’s, but would visit with Autumn every so often. He had been offered a job in California, and I think he knew that after he left, he might not see her again.
I remained in Corvallis with Autumn after Dan moved away. Over the next year, I dated a few different men, and eventually met another man named Bjorn. Without intending to quite so soon, our relationship became much more serious than we intended when I discovered I was pregnant. While I was concerned about an impending pregnancy with a man I had only known a few short months, I was also delighted. I had wanted a baby with Dan, but he had not wanted to start a family while he was still in college. Bjorn had two years left before graduation, but when I informed him I was pregnant, he was as excited as I was.
How does one explain circumstances about which one is certain to be judged by a segment of the population? I wasn’t as circumspect as I could have been. I certainly could have made choices that to some would have seemed wiser. Yet I have no regrets; once the seed of my child was planted, I would not have changed a thing that could have arrived at a different result. I knew three months into the pregnancy that I would have ended the relationship with Bjorn sooner rather than later – we were completely incompatible in many ways. But after my baby was born, and even before when she was a minuscule mass of cells clinging to the inside of my body, there was no way I could imagine my life without her.
The months I was pregnant were emotional, both up and down. In retrospect, I realized I was mourning the loss of my marriage and the friendship I had carried for over seven years, while I was simultaneously intoxicated with the joy of expecting a new baby. It was a paradoxical place.
Prior to my pregnancy and after Autumn had decided she was no longer interested in going for runs with me, I would take Molly running or roller-blading, then take both dogs to the park near my house to run and play. When the weather was warm, I would take Autumn swimming. She was extremely healthy. After having spent several years swimming in the summers, she no longer displayed any signs of hip dysplasia. She was quite active, and though not as lithe as Molly, she was definitely athletic and capable. After I became pregnant, I stayed active, walking both dogs, roller-blading and running with Molly for as long as the pregnancy would allow, and riding horses well into my sixth month. The dogs enjoyed the exercise. As the year wore down from fall to winter, we all settled in, expectant and waiting for the enormous change due in spring.
Both of the dogs were big shedders. In spite of the fact that I vacuumed at least every three days, there were always puffles of fur in the corners, under the furniture, and in my bedding. I would joke that I could collect this fur and make a pillow out of it, there was so much.
Bjorn and I had moved into an apartment together. The little house I lived in first with Dan, then by myself was simply too small for our family. As the time grew nearer for our baby to arrive, I began nesting in earnest, cleaning and vacuuming. As my due date loomed, I became nearly frantic with the desire to move about, wishing I could run or ride my bike as I had before the pregnancy.
I awakened the first morning of May and wanted to get out of the house, in spite of the fact that I had expanded beyond any notion of comfort. I had heard that walking could help bring on labor so I was headed out. I grabbed my purse, keys, and the dogs and jumped into the car, Bjorn trailing. The local kennel club was sponsoring a pet day fair. At the fair, hawkers sold kerchiefs, dog toys, leashes, and other assorted canine goods. We wandered for a couple of hours, until my hips could no longer tolerate my weight and the heat. It was a warm day for early spring.
We spent the rest of the day out and about, doing our best to encourage baby’s arrival. It must have worked, because shortly before midnight, my contractions began and increased. At 12:24 p.m. on May 2, 1999, Milla Elina was born.
The two of us had arranged with my best friend Debbie and her husband Robert to take care of our dogs while I was in the hospital having the baby. They were parents to a kitty named Misty and completely understood the relationship I had with my dogs – as far as we all were concerned, the dogs were surrogate children and could not be left to fend for themselves for two or three days.
In spite of the love I felt for Autumn and Molly, I was unprepared for the tsunami level of emotion I felt toward my infant daughter. It was all consuming. I suppose this connection is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species. I was in such love, such infatuation, such complete adoration for my child, I could not understand why everyone wasn’t having babies. I walked around for weeks staring at everyone thinking, “You were someone’s baby! Someone loved you like this!” Only later as the hormones wore off did I understand intellectually that some people never feel like I did, but I could never understand it in my heart. I loved my child with my whole body, mind, and spirit.
When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to Milla, Autumn kept trying to get up in my lap, to get near me, but I was afraid she would hurt the baby. I had sworn before giving birth that I would not become one of those people whose dogs disappeared into the background, forgotten and forlorn, but during the first few days home, I did just that. Once we were used to having the baby around and had settled into a routine, I shifted back and Autumn became part of my attention circle again, but I’m sure the first couple of weeks were very hard for her. I imagine in some ways this is how it is for older children when a new baby is born, especially when they are very close together in age. There were fifteen months between my sister and me, and when Milla was fifteen months old, I could not fathom bringing home another infant. She was still very much a baby. People do it, but it must be hard.
Bjorn and I decided that Milla would sleep with us. We bought a pillow with a curve in it and placed her between us on the queen bed. Those first nights were difficult, mainly because little Milla kept getting dog hair in her nose, making it hard for her to breathe. In spite of all my cleaning, there were still dog hairs in the bed, and they would stick to Milla’s little nostrils, causing her to sneeze and cry. I had thought we could manage allowing the dogs to sleep on the floor next to the bed, but that first night they kept trying to get on the bed and get near me. Bjorn would yell and shove them hard onto the floor.
It pains me now to know that I did not do more to stop him. I felt so exhausted and physically worn out. It breaks my heart that I let him treat both of my dogs that way and especially Autumn. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her. She had lived with me her entire life, nearly six years, and this man who had arrived less than a year previously yelled at her and often hit her and at first I stood by and let it happen, too spent to do anything about it. And here was this new baby, taking all my attention, and causing her more grief. It’s not something I can really reconcile in my mind; I wish I had done more for her, prepared better, done something different, but I did not. Thinking of it still gives me a hard spot in the pit of my stomach.
After the first night, I decided to thoroughly clean and vacuum the bedroom. There was so much dog hair, even though I vacuumed nearly daily. It was in the crevices along the wall, behind the bed, in the covers, under the sheets. I took the bed apart completely, unmoored it from its frame, and vacuumed everything from the mattresses, to the carpets, to the window sills. I washed the sheets and bedding, and dusted all the floorboards.
Once the bed was rebuilt, remade, and the room completely hair free, I put up two baby gates in the hall between the bedroom door and the rest of the house. The dogs hovered around the outside gate, wanting in, whining and moaning. I have a photograph from that time, of the two dogs lying out there with pained expressions on their faces, wishing and hoping that they could come back to bed with me.
Keeping the dogs out of the bed made sleeping much easier for the humans, and much more difficult for the dogs. Autumn had never been ostracized before. It was terrible for her. She began to act seriously depressed. I was so involved with the baby, I did not have the energy to give to her, and her heart was broken. She kept trying to get close to me and I kept pushing her away because I did not want her to hurt Milla.
I would sit on the couch trying to nurse (something that was not going well) and Autumn would attempt to jump up next to me. I would halfheartedly tell her to get down, then Bjorn would yell at her. I eventually succumbed and allowed Autumn to lie next to me on the couch while Milla suckled. She curled into a little ball and snuggled as close as she could get. What kind of person had I turned into that I let this happen? My only pathetic excuse was new parenthood and all the that goes with it.
We did eventually get into the groove of parenting. Milla grew and after only a couple of months, the dogs were allowed back in the bedroom and back in our bed. It made for crowded sleeping, but everyone was more content.
Read Autumn — Chapter 10