Friday, July 29, 2011


I have never quite grokked it when a woman complains that she is feeling "hormonal."

When a man makes a sub-simian crack about a woman along those lines, I just figure he's looking for a convenient excuse for why she ceased tolerating his bullshit and either gave him what was coming to him or is currently weeping/in a bubblebath behind a locked door. But why would a woman say this about herself? Accepting the patriarchal dismissal of her legitimate grievances? Does she need a copy of Right Wing Women more than a cup of chamomile and a Pamprin?

Me, I'm a contextual Raging Bitch From Hell. It's very easy to externalize that which calls forth The Dragon, because it was probably some gratuitous bullshit you just pulled, jackass. As for the weepies, I'm also from Leaky Irish stock, which knows no gender of phase of the moon. A sad television commercial can bring it on.*

But Rosie -- Rosie proves that one can be utterly and sincerely ruled by hormones.

The three weeks before she produced the Roseannadannas featured some of the hottest, most unforgiving weather I can remember. We also brought a teenage foster puppy into the pack for rehab work. Everyone had every reason to be crabby. Rosie is crabby and controlling with the other dogs as a baseline. Rosie would like me to inform you that she is not crabby or in any way a control freak, but merely committed to responding appropriately to Sophia and Moe and all new dogs' incomprehensible failure to line up and get with the fuckin' program.

So what did heat indices pushing 120° F, a new teenage dork-boy up in her grille, and the sudden eruption of a hot watermelon full of squirming aliens pressing against her liver do to Ebil Rosie?

Why, made her sweet** and tolerant, of course. What else would it do?

Oxytocin is a helluva drug.

On Monday, a few hours after her temperature dropped, she began a prolonged Stage I labor -- several days before I really expected it. Her new beatific tolerance for fooldogs did not exactly abate -- it's just that the other dogs fell off her radar for 21 hours, while she paced, dug, whined and panted.

I did not fall off the radar, and my presence was not optional. I slept in fitful snippets on a dog bed next to the whelping kiddie pool, to anchor Rosie to her assigned nest. And to be available when she needed to periodically crawl into my skin. What the hell is happening to me?! Mommy, I feel weird!

The moment the first puppy appeared, she understood what it was all about and was ready to assume her primal role as Ur Mommy. She expertly severed his umbilical cord and went to work cleaning and stimulating him.

So did I. Firstborn was not breathing.

The big, shiny, pink puppy didn't respond to resuscitation -- either his mother's traditional methods or the modern options available to a well-briefed primate doula with opposable thumbs and a tube of glucose. He looked perfectly good, but never drew a breath.

Rosie knew it wasn't right, but she also didn't know what right was supposed to be. I kept hoping for a second puppy to occupy her, but after twenty minutes I had to take her firstborn away from her. It was another twenty before a living squalling sibling appeared.

Until he did, Rosie periodically stared intently at the table where her firstborn lay inert, and cried out.

I don't know whether the immediate needs of a squirming, squalling infant causes a bitch to forget the inert one that the monkey took away, or whether she just becomes too busy to dwell on her loss, but still remembers. I hope for the former; it would be a uncharacteristic kindness of Nature.

As the night wore on, Rose produced four more healthy, squirming pups. Then a long and worrisome interval -- and a terrible presentation, one shoulder and tiny foot protruding. For a brief and horrifying moment I thought I was seeing a headless puppy. The sable runt's head was folded back onto his chest; I pushed him back to free it. Released, the tiny, skinny puppy seemed much more dead than his firstborn brother. Rosie and I worked on him, and another moribund brother quickly appeared; I woke up PC, who worked on that one while I gave Little Man a drop of glucose and chest compressions and his mother licked his face, and licked, and licked, and then Little Man gasped, and gaped, and breathed. But he did not move -- his little legs did not pump, and his Gumbied neck could not support his head.

The brother who had been held up in passage was blue-grey and full of fluid and not coming back. Just bad luck.

A sister emerged, squalling, and then Rosie just knew that she was finished, message received from the same mysterious set of chemical switches that had told her that she was starting; but this time, she knew what was finished. I put Little Man under her neck so he could pass his life in warmth and love, and we both lost consciousness for an hour or so. When I woke up, expecting another dead puppy, he was crawling and squalling and moving his head. He was half the size of his biggest siblings, but he could suckle. It could happen.

