Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mothering Pups

This past week, I’ve been congratulated on being a new mother and a new grandmother. I’m neither. My dog, Spray, had ten puppies. She is the new mom. I am her owner. But when I watch her nurse her pups, I can almost feel my milk let down. When I hear the pups cry for their mom, I want to climb in the whelping bed and snuggle with them.

Watching Spray labor, deliver and care for her puppies brought me to a place I didn’t expect to revisit. Days before her delivery, Spray was a pup herself, playing with our older grouchy dog, asking for attention from my husband, two daughters and me, and happy to lounge around the house.

As she labored, she didn’t scream in pain, ask for an epidural, punch her husband, throw up on the doctor or wonder how she had gotten herself in this predicament. From 3:30 to 11:11 am, she quietly and without fanfare slid out 10 puppies.

With the birth of her puppies, the mother instinct kicked in big time. Her first puppy confused her but after being reassured she had done nothing wrong, her mothering genes took over. She didn’t need a lesson in how to nurse or bathe her pups – she knew to lick them clean. She didn’t need to be shown how to strap a snuggly on to keep her young close – she smelled them to count them, and she didn’t seem in discomfort with ten puppies sucking on her nine teats.

I wasn’t sure I knew how to be a mother when I came home from the hospital with my first daughter. I lay in bed convinced her real parents were going to show up soon to get her. I listened to our tenant downstairs going out at night, thinking my life as I knew it was officially over and I would no longer have any freedom. I was tied to this child.

While I was right, I didn’t know how delighted I would be – for the most part – to give up what I perceived to be sacrifices – movies, dinners out, late night drinking – in exchange for loving and raising two children.

Spray didn’t leave her pups at all for the first week. She ran outside to do her “business” and came right back in. As the pups begin to mature – and they mature at warp speed – she leaves them and visits us in another room for a few minutes, or goes outside with our older dog for a sibling romp. When my first daughter was a few months old, my husband and I left her with my parents so we could go to a Nanci Griffith concert. I worried the whole time.

If Spray can’t get back in, she scratches wildly at the back door. She’s frantic if she hears her pups cry, returning quickly to lick or nurse them as they peep and squeak in joy.

The puppies are less than two weeks old and they are trying to stand up, just the way my daughters did at a year old, holding on to the rim of the coffee table before letting go and plopping down on their diapered behinds.

Just as my husband and I chronicled our daughters’ births and development with photographs and videos, we’re chronicling the puppies’. We even post updates on Facebook regularly and I talk about them incessantly to my students, to the butcher and basically anyone who will listen. Maybe I am a proud new parent after all.

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