The Best Doula is a Dog - An Ode To Carmen
I hate cats.
I don't even have anything funny to follow that up with. They're just the worst. Like hairy snakes. Hairy, Voldemort-like snakes.
I almost like my best friend's cats, George and Little Kitty. Well, enough to take care of them and tell them that their mommy loves them when she travels. They're growing on me, but I love their mom, so that's bound to happen. Also, I get to do my laundry for free at her apartment, so that helps.
Well anyway, I'm a postpartum doula. So you pop out a baby, and I'm there to offer non-medical support for all your butt, boob, vaj, and mind needs - to sum it up, crassly. Recently, it seems, I am mostly asked to focus on the needs of the mind.
I remember when I was doing my training in the middle of Brooklyn a few summers ago, the trainer, my hero, and the matzah ball in my soup, Jackie, said that the best doula she ever had was her cat. I didn't quite understand - see commentary on cats above - but she explained that having her cat there, to sit quietly, not trying to fix anything, was exactly what she needed.
That's what I try to do as a doula, and hopefully as a friend, too.
When things go tits up (insensitive doula pun intended), sometimes we don't need advice. We don't need fixing. We don't need judgement or shame. We just need the warmth of a being to sit with you, quietly, and let you find the space to start your own healing.
This is where dogs come in. If you're a cat person, go straight to hell (read: I support your life choices and appreciate your patronage. I'm sorry for my emotional outburst. Please keep reading).
A good dog is exactly what we need when we're in that place where we can't even pick up the phone to call a friend. We need the silent and unquestioning acceptance and that dumb, hairy face which just tells you that you're going to be ok because they love you, and that's all that matters.
Or the dumb, hairy face that judges you passive aggressively as you eat kettle corn in bed whilst watching The Office for the thousandth time, waiting for you to share.
Six of one...
My family adopted the best dog on earth a while back, and we had him for a handful of interesting years in our family's canon. He was with us after my grandmother passed. He was my grandpa's best friend. He anxiety ate an entire corned beef out of a crockpot one year because we left the house for an hour. He did the same with an entire vat of spaghetti sauce when my grandfather had open heart surgery and the family was stressed out. He was a terrible guard dog, but the best cuddler. He quite literally lived for tennis balls, and was very protective of babies.
He once ate a Price Chopper grocery bag. I know, because I had to pull it out of him a day later.
He would sleep on his back with his legs aggressively wide apart, and he would also sit with you while you drank coffee and looked at things and thought about your day ahead. He loved looking at things with you. He'd get pumped about going to The Lake on the outside the way we all felt on the inside...tail wagging, head out the window, ready to take on the weekend.
Most importantly, he was a great doula. When my grandfather died, no one grieved harder than Bodey. We found him, more than once, stretched out grandpa's blanket, just sniffing it and looking around at all of us. After that loss, and on the hard days, he'd plop his smelly, fat butt down, usually invading your personal space, and force you to pet him.
He knew how loving touch can reorganize our minds when things a little more Rubix Cubed than we'd like.
More than once I would find myself sitting with Bodey, and leaning against his solid frame, and feel him leaning back. He'd let me put my arms around his neck and cry as much as I needed. And he'd keep a look out for me, just in case someone walked by and saw me. He'd listen to me complain about work or family or friends or loves. He was always the big spoon.
Sometimes he'd burp in my face, or slap me with a paw and remind me to pet him...but he was a guy, what do you expect?
I say "was" because Bodey decided this July to go to The Big Tennis Ball in the sky while he was in his favorite place, my Lake, with his favorite people, my parents. He knew it would have been impossible for us to end his suffering for him.
What a guy. Even as he was dying, that Fatty McFatFat was the best doula ever.
Well, I thought he was, until I met Carmen.
Carmen is my friend Gabby's dog - nay, baby - and this entire blog is dedicated to that little Bear solely because I when asked for help with a topic for today's post, Gabby said...and I am directly quoting, "Umm Carmen, obviously, because she is the best bear."
Fine. Challenge accepted.
Also, it was either this, or I write a two-thousand word expose on my cousin Brigid because she complained today that she has never been mentioned in a blog. You're welcome, Briggie.
Carmen is what could best be described as the most lovable asshole of a dog that can fit in tiny pajamas of any of the tiny asshole dogs I've ever met. And that's saying something.
She has a mustache and an underbite. She looks like a whiter version of that dog from the Kleenex commercial where the kid sees the stray dog in the garbage can and takes it home. She has a major attitude - just like her mom - and likes a crunchy/salty snack.
Girls after my own heart.
She is so overly protective of Gabby, it's almost endearing. Weighing in at a whopping 20 pounds (or so, depending on how many bags of marshmallows she's broken into), she's a threat to be reckoned with. Not a postman can even think about walking down the street without Carm ready to defend her mom's honor.
I dig it. I'm protective of her mom too.
Carmen likes me because I gave her a piece of sausage off my fork once, so we have an understanding.
Like Bodey and like Jackie's cat, and like all of the animals that we connect with on that level, Carmen's skill as a doula is irreplaceable and inexplicable.
She's always there. Always listens.
When asked how she felt about Carmen, Whatsherface said, "She's always happy to see me...and she needs me. She may be the worst but she loves me and knows I'll take care of her....sentimental shit."
But I get it. There's just something about these dumb faces that we can't help but want to love in a way we can't often love an actual human being. Sometimes we dress our pets in ridiculous Adidas hoodies. Sometimes we make them homemade organic food because we know they don't like the bagged stuff. Sometimes you love your little Bear so much that you make up completely tuneless songs to sing at them, just so they know how much they're really, really loved.
My best friend with the cats that I almost like? She does the same thing. Grandpa used to sing to Bodey. I can't even begin to imagine what my friend Elizabeth sings to her dog, but I know it's probably more sentimental than her wedding vows will be.
What is it about an animal and the way they know exactly where to curl up behind your knees on the couch that makes us feel a little bit more whole? Why is it that the world spins a little smoother when we know that they're there for us after a rough and emotional day? What is it about them that makes us light up, when we don't have the emotional energy to get excited about anything else? Why exactly do we spend the time to hand make Halloween costumes for them? And spend a comically-large portion of our Christmas budget on presents for a dog that really only cares if you're going to share your breakfast with them or not?
Why, even when we punish them for doing their job by putting them in The Chokie, do we miss them when they're not under the blankets with us?
Because, man, we all need a doula. We all need the simple, unwavering support a good dog can give us. We need the feeling of safety that true unconditional love can give us. We all need it, and we all deserve it.
With these flea-bitten-mutts, we get to give back to something that can't manipulate us with lies. We get to take care of something that has nothing but love to thank us with. No broken promises. No games. Just a tail wagging, ready for dinner and a movie with you on the couch.
And no matter what kind of weird crap your baby Bear is into, like chewing its own foot, or eating frozen poop like Bodey used to love, it's almost always better than a peppermint-soap enema. Almost.
Well, no, I can't have a pet in my apartment, and for now I'm ok with that. Like being single, I have stuff to figure out on my own for a hot minute before I add another mouth to feed. But still I appreciate what kind of doulas I've had in my life, and am thankful for every second.
Thank you Bodey, for being a great doula for us. Thank you to all the freakish devil cats that are soullessly taking care of their people in the best way they can.
And thank you, Carmen, for taking care of Ole Saddlebags over there.
She deserves every second of it.