Rosie is not the relaxed and world-tolerant dam her mother was. She fretted. Not only wouldn't let her best buddies come into the room, but was vexed about them being on the other side of a gate or outside on the deck. It was near-impossible to get her outside to powder her nose. She'd even nose my hand aside when I touched the puppies; no implied threat, just firm persistence. If a puppy squeaked, she looked for someone to blame.

Little Man squeaked the most, and he squeaked differently from his siblings. He suckled, but did not gain. His ribs showed. He got cold in the middle of the pile-up. He worried her. He worried me. I called the vet and arranged to bring him by to measure a feeding tube. Tucked him under his sleeping mother and went out to milk the goats, so I'd have fresh warm supplemental formula for him. The least I could do, and the most I should. To bully Life where she does not wish to abide only delays and magnifies and perhaps delegates suffering and heartbreak.

I'm grateful he completed his brief pass through this world asleep and snuggled up to his mother's fur, and not in a vet's cold exam room or a box in the car.

For the little sable fighter, and his two unlucky brothers -- both Rosie and I have remained rather hormonal, if not so anxious as before. Rosie passed the next two days with her six fat healthy pups who hardly ever squeak, shedding some of her worry. Has she been more fretful and paranoid than her own mother because the gain is set too high on her ruling hormones -- or because of the grief of losing babies, something Pip never experienced? She seems to find her six healthy puppies more precious and vulnerable.

I occasionally hear of helpful people who declare that a mother who miscarries or loses an infant at birth can't or doesn't, or shouldn't, grieve the loss "as if" she'd bonded with the baby. You know, you can always make another one.

Rosie made six on the same damned day, and still ...

I know I am "hormonal" over those lost babies. Dwelling on the lost potential and what ifs. Thinking of our Mel, resuscitated at birth by her breeder, and how much poorer the world would be today if she'd never drawn that breath and gone on and made her mark on so many lives and hearts, lives she saved, not metaphorically, literally saved them from imminent death. Then I look at Rosie and her treasured brood, how protective she is of them surrounded by love and safety, and think of the unimaginably sad life of a puppymill brood bitch, and what it would be like to need to protect one's babies while trapped in a wire cage, surrounded by barking and chaos, no one rubbing your ears and telling you how beautiful your babies are and what a good Mommy you are, no one hand-feeding you balls of ground beef or bringing you fresh goat's milk and homemade chicken stock, just a hopper of Old Roy hanging from the wire, and a hamster bottle, and good luck with that. You can go down that pathway into a very dark and tangled forest, with grief driving at your heels.

Friday morning PC told me that she left the pups for several minutes and accompanied him on morning chores. "I think she's bored."

But no, that wasn't it at all. The Hormones had spoken again, and they were very specific this time.

After breakfast she started trotting around the house and yard. She greeted her mother as if someone else had enforced a separation. I could see her casing the joint. Because Day Four is Moving Day.

When her mother declared Moving Day eight years ago, one of Rosie's half-brothers† suffered a lot of indignity and wear while we argued. Pip was adamant that puppies belonged in the bedroom closet; I, as the opposable-thumbed higher mammal, was equally adamant that they belonged in the whelping box in the family room. After several hours of serial head-butting, we finally came to a compromise. I cleared all the shoes out of the closet, moved the puppies exactly where she wanted them, and she did exactly the hell as she wished.

On the next Moving Day, four years later, I snapped to it the moment Pip trotted down the hallway with the first protesting pup.‡

Rosie selected a corner of the living room, bounded by the end of the futon sofa and the raised brick hearth. My end-table and monkey lamp were evicted, I vacuumed and fashioned puppy containment, and then did her bidding. It's really a rather spiffy den, good choice, in with the family but out of the way, convenient to the regularly forthcoming meatballs and bowls of yogurt. She's allowing Gramma Pip and Uncle Moe to check out the little ones, and they are all an easy reach from the sofa and my chair. It's like having a mini-fridge built into the Laz-E-Boy, only with warm puppies instead of cold beers.

Snuggled down after a long day, a round, shiny, milky-smelling being who has only ever known love and warmth and safety tucked between neck and shoulder, trusting belly to the sky, tiny pink paws on my cheek, all the accumulated strains sublimate off into the ether. The world is, briefly, perfect.

