Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rosy Girl Becomes Rosy Mama

One upon a time, there was a little puppy named Rosy.

Her name was spelled R-O-S-Y, not R-O-S-I-E or R-O-S-E-Y. The spelling of her name was purposeful. She is an adjective. We call her Rosy Girl.

When Rosy was about a year and a half old, she started moping around the house and stealing stuffed animals off Jonathan's bed. She didn't destroy them, except for any parts that felt synthetic, like the plastic eyes of a plush walrus.

It took us a couple of weeks, and several attempts to convince Jonathan that Rosy was not being vindictive toward his stuffed animals, to figure out that what she probably wanted was a puppy.

So we got her one.

She loved it very much, and wouldn't let any of us touch it willingly. Whenever I picked it up, she hovered anxiously around me, and after a minute or so, she cautiously, respectfully, firmly pulled it out of my hands and hid it in her crate.

One day, she found out that her baby had a squeaker inside, and she wanted to heal it from making that noise, so she carefully ripped along the seam of her baby's belly, extracted the squeaker, and punctured holes in it. Death by canine teeth.

After that, the baby's fuzzy intestines fell out, and then his other fuzzy vital organs, and then his fuzzy brain, and pretty soon, he became a toy that Rosy chewed to death just like the rest of her toys. But he lasted a very, very long time before she destroyed him. Like, over a week.

A year or so later, after we'd moved into our current home, we found Rosy moping and stealing again, so we got her another baby.

The second verse was pretty much the same as the first. She loved it, then ripped it open and pulled out all the stuffing, then dismembered it, etc. You get the idea.

When she began to mope again a few weeks later, we realized a plush puppy just would not do.

Conveniently, Jonathan really wanted a puppy of his own, and we had promised him he could have one if we moved to the country. We did move to the country, so his very first writing assignment in first grade was to compose a letter to me requesting that I make good on my promise.

How adorable is that!

So along came Huck.

Which is short for Huckleberry Hound. As in the cartoon detective dog.

We are pleased to tell you that Rosy did not try to disembowel or dismember Huck.

In fact, they got on swimmingly. Rosy had the companion she had been longing for, and she stopped moping and stealing entirely. She mothered Huck through his puppy days, taught him how to play catch, how to bark at strange cats lurking around the edges of the property, and how to tree coons.

One day, Huck grew up. He discovered that he was bigger than Rosy, he could run faster, and he could bark louder. Oh, he was so pleased with himself the day he outgrew Rosy.

Rosy was glad to have Huck as a companion, but when he outgrew her, she no longer had anyone to mother, and she got a little mopey again. She wanted puppies, and no two ways about it.

Luckily, or maybe I should say Huckily (wink, wink), after a few months, Rosy got her wish.

One day, when we let the dogs out to run around, we discovered that Rosy was... putting on weight. But it wasn't that extra five pounds we all gain around the holidays. It was puppy weight!

Jeff and I were very excited, Jonathan was giddy, and James went into shock, just like Gideon on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. "I'm an uncle!"

But Rosy was the most excited of all. She waddled her way to term, taking great care not to jostle her insides (except for the occasional shimmy under an unsuspecting fence), and finally, she took to her bed and would not get up, not to eat, not to go outside, not for nothin'.

Finally, after over 24 hours of Rosy hiding in her crate, Jeff took it apart and turned it into a whelping box, and a few hours later, on Sunday, February 26, Rosy began to give birth.

We decided to give the puppies litter names, as well as ribbons around their necks, so that we could keep better track of birth order, weight, gender, etc. We could have done just ribbons and numbers, but we have boys, and our boys like to name animals. They are fully aware that we are selling every single one of the puppies and have no plans to keep any for ourselves, but they don't mind. The puppies have litter names anyway. And the boys picked every single name.

So first came Fiona at 2:10pm.

Her brother, Axel, followed closely at 2:22pm.

