Once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago, but actually only 4 1/2 years, I had a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and two 7-week-old puppies named Chico and Annie. This was an insane combination. I have been reading my old journals lately, and I have to tell you, this sounds exactly like someone trying to take care of twin human babies while caring for an older person with dementia. Why did we adopt these dogs? Our old dog had died, and we missed having a dog around the house. Neighbors advertised a litter of Lab-terrier pups, and they were so cute Fred suggested we get two, the black male for him, the tan female for me. It was insane and wonderful at the same time.
My journal entries are all about the pups peeing, chewing, crying and needing to be held and loved and about how Fred needed pretty much the same thing, minus the chewing of furniture and shoes. I’d put one pup in the crate, and the other would pop out. I’d leave them alone for a minute and find them fighting, one pup trapped behind the water heater, her ear bloody. I had the vet’s phone on speed dial. I’d clean up one mess and turn around to see the other dog squatting on the carpet. I bought absorbent pads by the ton and my hands always smelled like urine. If I needed to leave, I had to find someone to care for the dogs or take them with me in the car. Fred couldn’t dog-sit. I’d say, “Put them in the laundry room,” and he would respond, “What’s the laundry room?” It was that bad.
This went on for weeks, then months. I took the dogs to training classes, doing an hour with one, then putting that one back in the car and doing it all again with the other dog. As my husband deteriorated, I had paid caregivers coming in and left them lengthy notes about what needed to be done for both the husband and the dogs. If I couldn’t get a sitter or they didn’t show up, I couldn’t go. I worried every minute until I got home, usually to a disaster of some sort. Although I tried to pretend otherwise, my work suffered. I tried to write when the husband was busy or asleep and the dogs finally conked out at night, but I was always listening for them to get up or cry out. I write about eating a pancake breakfast at church and wanting to cry because finally I could eat in peace and someone actually served my food to me.
It sounds an awful lot like being a mother. So what if I was mothering dogs and a 71-year-old husband? I did everything but give birth and breastfeed. And yes, I had already helped raise my youngest stepson, too. He lived with us from age 11 to 20. I didn’t do motherhood in the normal way, but I feel justified in claiming the title of “mom.”
How about you? Many of us weep over our loss of babies, but are there ways in which you feel you have been a mother, even though you never gave birth?