Must be the hormones.


* I was going to post the link to the Iams dog food commercial featuring the child/girl/young woman and the Irish setter named Casey. You know the one. It is inexplicably not on YouTube or anywhere else on the web. (wipes tear)

** She's always "sweet" to people, in the "It's really your idea to keep petting me indefinitely and also you should tell me how pretty and smart I am just now" kind of way.

† It's been my experience that on Moving Day, the same pup gets picked up over and over if Ur Momma is thwarted. They never choose a different pup.

‡ For those who have never raised pups from birth: this does not present the kind of sanitation challenges one might imagine. Birth is, as with any mammal, a gooey, messy affair. Puppies three weeks and up are a very messy affair. But neonates are clean and shiny little things, induced eliminators whose mothers handle the hygiene. By the time they start toddling it's generally possible to move them to the containment facility of one's choice without incurring the implacable resistance of Ur Momma.


  1. She's always "sweet" to people, in the "It's really your idea to keep petting me indefinitely and also you should tell me how pretty and smart I am just now" kind of way.

    Luckily, the post-Gathering ES hypnosis juju she threw at me had a happy ending; the bunny was safely retrieved without using the permanent immobilization method. This, of course, saved me from having to compensate the owner of said livestock from the consequences of an unwittingly substantive gamble without full knowledge of the goings on.

  2. And I must say, Rosie looks very content with herself.

  3. Leaky Irish stock, well that's me and this did it. Well done, Rosie.

  4. I'll need some wallet size of my great granddog Rosie and my great-great granddogs to show around.
    Great analysis of the process Heather.

    Love, Dad

    Maurice Houlahan

  5. Hormonal huh? I had tears running down my face by the time I finished reading the blog post, and I don't have the excuse of being Irish.

  6. simply *beautiful*. i love your heart and how you glow it. and i am in love with your dad.

    "After several hours of serial head-butting, we finally came to a compromise. I cleared all the shoes out of the closet, moved the puppies exactly where she wanted them, and she did exactly the hell as she wished."

    love that part.

    and this: " It's like having a mini-fridge built into the Laz-E-Boy, only with warm puppies instead of cold beers."

    perfect. teary. beautiful.

  7. Yes, yes. This rings so true, all of it, Including the insistence that I am part of the process and am not allowed to leave! And especially about losing babies and how much help one can and should offer.

    I have never had a momma try to move the puppies--but I have had them make the point that there was too much going on and people needed to LEAVE NOW. The first timers often don't agree with my choice of a birthing location, though--they think under the boxwoods would be much better!

  8. I am simply in awe Rosie (and Heather) you have touched that very deep, private and quiet place in my sole!

    Eric L.

  9. Heather--this is a lovely piece. Touched my heart.

    Eleanor Deberry

  10. Heather - Lovely piece. It touched my heart.

  11. What a great capture of Rosie with the pup in her mouth looking to make the move. Just lovely.

    Eric L.

  12. After almost 23 years as a breeder, I still mourn when even the smallest of pups don't make it. I agree, moms do notice, even if they are not 100% sure of what's going on.

    Sailor used to be a puppy mover, as well, but in her case the spot she always chose was my lap. I'd fall asleep on the floor beside her, and wake up to Sailor sleeping next to me, and a spittily damp puppy sleeping under my chin.

  13. Gorgeous, moving writing, Heather. I was so sorry to hear that the little sable boy didn't make it...I was hopeful for him (and Rosie, and you). But as you so beautifully put it, "To bully Life where she does not wish to abide only delays and magnifies and perhaps delegates suffering and heartbreak." Amen. Too bad human-being doctors aren't so wise.

  14. I remember your comments on the affect of pheromones on the family/pack when the Pistons were born. Have you observed the same with this litter? And I was wondering if PC is also affected, I can't remember.

    I do wish I was able to have a new dog now, but it's not time.

  15. Forget the miracle of birth, just think of all the stuff that goes on and grows in the first month.

    Lovely piece of writing Heather!

  16. Rosie may indeed be “ebil”. But she is enchanting. And she wisely selected a midwife-memoirist with near native-fluency in Doggish—who really gets the ES sense of humour!—and who exhibits limitless empathy for the new canine Mum. What a pleasure to read this post. Still smiling. Anne Mowat


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