Sunny, a girl, came at 2:47pm. After those three were out, Rosy had a 45 minute break, during which time she licked Fiona, Axel and Sunny until she had no more saliva.

She was so excited! Her very own, real live puppies!

Cole arrived at 3:30pm.

His little sister, Daisy, came at 4:15pm.

Angel followed at 5pm.

And our little runt, Wicket, came out at 6:10pm.

So the first three puppies were born in 35 minutes, and then Rosy waited 45 minutes between each of the next three, and then she waited an hour for Wicket.

Finally, after another hour, at 7:10pm, she delivered Arwen.

Jeff counted placentas right along, and by 7:10pm, we had eight puppies and only five placentas. We had to watch Rosy very carefully to see if she would deliver any more placentas, and we did that in shifts, all four of us taking little turns, Jeff and I keeping watch all through the night.

But Rosy's little body was too tired to deliver any more placentas, so on Monday morning after we dropped the boys off at school, Jeff and I took Rosy to the vet so they could give her oxytocin. But they didn't give her any. Instead, they took an x-ray, and found three more puppies still inside!

Since Rosy had not delivered any puppies since 7pm the previous evening, the vet felt she would not be able to push the last three out on her own. So she ended up having a c-section. Poor sweetie. They had to put her under for the procedure, so she didn't get to witness the births of her last three puppies.

I was so nervous about the c-section. They said it would be awhile and we should leave and come back, so we went to the store and got some puppy supplies. When we returned, Jeff went inside and I stayed in the car. I was just too nervous to wait in the waiting room, and that way, I was able to stay with the eight puppies we were toting all over town in a laundry basket filled with a pillow, a hot water bottle, and a fleece blanket.

Jeff came back to the car after several minutes and reported, "They're just now beginning to deliver the puppies, and we need to be prepared to hear that none of them survived, because it's likely that their water sacks ruptured last night."

I felt I shouldn't be upset about stillborn puppies, but I was. I really wanted them to live. After Jeff returned to the waiting room, I prayed that God would let the puppies be alive, but it was really sort of a hopeless prayer as I prepared to hear the worst.

Jeff returned several minutes later with a small smile. "One of them is dead," he said quickly and soberly, "and one of them is doing fine. Still waiting on the third to come out."

"One of them lived?" I asked, surprised.

"Yep," he said, grin spreading. "One of them lived, and he's thriving."

Tears sprang to my eyes. One of them lived! And one was gone. I couldn't figure out if I was crying about the lost puppy or the miracle of the live puppy. Both, I'm sure.

It was almost time for us to pick up the boys from school, so Jeff quickly returned to the building to find out about the third puppy, then he came back and climbed into the jeep, explaining as we headed out of the parking lot, "The third puppy is alive, but only barely. His heartbeat is not very strong, but they're working on him. They don't think he'll make it."

I pictured a tiny life, laid out on a table, struggling to breath, latex gloves handling it so gently, a stethascope pressed into its little chest. I prayed again. "Abba, please let that puppy make it."

We picked up the boys and told them about our day, that Rosy had to have surgery, that there had been three more puppies inside her, that one of them was stillborn, one was doing fine, and one was fighting for his life. They processed all of this on the way from the school back to the clinic, and James had one solemn question. "Will they let us take the stillborn? I want to bury it on our property."

I wasn't sure, but I said we'd ask.

When we got back to the clinic, Jeff went inside to see how the third puppy was doing, and when he came back out, his grin touched both ears. "He made it," he said, in his excited voice. "The third puppy made it. His heartbeat is strong and he's going to be fine."

I cried again. Just softly, you know. I'm not a blubberer. Usually.

The puppy that came out and thrived immediately, we named Artoo. Small, but spunky, like R2-D2.

We named the tenth puppy, the one that had to fight for his life, Shadow. James picked the name because the puppy has the darkest fur color of all the puppies. But whenever I pick that puppy up now, I think to myself, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear now evil, for Thou art with me."

