Monday, January 12, 2009


Recently I received a call from a woman (I'll call her "Kelly") in tears. She had given birth to a set of twins less than three weeks earlier and was feeling overwhelmed. Following my normal protocol, I spoke to her at length on the phone and inquired as to what, if any help she was receiving from family and friends. I provided her with a list of local resources and places to go for support. But even after all that was done, she could not stop crying.

As a doula, I have found that sometimes it takes a while for someone to tell you what is really bothering them - they may not even know themselves - and just listening is all you can do. In this particular case, I listened to Kelly for over an hour. She kept repeating how she knew childbirth should be a joyous event, but she was anxious. Finally, she confessed that she wished she had never gotten pregnant because the thought of losing Jack broke her heart.

Aha! I grasped at that last statement. Was Jack a friend who did not like children? Was he someone who had helped her throughout pregnancy and was now leaving her life? No. Jack was her beloved Rottweiler and companion for eight years. As Kelly explained it, she had adopted Jack from a local shelter when he was a puppy and they had been together ever since. Kelly had been with Jack for longer than she had been with her husband and was now terrified that the presence of children in the home meant that there was no place for Jack.

In the three weeks since the twins had been born, Jack had suddenly developed all sorts of undesirable behaviors. He had become destructive when left alone and even growled when Kelly or her husband held one of the babies in front of his face. The turning point really came however, when Jack snapped at one of the twins earlier that morning. Now Kelly's husband was insisting that the dog find a new home before one of the babies was injured.

I came over at 10am the next day to see if I could help. It was clear from the moment I walked in that Jack was feeling neglected and resentful. Like any new parents, Kelly and her husband had their hands full with their new babies and little time for anything else. When I inquired as to when Jack had last been walked, both Kelly and her husband looked sheepish. His normal walk was 7am, but on this particular morning, there had not yet been time to go out.

Kelly then showed me what had happened just before Jack had snapped at one of the twins. She had been holding one of the babies, trying to get the dog used to the scent. The dog has walked away during this exercise and gone into his crate. Kelly followed and tried again. The dog tried to leave the crate and Kelly crouched in front of the entrance, mistaking the dog's desire to leave as curiosity. As she stood up, she readjusted the baby in her arms so that the baby's face was right over the dog's head. The dog interpreted this as a threatening act and it was then that the dog snapped (but did not bite).

I began to understand the problem. First, Jack's needs were being pushed aside for the new babies. If the twins had a human older sibling who needed to be fed and helped to the potty, Kelly and her husband would have to accommodate those needs. It is no different with a dog. Jack's 7am walk could not be consistently forgotten and his lack of exercise was likely making him act poorly. (After all, an exhausted dog is too tired to destroy the house when left alone). I recommended a dog walking service in the area who could help take over the walks while Kelly and her husband developed a new routine.

More importantly, Kelly and her husband did not understand some of the basics of canine behavior. Jack's crate was his safe space. When presented with a situation that made him uncomfortable (a newborn baby being pressed against him), Jack had responded the only way that made sense. He had gone into his crate. This is the doggie equivalent of going into a room and shutting the door. And yet, Kelly had followed him and taken away Jack's one refuge in the apartment. Then, when Jack tried to find a new space to rest, Kelly had (in Jack's mind) blocked his exit and trapped him. Jack felt frightened and cornered and had snapped in a fear reaction.

I spent the rest of my visit helping Kelly and her husband learn safe ways to introduce the twins to Jack and providing them with local resources for dog owners and parents of multiples. I watched the twins for a bit so that Kelly could take Jack for a walk and some one-on-one time and her husband could nap. And I left them with tips on how to correct and prevent problem behavior in Jack. We scheduled my follow-up visit for a couple of days later.

This evening I called Kelly to check in and see how things were going. I was especially concerned about how Jack had been reacting to the twins. When Kelly answered, she was a completely different person than the woman I originally spoke to on the phone. She and her husband had hired a dog walker and started taking Jack to play at a local Doggie Day Care facility. They had stopped forcing interactions between Jack and the babies and, while Jack did not seem particuarly interested in the babies, he no longer reacted aggressively to them. Kelly's husband had agreed that Jack could remain in the home.

During the call, I asked Kelly what she was doing, as it seemed very quiet on the other end of the phone. "Oh," she replied. "I am snuggling with my baby on the couch."

