My rescue dog was supposed to be training for a baby. He ended up loving me through a miscarriage.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know anything about babies. Once, during a conversation with a new mommy friend, I asked if her 3-month-old had “opened her eyes yet”.
Then, a few years ago, my husband and I started ticking the boxes of traditional adulthood. We bought a car and a house, and then—instead of a baby, the biggest checkbox—we felt ready to adopt a dog. It allowed us to test the waters of parenthood with a creature that ultimately couldn’t tell us in plain language how much we suck.
I started browsing the Petfinder adoption website almost every night, and at one point there was Marty – his head cocked to the side, his tongue hanging out and a big smile on his face, as if he had just told a joke. He was found on the side of a country road in Tennessee and given the ill-fitting nickname Markus by a Connecticut-based rescue team. His coarse gray fur and bearded muzzle earned him the label of a schnauzer mix, but an at-home DNA test would later prove he looked more like a terrier with a pit bull, a cattle dog and a chihuahua.
It’s true what literally every person on Earth has said about having a dog: it’s a lot of responsibility. And that’s especially true for someone with quirks like Marty’s. There were the cute quirks, like how he was always ready to play and rested his chin on just about anything available to him. And then there were the tough ones, like his habit of barking at the slightest noise from a passerby or rushing at strangers who he considered a threat. (To him they were all threats.)
Marty turned out to be the perfect distraction early last year when I found out I was both fired and pregnant in the same week. I was just getting used to taking care of a dog, and now I have a baby to take care of? Instead of letting reality sink in, I irrationally focused a lot of my effort (and anxieties) on him. I took him to dog trainers, bought some new supplies and did hours of research online to see if I could capitalize my way to a perfect pooch amid the uncertainty that was seething in Me.
This bubble burst six weeks later. I awoke to see that a thin layer of freezing rain had frosted the yard overnight – a surprise, given the sunshine the day before. By the time the ice melted, I was no longer pregnant.
One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and that’s only counting those among people who know they’re pregnant. Approximately 23 million miscarriages occur worldwide every year, approximately 44 losses per minute. Having been through it – the blood, the cramps, the disappointment – I can confirm that none of these stats hurt any less.
My greatest consolation was finding a dog who happily rushed over to give me soft, welcoming licks, completely unaware that I had just spent two hours in the ER having blood drawn, multiple ultrasounds and a heartbreaking conversation with a doctor.
Marty’s presence gave the whole experience a layer of relief and normalcy: yes, a terrible thing happened, but I still have to go home and spend time with my dog. Our routines continued. We ate breakfast and took a morning walk, and then he spent much of the day perched on “his” blue armchair, staring out our bay window like a guard watching over his post.
The real test came months later, in the fall, as I entered the second trimester of another unexpected pregnancy.
This one was different. I still didn’t know anything about babies, but I was reading a ton and felt ready to get to grips with this new life. “I’m so glad it’s happening now and not then,” I said. told close friends I shared the news with. I felt nothing but optimism when I started my first ultrasound.
“How far did you say you were?” the radiologist asked as she checked for a heartbeat.
“Eleven weeks,” I said, feeling my blood pressure rise as only my own (stressed) heartbeat resurfaced. Oh, my God, it was happening again.
Part of the pain of a miscarriage is the frustrating lack of answers. First, there is the discomfort of having to wait for an official result from a doctor. I didn’t find out until several hours later that the radiologist was seeing a 6-week-old embryo on the screen, despite the luxurious 11 weeks he’d had in gestation.
The other frustration is never really knowing why. Why me? Why now? Could my miscarriages have been avoided? I thought I had done everything “right” in these pregnancies, but I still haven’t succeeded. I lived through the guilt and shame felt by many who miscarry.
Worse still, my body wasn’t getting the message that this pregnancy wasn’t viable. It’s called a “silent miscarriage” or “missed abortion” in the medical world. Instead of having a natural miscarriage, I had to undergo a medical abortion.
I was given a choice of method and opted for a home dose of misoprostol – a privilege to live in a state that respects the autonomy of women. While less invasive, it still meant that all I could do was lie on the couch watching sitcom reruns, spontaneously writhing through heavy cramps while switching pad after pad after pad after pad.
Where was Marty? Right by my side. It was the ball of fur nestled in my duvet. The wet nose sniffling my tear-soaked face. The reason to get out of bed and into the world, however briefly, when I’m at my lowest.
The whole ordeal took longer than it should have, and almost a week later it became clear that I would also need dilation and curettage, the surgical procedure known as the D&C name. It wasn’t a typical turn of events, but every reproductive journey is unique. It can be complicated and messy, and it requires defending yourself every step of the way. I learned that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’, just ups and downs.
I knew my rescue dog was not a telepathic healer, but he somehow understood that I was physically limited during those weeks. He didn’t put me through his usual antics of moving shoes around different rooms in the house, or the “I’ll bite your hands until you play with me” game. He was as gentle and comforting as possible for an animal that didn’t know what was going on.
Now that it’s all over, it feels weird to say that I’m grateful – not for what happened, but for what I have. Instead of seeing Marty as a checkbox to start a family, I’m taking advantage of the family we already have with him now.
I try not to wring my hands over what the future will bring. Dogs mostly live in the present, and I’m happy to be here in ours.
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