Okay, I only think that half the time. The other half the time, I hear Alec Baldwin's voice in my head, whispering menacingly, "The Shadow knows!!"

Eventually, everyone was ready to go home, including Rosy, two squirming puppies, and one small box. "They let us take the stillborn," Jeff explained quietly as he got into the jeep.

When we got home, we settled Rosy into her whelping box, along with her ten charges, and spent a moment rejoicing with her and cooing over the little lives nestled against her belly.

Then, as a family, we went out to the meadow, Jeff with his pickax, me toting the stillborn in its little box, the boys scouting ahead to find a good burial place. We chose a lovely spot nestled under a tall cedar tree, and Jeff got to work digging a grave. The boys were quiet as they processed their conflicting emotions. Joy for the ten who lived, sorrow over the one who died.

Some families may have disposed of the stillborn another way, or simply left it with the vet, but we are learning the vital importance of processing our grief and sorrow, and for us, having a funeral for our stillborn was essential. We needed to acknowledge our feelings, share them as a family, and say goodbye.

With tears, hugs and prayers, we committed the little puppy to earth.

About a year after my dad died, James and Jonathan began asking the age-old question... why does God let bad things happen?

Jeff and I answer as best we can, not really understanding the unrevealed mysteries of God and all, and for the time being, the boys accept our answer. Which is that every single bad thing that happens has at least one corresponding good thing, and that good thing brings God glory. Sometimes we find out what the good thing is, sometimes we don't. Our job is to trust God that there is a good thing, and be thankful.

In light of this concept we have been learning as a family, I was so incredibly proud to hear James say softly to me after the funeral, "Well, there is one good thing about the stillborn that we can be thankful for. Rosy has ten nipples. Now there's enough for everybody."

Bless that child.

We weighed each puppy at birth and started a weight chart so we could track their development. We expected them to lose a little of their birthweight on the first day because, you know, human babies do that, so it seemed logical. We dutifully made sure all of Rosy's ten nipples were being put to use, and we sat up again on Monday night to make sure everyone was thriving.

After those first two nights, we created our current system for nighttime. My job is to sleep lightly (like I always do), be awakened by puppy noises, and wake Jeff up. His job is to get up and attend to puppy needs.

We use this system because Jeff is able to fall back asleep again after he gets up, and I am not. If I get up at 2am, I'm up for the rest of the night, and I am not able to nap for more than 15 minutes during the day, so I can't catch up on sleep later if I miss out. Jeff, on the other hand, can wake up mid-snore, get up, take care of puppies, plop back into bed, and recommence snoring in five minutes flat.

Some of you might think this system is not very fair to Jeff, but I say it's payback time, baby, because I got up with both of our infants multiple times a night, every single night, for months and months and months. So there. Errr... I mean... isn't it great how we work together as a team? Go Team Frame!

We were told Rosy wouldn't eat for a couple of days after giving birth because she was all full of afterbirth (Gross!), so we weren't too bothered on Tuesday and Wednesday that she didn't go anywhere near the special puppy chow we gave her. But by Thursday, when she still wasn't eating, and the puppies were continuing to lose weight, we began to be a bit concerned. Jeff tried and tried to coax Rosy toward food, but she was not interested at all.

By Thursday, only two puppies, Angel and Arwen, exceeded their birthweight, and that was only by tenths of an ounce. The other eight puppies were well below their birthweight and dropping. We were especially concerned about Axel, who was 14.6% below his birthweight, and our two runts, Wicket and Artoo, who were each 9% below their birthweight and only 7.1 and 8.1 ounces respectively. Little Wicket appeared to be at death's door, all spindly-legged and bony, and we became concerned that he wouldn't survive. Plus, whenever we checked to see if any puppies were being sat on by their unsuspecting mama, Wicket and Artoo were usually the two getting the life crushed out of them. To top it off, on Thursday evening, we discovered that Rosy's c-section incision had split open and she would need to go back to the vet.

