I'm pregnant and super-attached to my dog!

A victim of extreme abuse, I feel cold toward my coming child, but can't let go of the pooch

By Cary Tennis
Published March 10, 2011 2:01AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Thanks in advance for reading this.

My childhood was the stuff TV movies are made of: screaming, insane, fundamentalist, punishing mother and a passive father who made me, the elder daughter, his emotional surrogate wife. Little sister who descended into substance abuse as her means of dealing with a relative who sexually molested both of us. And me, the one responsible for maintaining the secrets of the family from work and their church and neighbors. I'm almost 30 but it's only recently I freed myself from it. Cary, my sister got pregnant young and my mother beat her so she would miscarry. She convinced me I had cancer so she could keep me at home and inject me with what turned out to be saline. Etc. Etc. Ad nauseam.

I've gotten help. I thought I'd gotten stable. I fell in love and together we created something unique and beautiful. But I am still remote and clenched at times, and I thought, Hey, it's an ongoing process, right?

But then we got a dog. I'd never had any kind of pet before. And now I'm obsessed.

I think about this animal constantly. I worry about everything. I am tormented with thoughts of things that could happen to him and then I'm a wreck. And this was before I got pregnant.

Pregnant with my first child, in my second trimester, and I mention the dog not just as a concern unto itself but because, relationally, I'm concerned with how little I think of this child. I was always afraid to be a parent, fearing any of the insanities in my family would come through, but I'm a stepmom now and it's been good so far. But this pregnancy has left me cold when it hasn't left me miserably sad or anxious or stressed beyond measure.

What's wrong with me?


Dear Afraid,

I don't think anything's wrong with you.

After what you've been through, it's no surprise that you've very attached to your dog and that you're feeling a strange absence of feeling toward your coming child.

It would be normal to be terrified to bring a new being into the world after what you've been through. It would also be normal in pregnancy for you to have extreme mood swings. And it would be normal for you to increase your visits to the therapist who helped you initially get through the effects of your childhood experiences. It would be normal to check in and say, Doc, I'm getting a little wiggy here with the dog and the pregnancy, let me come see you. Let's have a chat.

You probably know this, but I'll say it anyway. Your early life taught you that nothing can be trusted. It taught you that there's very little you can control and protect. Now you're given over to this new process in which you are actually giving life to another being. So naturally you're afraid of the responsibility. You're going to have to care for and protect this new and helpless being. So, sure, it's daunting.

Meanwhile, I think your dog is very lucky. Your dog is getting very good care. That's sweet.

Your baby is going to get very good care, too. You're going to be a good mother.

But you're probably also going to feel like you're losing your mind a good bit of the time.

So what's wrong with feeling a little crazy? You know you're not crazy. You're a survivor. You're tough. You've seen things other people don't even have nightmares about. You have answers to questions I would not dare to ask (that's a paraphrase of a line in a Guy Clark song).

So I think you're going to be OK. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for help. By all means, get all the help you can find.

 Stuff is going to come up. You will be afraid and anxious at times. So keep working through this. Pay attention to the coldness. Pay attention when you go numb. Pay attention when you seem not to be feeling anything. When you feel you're not feeling anything, I guarantee you're feeling something. Damn sure you're feeling something. What you're feeling may be frightening or it may be self-annihilating but you're feeling something.

Welcome this feeling. Let it come in. Let this feeling come in and see it and be the master of it. You are no longer a helpless child. You are now the mother-to-be. You can remember what it was like but you do not have to repeat it. You can feel these things, this fear, this rage, this terror, you can feel these old things and face them. They are in the past. You don't have to repeat it. You've escaped it. It's gone.

You are going to have a kid and take care of the kid and the kid is going to grow up knowing what it's like to be cared for and loved. The kid may never know what you overcame to bring him or her into the world. Your kid may not show you much gratitude for a long time but that's OK. That's how kids are. You will know. You will know how much you overcame, how much you gave this kid, how much it cost you. You will know and that will be enough.

Just one thing: Once the kid is born, remember to feed the dog.

January 2011 Creative Getaway

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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