A Birth Experience Like No Other
The puppies are here! All five of them! Though it could have been seven.
The first was a stillborn. The little baby lay lifeless as Rafa tried to lick her back to life. Our attempts at resuscitation failed too. We covered her with a towel and set her aside, praying for the others to come out safely.
The next three hours were agonizing, watching her grieve, seeing her in pain, as she experienced intense contractions without being able to deliver. We finally rushed her to the emergency clinic where she was administered calcium and pictocin. And there, finally, on the floor of the clinic, after almost four hours, the second one came out, a breached baby. Now a stillborn.
Watching the agony of our dog, her grief, our grief, we were beside ourselves worrying about what would happen next, how many more were there, whether they would make it, how we would make it ourselves through the night.
But in no time, another one slipped out, alive and well. And then another one, in the backseat of the car as we returned from the clinic. And one more soon after we got home. Three had made it. It felt done. We gave Rafa some milk, cleaned up the area, sent off messages announcing the birth and watched with relief as the survivors started to feed. We left to get some shut eye.
We woke up to five puppies. Rafa had delivered two more by herself in the middle of the night.
Having gone through pregnancy and childbirth myself, I marvel at this. Mine was a “spontaneous conception,” medically speaking (like hell; we had been trying for a year), and I had a normal delivery. Except nothing about it was normal. I had a room full of people encouraging me to push, a doctor explaining what pushing meant, someone to assist with the breastfeeding, and so much more. Even the most basic of human births, whether at home, or in water or with a doula, requires assistance.
Rafa did it all herself, though. There was no instruction, no hesitation. She was guided by her instinct. And while technically she did have a medical intervention, I suspect it was more a response to our need than hers. And honestly, I don’t know if it really helped or changed the outcome in anyway.
It has been exhilarating to see birth in a way at once so alien and so familiar. There are so many recognizable elements — maternal instinct, guilt, protectiveness, but they look very different.
It was anxiety about the well-being of her puppies in the early days that made her reluctant to leave their side, even to go out to do her business. When we did manage to get her out, she would come tearing back, crying, perhaps expecting the worst — losing them to predators or reckless drivers. Human mothers are anxious too, but mostly about the health of our babies: are they eating enough, are they colicky?
She is fiercely protective and extremely selective about who she allows in. (Hapless passers-by who have the misfortune of sharing the elevator with her do not make the list.) This will wane in about a month, once the puppies are weaned and mobile. We are protective too. In the early days with our babies, we may be particular about who handles the baby and how, but we aren’t all that selective or fiercely protective. It is only now, as my son starts to walk, talk, and step outside our home, that I get intensely cautious, guarding him from the sharp edges of furniture, from strangers on the street, or bullies in his school.
And of course, the too-familiar maternal guilt — the anguished howl when she returns from a trip outside, the hesitation to eat, the anxious hovering each time we look in. I’ve re-examined my own feelings of guilt after watching Rafa, who is only burdened by instinct. Perhaps I imputed social and societal reasons for it because I was not able to tell nature from nurture.
A week down, she is now more herself and less a wonderous creature of nature. She is calmer, more rested, and ravenously hungry. She spends more time outside the enclosure, taking breaks from the gnawing puppies and to replenish her milk supply (for which she gets a lot of flack from the elders in my family: “She has lost interest in feeding her babies!”). And to my envy, other than the hanging teats, all signs of the weight she had put on during her brief pregnancy are completely gone.
The puppies are the marvels of nature, now, like my son was when he was born. We congratulate Rafa, pat her absently for the amazing job she did, while we stroke pink little paws and soft ears that are almost sewn shut. Soon they will open their eyes, learn to walk, and get very, very naughty, like my own child. And more quickly than him, they’ll be full grown. Until then, we watch with awe.