Tonight, I will be spending my very first night away from my faithful service dog since I got her in May of 2008.  This seems like no big deal to those who have pets, but for a service dog partnership, it’s HUGE.  B and Bandit and I have spent many nights apart throughout that time, but Callie and I have not, so this should be a very interesting sleep study night.  Technically and legally, she is allowed to come with me.  Practically, I’m already concerned about getting de-wired fast enough to run to the bathroom every time Pud squishes my bladder in the night, and I worry about the possibility that having her with me will somehow cause those wires to get tangled or pulled out, causing more problems than helping.  As sleep is still a struggle, I would much prefer to have the “truest” results I can get, so I can get the help I desperately need. 

We are talking through what we plan to do with our furballs during our time in the hospital with Pud.  As we observe behaviors and think more carefully about their perspectives, we are realizing that we may not want them with us for as long as we originally did.  There are several considerations we’ve pondered as we’re making final decisions and plans for them:

  1. Callie is my Glue Girl.  When I am in any kind of discomfort or perceived distress, she becomes glued to my side, and since pregnancy, she’s even more intent on being close by.  Not a bad thing at all normally, and rather appreciated, BUT the hard work and focus of labor can change one’s perspective drastically.  Though normally he’s his dad’s dog 95%, Bandit has joined in the Glue Dog status in the past couple of weeks.  He is more often to be found closer to me at home than his dad- and if we’re in separate rooms, he’s far more likely to be with me than his dad.  It’s a natural instinct, I believe, to protect the much more vulnerable members of the pack.  Especially Shepherds, who are hard-wired to protect their charges and families.
  2. As we don’t want them to be there during the delivery, so that they are not establishing any negative associations with our medical providers (and heaven help us if I have to have a C-section), they would have to leave at some point.  As much as they are “drawing the pack closer” to protect me and the baby, we really have a hard time seeing them go with any of their most favorite people with any kind of willingness when the big moment comes.  The last thing I want to worry about is their being dragged unwillingly down a hospital hallway and to a different floor- or the consequences if one or both decided that they needed to do “whatever it takes” to get back to their family.  If you’ve never seen an Aussie “decide not to move”, you cannot imagine the sheer physical challenge this would present to our family/friends. 
  3. Even if we DID take them to the hospital and they were able to head to a waiting room, the family would want to be on the same floor as the updates.  This means that Callie and Bandit would be within earshot and scentshot of what’s going on in our delivery room.  I’m fairly certain our birth will be reasonably calm and the noises I’d make would be mostly of the breathing type, BUT it’s inevitable that some of the grunts and such would be very different than anything they’ve ever heard out of me before.  Imagine hearing that from the other room and not knowing exactly what’s going on at that moment.  Now imagine being able to hear it as well as if you were in the room, but still not being able to see what’s happening.  Add in that they can pick up my scent through the air vents (and they also know the scents of anxiety, fear, and distress), and you might see why we’re anticipating a problem.

So while we’re still working out the details with our friends about their separation from us during labor and delivery, we’ve come to a couple of conclusions about their role postpartum.  We plan to talk with the doctor and nursing staff about allowing us to provide receiving blankets for Pud upon his birth.  We want to have his “birth smell” on one blanket- familiar to them because they’ve been smelling him inside me all along- and another blanket that has his post-bath smell on it.  These will then go with B whenever he goes to pick them up to bring them to the hospital to be with us postpartum.  He will offer both blankets to them and tell them that their baby has arrived, and give them a chance to smell his unique scent before they meet him.  My scent will more than likely be mixed in, of course, so there’s the connection of “yes, this is our baby”.  Why both a birth blanket and a post-bath blanket?  Bathing removes some of one’s natural oils and scent markers, even if only temporarily, and we want them to establish the connection between what he used to smell like and what he will probably smell like when they meet him- and that he’s one and the same.  We may have to talk about who will be allowed to be around while the dogs are meeting Pud, because I anticipate that they will be sniffing and checking him out in ways that WE are comfortable with, but OTHERS might not be, and there’s really no reason to add tension to a joyful family moment. 