Let me just say I was not expecting puppy vigilance this week. February was incredibly busy for me. I spent the first two weeks working every minute of the day preparing for our Grace Wedding. After the wedding, we went on a second honeymoon with the boys which included three animal-related outings for which I had to be on my feet for several hours at a time. After we returned, I had three days to transition from vacation to women's retreat, including getting our house ready for my friend, Ruth, to spend the night. Then Ruth and I went on our women's retreat together, at which we led worship. Rosy began giving birth as we drove home from the retreat.

I'm not complaining about anything that happened in February. It was all wonderful and amazing and blessed. But when I fill up my schedule, I also plan for downtime afterward, which is a necessity for me because of fibromyalgia. I scheduled March to be UNscheduled so I could have time to recuperate from February. I did NOT schedule puppies. I did not schedule sleepless nights. And I certainly did not schedule the emotional stress of trying to keep tiny creatures alive.

I wish I could say I responded appropriately to all this stress, but I certainly did not. I freaked right out. I screeched at my loved ones in writing and had anxiety attacks. In the midst of that, my support group homework asked me very uncomfortable questions like, "How does post-traumatic stress disorder affect your ability to handle stress in the present?" Stupid homework questions. I felt discouraged because I've just learned all this great stuff in counseling about how not to freak out anymore. But it takes practice, and there is grace for me.

On Thursday evening, I wrote the following message to my girls:

I'm stressed. It is hard trying to keep puppies alive. Rosy lays on them, and they shove each other off the nipples, and the two little runts are losing weight. We have puppy formula, and we are giving them a little, and they get special feedings with Mama while the rest of the pups sleep on a warm water bottle in another room. I'm just so nervous that they will die. I was not cut out for nurturing small, helpless things. The fish died a couple of weeks ago. I can't even keep a fish alive. Let alone puppies. And Rosy's incision re-opened, so now she will have to go back to the vet tomorrow and get restitched and probably get some antibiotics. And the poor little runts keep trying to nurse off her bleeding thighs. This is just incredibly stressful. I want them to live. Please pray for our runts. Their litter names are Wicket and Artoo (as in R2-D2).

Amidst the lovely promises of prayer support came this reply:

God reminded me that He knows if a sparrow falls, a wild creature uncounted by man. He is with your puppies, too, and not just because they're yours and you care about them. He loves them for their own sakes.

He loves them for their own sakes. What a beautiful thought. What a beautiful truth to slash away at the fear imprisoning me. What a beautiful picture of the fifth chapter of James. When I confessed my sin, I received prayer and truth in response, and God saved me from my fears. Not rocket science. But so incredibly difficult for me to practice.

I'm happy to say that, as always, Jeff did not freak out when I did. Instead, he went into research mode and learned all sorts of wonderful and amazing things about something called Fading Puppy Syndrome and how to cure it.

Then, on Friday morning, he dropped Rosy off at the vet, went to the grocery store for puppy formula ingredients, came home, made a big batch of magic, and showed us how to bottle feed the puppies.

We initially planned to bottle feed the whole litter only until Rosy returned home that afternoon, and then we thought we'd keep feeding just the four smallest puppies who were in serious danger.

But when Jeff returned to the vet to pick Rosy up, we were told that because Rosy had not been eating, her digestive system had shut down, and she had stopped producing milk. Jeff bought her new food that was even more special and amazing, but it was not necessarily for the purpose of getting her to nurse again. It was to keep her alive.

At first, Jeff had to force-feed Rosy by turning her over onto her back, prying her mouth open, and dropping spoonfuls of his mixture of canned dog food, puppy chow, liver, and cottage cheese down her throat. But he only had to do that for the first feeding. For the second feeding, he scooped food into his palm and gave it to Rosy while she lay in her bed, and she ate out of his hand. After that, Jeff showed his brilliant side (not that he hadn't shown it already) by putting Rosy's food dish in the whelping box with her, knowing that she would instinctively try to keep the whelping box clean. After that, she began to eat again on her own. Sigh of Relief #1.

