Chloe and Me

The Next Family

By: Sheana Ochoa

When I discovered I was pregnant one of my major concerns was how I was going to integrate my dog of twelve years into what I knew would be an all-consuming, twenty-four-seven, new life. Throughout the years, Chloe had trudged with me through my battles with depression, addiction, chronic illness; she’d been with me through two major relationships and their subsequent breakups, and while the men came and went, she remained steadfast, as dogs do.

This time there would be no man to contend with because I chose to have a baby on my own, but Chloe was still going to have to adjust to a love interest other than her. All through the first trimester of pregnancy, hunkered over the toilet with morning sickness (which is a misnomer; I was attached to that toilet day and night), Chloe would curl up on the bath mat like a silent Buddha assuring me, “this too shall pass.”

Once I started feeling better I shifted into high gear preparing for the baby. I tuned into pregnancy podcasts, went to meetings with other choice moms, took prenatal yoga, became CPR certified, met with a lactation consultant, and read every book out there on pregnancy and parenting. One day I came home with my color chart and headed straight to the nursery, when I realized something was wrong. Chloe hadn’t come to greet me with her usual booty-shaking-I-missed-you-so much dance. I found her in my room asleep on the bed. Instead of wondering what might be wrong with her, my first thought was on my baby. I had weighed the pros and cons of cosleeping with my baby and decided it would be a good idea as I planned to breastfeed. Chloe was going to have to get used to a doggy bed.

In retrospect I should have questioned Chloe’s stark change of behavior. When does a dog not bolt to greet you when you get home? But when I saw her sleeping in the bed I only thought about how hard it would be to retrain her. She and I had been sharing my bed since she was a pup; we actually spooned, her backside curled into my belly, her long legs sprawled in front of her, my arms extended so my hands could cup her paws. In the end it only took a week for her to get used to her doggy bed, a little too used to it.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, with Braxton Hicks and swollen ankles, I spent evenings with my legs elevated watching movies. I would bring Chloe’s doggy bed out to the living room so she could sprawl out. Sometimes I would call her up onto the couch to join me, but she ignored me. Did she know a baby was coming, or had I just neglected her so much she was getting used to the lack of attention? One day I walked into my room, full-bellied, arms loaded with shopping bags of baby gear, which I dropped, letting plop onto the floor with a loud thump. Chloe suddenly stood to attention; that’s when I realized she had gone deaf. She hadn’t been greeting me because she couldn’t hear me when I got home.

Nothing went as planned after the baby was born. I became ill postpartum. After a month I had to give up breast-feeding because it was too physically taxing. I could barely walk across the room, and was mostly bedridden. I had to leave my home in Los Angeles and move in with my mother. I couldn’t sleep with my son because I needed the rest to recuperate. After the third month of spending all day and night in bed, unable to even answer my own baby’s cries, I began to lose my sense of self, my identity.

Chloe seemed to know she was allowed back in bed or maybe she sensed my desperation and sadness. My body had betrayed me and I could not take care of my baby. I spent many days crying, not from the physical pain of my condition, but from the fact that I wasn’t bonding with my child. And there was Chloe. In my darkest hours, when I felt the most useless, it was my dog who kept me feeling like a human being. A year and half later our family of three is back in Los Angeles and although life with a toddler is hectic, I make sure I find time out every day to look Chloe in the eyes and thank her for always being there for me.

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