When my husband surprised me with the news that we were adopting a German Shepherd puppy, I had been waiting all day for the perfect moment to tell him we were pregnant. Instead of a sweet intimation, my eyes got wide and I frantically asked him to call the breeder back and withdraw his deposit.
When I told him why I didn't think the timing was right, his eyes got wide. After a long discussion, we decided that the timing was actually perfect to get and train a puppy since I would now be taking a break from work.
We picked up our little 6-week-old Gertie a few weeks later and marveled at all the precious new life in our home. We shared the pregnancy news with family and close friends and began thinking of baby names.
We enrolled Gertie in puppy classes and I started walking her bouncy little body around the block. It was exciting to imagine our long walks come summertime alongside a stroller. By then she'd be leash trained, potty trained and a loyal protector of our new family member.
As excited as I was, I also worried about becoming a new mom. The anticipation and preparation were overwhelming, add to that the fear that my puppy wouldn't adjust well to the baby, I was a ball of stress.
Transitioning to the mindset of motherhood wasn't coming naturally, especially if my worry laid with the dog and not the human growing within. My biggest fear was that Gertie would react aggressively toward the baby and we'd have to get rid of her. I hadn't even considered how ridiculous those priorities could be.
When Gertie was 11 weeks old and I was 11 weeks pregnant, I left for my first doctor's appointment as an expecting mom. What should have been a routine appointment took a jarring turn when the ultrasound tech said those five earth-shattering words every pregnant person fears: I can't find the heartbeat.
While waiting for the doctor, I kept telling myself I shouldn't cry. When she asked me repeatedly if I needed someone to drive me home, I didn't understand why. When they handed me an ultrasound picture of my baby and hugged me goodbye, I thought they were being overly nice.
After a few phone calls in my car, I drove myself home in a daze and was greeted by Gertie's enthusiastic cries. When I picked her up to take her outside, she laid her head on my shoulder and it hit me.
I finally felt the enormity of what I had just lost.
While cradling her small body in my arms, for the first time in my life, I felt the full force of my desire to be a mom. And at that moment, I knew my chance was gone. The realization was devastating and I couldn't bring myself to put her back down. I rocked her like an infant and cried.
Through the weeks and months I healed, Gertie was by my side. Puppies need lots of attention and she seemed to understand how grateful I was for the distraction. We took long walks, finished puppy school and lived at the local dog parks.
Spring came and I didn't have a stroller to push beside her, but I had learned that by next year, I would. And through morning sickness and the crippling fear of carrying a rainbow baby, Gertie was my girl. She rested her head on my bump through a chilly fall and endless winter and every time the baby kicked, she'd lift her head and looked at me like, "You noticed that too, right?"
On the morning we left for the hospital, just before I closed the door, I took one last look around the room. When my eyes met Gertie's, they filled with tears. I knew her entire world was about to change. I'd never be able to give her the same amount of love and attention when I returned home despite what she'd done for me.
The following spring, I finally had my baby in the stroller and Gertie on her leash beside us. She loved our son instantly, all my worry was for nothing. If he was asleep in his bassinet, she was curled up beneath it. She dutifully followed us out to the living room for every middle of the night feeding. She earned the nickname of 'Mama Gertie' as she was as loving and gentle as any new mom.
Life was good. And, wouldn't you believe that midsummer I learned that we were expecting again!
If you were to ask me if getting a puppy when you're pregnant is a bright idea, I'd tell you honestly that the timing has its challenges. I'll also tell you that personally, the timing couldn't have been more brilliant.
She taught me the difference between wanting a baby and wanting to be a mom. She walked right alongside me through every step of my journey to motherhood. She not only comforted me through my greatest loss but also put me in touch with a part of me I hadn't yet discovered.
Listening to my kids giggle as she chomps their bubbles out of the air, I know she has their hearts too. But with a house full of boys and a life full of surprises, Gertie will always be my girl.