They’re the loves of your life and the apples of your eye. You post too many photos of them to Facebook and you spend way too much time talking about them at parties, boring your friends with lengthy descriptions of their adorable idiosyncrasies. You shell out thousands of dollars for toys and treats and day care, even though they often reward you by puking on your rug or chewing your shoes. They’re your pets, and nothing, especially not a baby, is ever going to displace them from the center of your universe.
Except that once your first child is born, there will be a period of time during which you will hate your pets. Unaware of the changes to your life and theirs brought about by that giant naked mole-rat your keep fawning over, they will continue to demand your attention at a time when your ability to give one more ounce of yourself has been stripped raw. You will still love them, and you won’t do anything crazy like get rid of them—unless of course you are a narcissistic asshole with questionable parenting skills or they suddenly turn into Cujo—but you will most certainly resent their need for basic upkeep, and you will forget to feed them far more often than you’ll care to admit.
Before the hate mail starts rolling in, please understand that I say this as a lifelong animal lover and complete nutcase about my pets. My parents rescued animals before it was cool and before there were leash laws—when I was born we had three dogs and at least five cats, one of whom was named Mr. Cat, because after a certain point you legitimately run out of options. When I adopted my first two cats after college in 2002, I devoted real time and brain-power to figuring out how, in the event of a terrorist attack and a city-wide evacuation, I was going to get from my office in downtown Boston to my apartment across the harbor to pick them up before escaping out of town. Over the past decade our two dogs, Whiskey and Oliver, between them have incurred every major medical malady known to veterinary science, destroyed no fewer than eight not-inexpensive rugs with their fecal matter, eaten one half of a Crate & Barrel couch, and made themselves canines non grata at all local dog parks and at least one day-camp facility, and yet for most of their lives I have publicly described them as my soul mates.
All this to say, I get it. You love your pets like your babies…until you have an actual baby, when you discover that your pets require far more time and energy than you recognized back when they were the only creatures you were responsible for keeping alive. And they will announce their needs at the least opportune moments, like at 4am, when baby is on his sixth feeding of the night, and your precious Labrador starts dragging his ass across the rug in that “I’m going to blow at any moment” gesture that is completely your fault because you’ve recently switched his diet from boiled chicken and rice to whatever shit they sell at the Chevron down the street, so you race your doughy ass downstairs, trying not to pop your stitches or trip over your cat as he weaves between your legs in delight that someone finally wants to play during his peak energy hours, shove your dog out the back door, then proceed to watch as he spends the next twenty minutes in the corner of the yard sniffing his own three-day-old poop before setting off the neighbor’s motion-sensor floodlights and barking aggressively at his own shadow.
In hindsight, I now know that it was not really their neediness that made me hate my once-beloved soul mates in those early postpartum weeks, it was my own guilt at my colossal negligence. For months I promised them nothing would change, hugging them close and whispering in their ears as I assembled nursery furniture and folded tiny rompers. They prepared me for motherhood like nothing else could, particularly the part that requires you to remove foreign objects from excrement, and yet after C was born I felt I had cast them aside, relegated to the emotional basement to live out their days feeding on scraps of affection and fading memories.
The good news is they can handle it. This is what the last 10,000 years of evolution has prepared them for—undying loyalty for their family through good times and bad, feast and famine, colic and sleep training and everything beyond. So in moments of despair, when you’ve just screamed every four-letter word your hormone-addled brain can remember because your angel rescue bishon-poodle mix woke the baby up when she mistook a UPS delivery for the onset of the zombie apocalypse, take heart—as soon as your little one starts on solid foods, all will be forgiven. Your pets may never again be your number one priority (sorry guys, but in the event of an alien invasion, you’re on your own), but if my own childhood spent in an unlicensed animal shelter is any indication, someday soon they may become your child’s BFF, and you will find yourself falling in love with them all over again. Plus you’ll have someone else to help clean the litter, and that totally makes the kid worth it, too.
Written by: Kathleen