"Which one?" I asked.

"Jack," she replied, happily.


In 1989 I started a new school. I was a freshman in high school and, while I could have enrolled in the local high school in the town in which I grew up, I ask made the decision to leave my friends behind and enroll in a nearby private school.

I still remember the night before the first day of school very clearly. I could not sleep - the mix of nerves and excitement kept me awake – and I spent an inordinate amount of time deciding what my first day of school outfit should look like. Blue jeans were not allowed and I had no idea what the current fashion for a high schooler was (having never been one before). I remember thinking that the next 4 years would be defined by the outfit I chose. And, I still remember what I wore: a light blue skirt given to my by my cousin in exchange for writing one of his papers and a collared t-shirt. I am probably the only person who remembers that outfit.

When I arrived at school, I expected that everyone would be strangers to each other and was dismayed to discover that was not true. Instead, I found the cliques had formed and that people knew each other prior to the start of school. I met a girl named Cari (who 19 years later is still one of my best friends) and together, we navigated the perils of high school. At first, we formed a clique made up of people who had nothing in common other than the fact that they were not part of an already formed clique, but as people got to know each other, friendships faded, blossomed and changed.

By graduation, it was easy to forget who knew each other before school had started and who met in school. Instead of clinging to each other as we had in the early days, friendships were now based on common interests such as theater, sports, and mooning over cute boys. We had grown up together - learning how to deal with new and raw emotions and getting ready for life’s next steps. And, my senior year, I remember watching the freshman start school and go through what seemed like such as unique experience to me as a freshman.

Almost exactly 19 years after that first day of high school, I attended my first New Moms group. Meeting for 2 hours on Mondays, it was a support group for new moms in NYC and mostly a way to get out and meet other moms and spend some time talking to adults, as opposed to an infant. I have no idea what I wore to that meeting, but I spent an inordinate amount of time deciding how to dress my daughter. I remember thinking that my skills as a mother would be defined by the outfit I chose. Finally, after trying on several different onesies, I settled on one given to us by Cari. It was green with purple trim. I am probably the only person who remembers that outfit.

Just like in high school, when I arrived at the group, I expected that everyone would be strangers to each other and was dismayed to discover that was not true. Friends who had babies near in time to each other were attending and many in the group had been coming for several months and had become friends.

When I left the group, I called Cari to tell her how I had gone to the group, but had not met anyone with whom I felt a connection. She reminded me that, as the mother of an infant, just showering and getting out of the house was a triumph and that, more importantly, we had not met on the first day of school, but rather sometime in the second week. I had survived the first week alone.

So, I went back to the Moms’ group and also reached out to folks from my childbirth class. First there was Katy and then Sarah, and Caroline and Maria and Angela and others. At first I found people with whom I had nothing in common other than the fact that we were all first time moms with babies of a similar age. Six months later, friendships have faded, grown and changed and now, when we get together, the babies are not the only topic of conversation.

And, not so different from adolescence, the other new moms I have met have helped me make sense of the new and strange emotions I am experiencing. (It is nice to be reassured that I am not the only one who can no longer watch television shows involving sick and dying children without checking on the baby 40 times an hour). We bonded over husbands who don’t seem to hear the baby crying at 4am, laughed together when one of the baby boys projectile peed all over a strange woman at Lohemans and mourned together when we lost a member of our little clique.

Last Monday, I went back to the Moms’ group. I had been going less often as Mondays have gotten busy and now that I have a great circle of friends and my own business, I don’t need the excuse to get out of the apartment or a pre-made group of adults for conversation. When I arrived, there were two women who mentioned they were attending for the first time. When I looked, I noticed how their babies outfits seemed meticulously planned and how they glanced from person to person, nervously looking for an excuse to talk to someone. And a way to break into what seemed like pre-established cliques.

Thinking back to how I felt that first day of high school, the first day at the Moms’ Group and thinking that not everyone is lucky enough to have a Cari in their lives to put everything in perspective, I simply walked up to them and asked how old their babies were. We spoke (mostly about the babies) for 30 miniutes and by the time I left the conversation, these women were exchanging emails addresses and phone numbers. I have no idea if they will remain friends, but it is nice to be the senior watching the freshman again.