Jeff was also given the task of making sure that Rosy's incision stayed dry and out of reach of her tongue. That's when she began to experienced the most misery she has ever known to date: she has to wear the Cone of Shame. Woe is Rosy.

But greater woe is Jeff, because he has the undesirable duty of changing out her incision maxi pad, cleaning her vaginal seepage, and wiping her after she goes outside. Remember what I said before about payback? Well, it does not apply to this. I would rather change every diaper my children ever soiled than wipe doggy vaginal seepage. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jeff is a Prince. Among. Men. Seriously.

Rosy had to go back to the vet the next day, which was yesterday (Saturday), to check her incision site. At that time, the vet told us to be prepared to bottle feed the puppies permanently, until they are weaned, because he did not think Rosy would produce milk again after she had dried up. The thought of feeding ten puppies every three hours completely overwhelmed me. When we first began, it took about an hour to feed all ten puppies, and then two hours later we had to start again. It reminded me of James's infancy. When he was a newborn and supposed to eat every two hours, he ate for an hour and a half, took a half hour off, and then started eating again. Those were days of complete despair for post-partum Becky. This wasn't quite that bad, but it certainly brought back bad memories.

However, apart from the time-consuming aspect of bottle feeding puppies, I felt glad to know that at least they would get full meals. After one day of Jeff's special puppy formula, all of the puppies except Axel had gained at least a full ounce, and Axel was only off by two-tenths. By the end of the second day of bottle feeding, everybody, including Axel, had gained an additional two ounces, and finally, everybody was back up over their birthweight, including the runts, Wicket and Artoo. Sigh of Relief #2.

Wicket and Artoo have yet to exceed the birthweight of any of their siblings, but they're looking a lot less like naked mole rats and a lot more plump and puppy-ish. We're pretty sure they're out of the woods. And so is Rosy. And so are we.

And here's the best part. After a couple of days of Jeff's magical mama food, Rosy is producing milk again after all! This has cut our puppy-feeding duties in half. We are still feeding them about four times a day, but four times a day is not eight times a day, and that makes us happy.

God lets me play the piano at our church, and this week it was my turn. I went to church this morning in a complete daze, tried valiantly to concentrate during rehearsal, and thought about Jeff, sitting at home in a half-doze, bottle feeding puppies. I was completely closed in on myself, reeling from this week of completely unexpected circumstances, feeling alone and invisible.

Then, at the beginning of the first service, our worship pastor said that we often measure God's love for us by our circumstances. That we use our circumstances as the lens through which we see the love of God. But that's dead wrong. God's love for us is constant, and it must be the lens through which we view our circumstances.

Having puppies is not really a bad circumstance. My cousin's friend lost her father this week. A member of my extended family had emergency surgery the doctors didn't think she would survive, and she did survive, but she is still not out of the woods. Some dear friends of ours recently received heartbreaking news about one of their children. Another family member is being ostracized by her entire community because of her faith. Yet another family member has been treated very spitefully by someone she has been faithful to be kind to for all of their adult life. Another dear friend shared that she is struggling with depression. Another is helping some friends prepare to walk away from a ministry they thought they would do for the rest of their lives. Many of those I am close to live with much harder circumstances on a daily basis: raising children alone, trying to break free of codependency while being kind to family, grieving rejection by family, nurturing special needs kids, recovering from painful divorce, living with chronic pain, and the list goes on and on.

Nearly every circumstance in the world is harder than having puppies. Even when having puppies involves an emergency c-section, a special diet, bottle feedings, and the Cone of Shame.

So why the long novella about puppies? Well, apart from my need to just sit down and process this mind-boggling week, the reason I wrote about our puppies is this:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

~Matthew 6:26

Look at the puppies of the Frames.

They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God cares about them for their own sakes.

Are you not of more value than they?