The following essay is a guest post written by my friend, Emily Morris.
On my seventh birthday I got a baby doll. I named her Jenny and carried her around for months, dressed her in baby clothes, and slept with her in my bed. I cut her hair (into what I thought was an adorable pixie but on reflection was more of a crew cut) and treated her just like MY baby. I was a mother at seven, and I knew I would be a mother, for real, some day.
A few years later, at eleven, I started babysitting. At seventeen, I was the youngest counselor at my summer camp. In college, I studied Early Childhood Education. I always just knew how to be around kids, how to relate to them, how to be responsible and loving at the same time. I enjoyed children.
In 1995 I moved to Boston and I was a nanny for many years. My older friends started having babies in the late 90s and I spent a ton of time with them — playing, babysitting, putting them to bed. There were many comments along the lines of, “Emily, when are you just going to have a baby already?”
In 1999, I met my boyfriend and we were great friends for many years before we officially started “dating” (making out?), and by 2008 we lived together. He is a musician and an amazingly funny person and I’ve always loved being around him. He was also fairly clear from the start that he wasn’t sure he ever wanted kids.
I wasn’t worried; I felt that if it was supposed to happen, it would happen. I always had a general feeling in life that things unfold as they should and that the universe was taking care of me, which is possibly (probably!) somewhat naive.
In February of 2011, I found out I was pregnant and it was, to put it mildly, a total surprise. My boyfriend and I had a lot of hard conversations. But after a few weeks, we began feeling excited about the potential. The baby was due December 1st. We had a long time to prepare. My parents were thrilled and excited (I’m an only child, so the pressure for GRANDKIDS is a whole other thing I am not even touching on here). I told my closest friends. Wendy emailed me to say she was pregnant and I emailed her back saying, excitedly, “ME TOO!”
When I was about eight weeks along, I started spotting and I panicked. I called an on-call midwife and she reassured me it was normal, but I didn’t feel right. I left work early and went to the ER, where I had an ultrasound and my gut fear was confirmed.
I kept thinking of the line from an Aimee Mann song, “Life just kind of empties out / Less a deluge than a drought / Less a giant mushroom cloud / Than an unexploded shell / Inside a cell.”
The next three months were… not awesome. I cried a lot. In June of 2011, two months after miscarrying, I visited New York and sat with Wendy in a coffee shop and just cried. Writing this now and remembering that time still makes me cry because it was the worst and lowest I’ve felt in my life.
A surprise pregnancy wasn’t the greatest thing that could have happened (obviously) but, when it happened, I felt as though in some way it was meant to be and that, OKAY, maybe we really could be parents! Let’s do this! Etc.! Then the rug was pulled out, the pregnancy was over, and there was a lot of yelling, crying, and wringing of hands. It all seemed hopeless and impossible. He was still pretty clear about not wanting kids, and I could not fault him for being honest and knowing his own limits. But I wasn’t sure where to go, or what to do next.
We started going to therapy as a couple that summer. I was about to be thirty-five. I felt such immense pressure to DECIDE WHAT I’M GOING TO DO. I felt like it was all up to me, but nothing gave me much clarity. Every day, I fluctuated between so many conflicting emotions and thoughts. I didn’t want to break up with my boyfriend — this person I adored — for some potential imaginary baby that I may never even have, but there were many times I felt so frustrated I wanted to walk out. It was a very hard time. I felt a glimmer of happiness when our therapist said: “You have a good relationship!” And aside from this one complicated issue, it was a really great one.
In relationships, there is sometimes a lot of blaming the other person for what he or she won’t do or how he or she won’t change. Sometimes my friends will complain to me about their partners and I always think (and often say), yes, but they’ve done that from the start of your relationship and maybe that is just who they are. There comes a point where you have to accept your partner (as is) and then decide whether you want something different in your life or not.
The summer of 2011 is a blur of tears, hard talks, exasperation and soul-searching. My boyfriend was traveling constantly for shows, and I was alone a lot, which was probably a good thing ultimately, as it allowed me to think about what I wanted and needed. I am so thankful for my friends, like Wendy, who would check in with me and helped keep me above water.
In August, I got laid off suddenly from my job as an executive assistant. I started thinking about getting a dog. We have a cat, Elroy, but as I told my boyfriend, “He’s not great company. He sleeps most of the time.” My therapist said, “Get a dog!” I was thirty-five and I had always wanted a dog and was in a position to care for one, with unemployment money coming in and nothing but time on my hands.
I started doing web searches, and I found a woman in New Jersey who had six Boston Terrier puppies. Three females were available. I immediately loved the picture of one with a thin white line on her face and oogly eyes. She was five weeks old. Her birthday was August 10th, just two days before I had been laid off.
In October, my amazing friend Alex and I drove to New Jersey to get my little girl. She was the teeniest little thing and so sweet. I named her Coco. She slept the whole way home, with her head in my hand. That first night I lay in bed and she howled in her crate right next to me until 3AM. I lay in the dark thinking, what did I do? The sleep deprivation was already making me looney and it was only night one. I remember thinking, a baby would be so much harder.
That fall is a blur of potty-training and puppy classes. The new energy in our house made a huge difference. My boyfriend, who had worried how our crabby cat would react to a puppy, immediately fell in love with Coco. The cat barely noticed anything had changed.
Dogs and babies are not the same. I am not one of those people who calls her dog her kid, or refers to herself as “mommy.” I know from nannying for years, and seeing all my friends with kids (really ALL MY FRIENDS have kids. Is there anyone in Boston with no kids who wants to hang out?!) how hard it is to be a parent to a human being. It is crazy hard and exhausting and expensive. And I know it is also rewarding and like nothing else you will do in life.
I may never do it. I am almost thirty-eight now and I have changed my brain to think about my life without kids. And it’s okay. There are moments when I wonder “what if” and I think about those amazing things I will miss out on. Sometimes it does make me sad. But on most days now, I am happy with the choices I have made and how things have unfolded.
Soon after Coco came home I read an essay by Ann Patchett and it was something I wish I could have written myself:
We’ve had Rose a year now, and there has never been a cold and rainy night when I’ve resented having to take her outside. I have never wished I didn’t have a dog, while she sniffed at each individual blade of grass, even as my hands were freezing up around the leash. I imagine there are people out there who got a dog when what they wanted was a baby, but I wonder if there aren’t other people who had a baby when all they really needed was a dog.
Coco saved my life. She made us a family. In June we got her a little brother — Boston terrier #2!, named Auggie. The cat knows, but he still doesn’t seem to care.
Emily Morris is a life long New Englander who eats too much cheese and drinks too much coffee but regrets neither. She loves Mark Ruffalo, Scottish accents, and the beach. She hates turtlenecks, the Kardashians, and her neighbor with the leafblower. She is a currently a nanny but her 2014 resolution is to do more writing. She lives with her drummer boyfriend, two dogs, and one cat, in Boston. You can find her wasting time live-tweeting award shows on Twitter.
If you have a personal story you’d like to share on DearWendy.com, please see submission guidelines here.