The number one question that I’m asked about the dogs’ relationship with Pud is this: “Do you think they’ll be jealous?”  The answer is NO, they will NOT be jealous of Pud, because they have been and will be included in his care and development.  If we constantly pushed them away in order to care for Pud; if we constantly lavished him with attention and neglected to give them their own fair share; if we put them in the other room or outside instead of working with them to learn how to behave calmly around him when he is crying or napping or eating… these are the types of human behaviors that would establish “jealous dog” behaviors.  Instead, we plan to allow them to be curious and sniff and even lick him as we talk about what he’s doing and give them tasks that they can do to help out (like “Oh, you’re right- he’s wet- please go get a diaper so we can change him!”).  The more involved we allow our dogs (and older human siblings, let’s be honest) to be in a new baby’s care, while still providing their own individual attention, the less likely jealousy becomes a factor.

Jealousy a problem? No.  What will be a challenging behavior will be their instinctive need to protect their littlest family member.  Yesterday was a great foreshadowing of this protective instinct.  My mom came over to my chair to talk to Pud, who was moving around and putting on a great show for her, and Callie, who had been lying on the floor jumped up to see what she was doing.  Callie didn’t bark or growl or do anything threatening, but she was watching VERY CLOSELY to see what my mom was doing, while I told her that Mama was talking to Pud in an “I’m okay with this” tone of voice.  As soon as Mama stopped and went back to her chair, Callie asked permission to get in my lap, and once it was granted, she draped her entire body over my entire belly and laid there for about 20 minutes or so, every now and again looking up when Mom said something to me about Pud, with a wary glance her way.  You need to know that Callie adores her Grandmama, but… 

While on a walk this week, a woman came up to talk to me about their beautiful selves and switched to talk about the baby.  Bandit sat himself quite squarely in front of my belly, between us.  No threatening behavior, but a very clear message that he was watching and preferred that she not come too much closer.  If I had given some sign of distress, then he probably would have been much more assertive about telling her to back off, and Callie would have had to intervene, too.

It will be FAR more likely that we’ll have dogs challenging others’ rights to see their baby and they will be VERY guarded and watchful the entire time.  We know this is coming.  We’re working on it with them, but truthfully, there will be an adjustment period when he’s tiny while we establish a code phrase for “We trust this person- let him/her see the baby.”

As for Pud himself: he’s doing great.  We went for a check-up on Friday and met another doctor in the practice, who seemed pretty nice, but talks really fast.  He said, “Now, you should feel the baby move at least 4 times in an hour.”  I nodded and said that’s not a problem.  He pulls out the doppler at this point and checks for Pud’s heartbeat, which was very strong, and then said, “Wow. Lots of movement.” 

Yes, indeed.  He’s an active boy and has been for quite some time.  I don’t see him ever slowing down, honestly, and B and I are definitely not sure how we’d keep up with him if we didn’t have dogs to help out.  First thing they’ll learn is his scent.  Second is “go find” (home or close by).  Third is “block him”.  Fourth is “track him” (larger public space, like a park).  Granted, some of these lessons won’t be needed immediately, but they’re in the plans for his first years.

According to What to Expect, our Pud is now about the size of a pineapple.  He’s somewhere between 19-22 inches long and weighs in the neighborhood of 5 pounds.  We now have 40 days to go, according to our countdown keychain from the hospital.  He’s getting smarter by the day, as his brain keeps developing, and he’s steadily gaining weight as he puts on some fat to help keep his little body a bit warmer outside the womb. 

 This week, we’ve accomplished the following:

  • major discussion resulting in a solid rough draft of our birth plan, which we will need to discuss with our doctor and our doula before finalizing
  • interpreter recruitment and beginning to work things out with the hospital about having the interpreters, as I won’t be able to keep my hearing aids in for the entire labor and delivery, as they conk out after a certain amount of sweat
  • updated the baby registries: Babies R Us, Target, and Mother Nurture
  • worked with sister on baby shower stuff
  • started the phone tree list- it’s still a rough draft, because we realized that we DON’T have some numbers.  Good thing to find out NOW, rather than later.
  • waited and waited and waited for more news on the status of the mortgage application for the new house- and we’re still waiting for the “drive by appraisal” that they have ordered for our current house (sigh)
  • begun to pack a hospital bag- we were astounded when the What to Expect app’s daily tidbit said “It’s time to pack the bag!” on Wednesday
  • I took my 2nd PRAXIS test yesterday and I get to wait for 4 weeks for the results- but this is a big step towards completing my graduate work and my certification to teach special education

The most exciting thing of all is that we may actually have a name for Pud.  Yesterday, Pud got really excited and moved around a lot when we talked about calling him ____.  The final test is to see him and then we’ll know for sure if that’s his name.  For the purposes of this blog, he’ll still be called Pud, and his true name will never be revealed here.  Friends and family can look for an email for the full disclosure.