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Lessons Learned from Our First "Baby"

By Aela Mass |

I know, I know. All the parents out there with human babies are already rolling their eyes saying, “OMG, you can’t even make the comparison between a dog and a baby!” And don’t worry, I’m not going to try to. But that’s not to say that having a pet before becoming a parent doesn’t provide valuable lessons. I mean, after all, you can’t learn to read and write until you first learn the letters of the alphabet.

So for us, Darla — our dog — has been the ABCs to knowing if we can handle the responsibility of a breathing being besides ourselves. The lessons, small as they may seem, have taught us a great deal about ourselves, and Darla has become our “gateway drug” to parenthood.

It began one day in March of 2011. Sara and I rescued Darla from a kill shelter in Tennessee and adopted her through our not-so-local ASPCA. I was terrified. We knew we wanted to save this little pooch, but were we ready for the responsibility? We are both very independent people who lived by the seat of our pants since before we even met. What would a dog do to our spontaneous spirits? Did we even know how to take care of a dog? What about vet bills? Dog sitting? House breaking? The expense of food? Toys? Pet gear?

We find ourselves asking these very same questions now about getting pregnant and planning a family. Well, almost the very same questions. Obviously, we’re not concerned about dog-sitting issues with our baby. But daycare, on the other hand, yes.

Darla taught us the first steps of being responsible for and having to answer for something other than ourselves. The time was short, but with her we experienced our first sleepless nights when she was a puppy. We learned what it meant to have to decline a social-event invite for the first time (and numerous times thereafter) because we couldn’t find anyone to watch her. I learned how wonderful Sara is at nurturing another, how caring and gentle she is — and how patient she is. And how impatient I am, though that wasn’t really a new revelation. However, having Darla has certainly helped me improve my patience.

Darla has helped us learn what that fear is like when someone — or something — is under our care and gets sick, and how to handle those situations in which they are at their most vulnerable. She’s taught us what it’s like to put the needs of another — of someone who is relying solely on us for care — ahead of our own needs.

I’ve been so impressed with the way in which Sara interacts and cares for Darla, that having this little pooch of ours has allowed me to see a side of Sara that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. And it’s a side that has led me to realize just how wonderful of a mother she will be (not that I really ever doubted) and just how badly I want to have a family with her.

So Darla has been our “baby steps” to a baby. And while I’m sure that after we become mothers we will laugh at the day we compared taking care of a dog to raising a child, but for now: This is what we know. And we’re so happy that Darla has been able to be a little glimmer of light into what our world as moms will look like.

Naturally, like any proud mother, I’m compelled to share a little “brag book” of our first “baby.” Enjoy her cuteness!

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Dogs Before Babies and What Pets Can Teach Us About Parenthood

Darla, Day 1

This is one of the first pictures we took of Darla after we got her. Sadly, the very first picture of her was taken from a camera phone that has since been lost. She was 8 pounds the day we adopted her. She is now fully grown at 48 pounds.

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About Aela Mass


Aela Mass

Aela Mass is a lesbian writer and editor living the dream on Martha's Vineyard with her wife, Sara, and their dog, Darla. She miscarried her twins at 17 weeks and has undergone numerous IVF, FET, and IUI cycles. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post among other publications. For more of her work, visit her blog Two Moms Make a Right. Read bio and latest posts → Read Aela's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Our First "Baby"

  1. Joni Larsen says:

    There are many similarities in raising a dog and a child, so you are right!
    If you look at the behavior of ones dog before you meet their child I bet you won’t be surprised by how their child behaves. Parenting is parenting. The nurturing, discipline and boundaries aren’t very different. So I would say you both are well on your way to being awesome parents!

  2. Madeliene P says:

    Great article – and cute photos!! When I was preparing for John (even before I knew he was coming) I used a book called Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant: An essential guide for dog owners who are expecting a baby. It was really helpful and came with a CD of sounds. Cindy took some time to get used to the sounds but the book helped on how to do it. That might help with the whole difference between new dog and new baby!

  3. Merle H. says:

    My childless girlfriend asked me if having a baby was like having a glorified pet. I looked at her with a look of “did you really just ask me that?”. But, the truth is that it is a good test to see how each parent handles discipline and responsibilities etc. I remember to feed my dog everyday so that is a good sign that I’ll take care of a baby, right? (just kidding…the fact that I kill every houseplant I’ve ever had would say the opposite about my nurturing abilities). You can only compare pet ownership and baby raising so far. I’ll admit, I’ve judged people with spoiled dogs or undisciplined dogs and found out they are planning on having a baby and I think “good grief…they’ll raise little nightmares”.

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    It was the same way with us! And our dog even looks a little bit like Darla! It’s not that I expect that having a baby will be the same as having a dog, it’s that watching my husband interact with the dog and see his nurturing instincts come out so strongly has been so sweet. It gives us lots of clues as to how we’ll nurture another, much more complex, family member. And we also know that we do ok getting up in the middle of the night and losing sleep for a good cause. (Our puppy was 8 weeks old when he came to us.) Now, to keep that good attitude for a much longer period of time…

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