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Episode #9: Devastating Loss that Lead to My Daughter

In my last episode, I told the story of my journey to have a baby on my own, with a known donor. My daughter is now 11 and we have been thriving as a complete family of TWO. The part of the story I didn’t tell is that there would not have been the journey that led me to create my daughter without having experienced devastating and sudden loss. Maybe everyone won’t identify with my loss that I’m going to tell you about. Those of you dog people will get it. And many of you may have experienced something similar. 

So here goes this part of my life. A few years after my ex-husband’s sudden announcement that he was happy with all aspects of his life – and he was specific – he was fine with his work and life in general, he was very specifically unhappy with me and wanted to separate. And you know from my last Audacious Freedom podcast episode that I sought therapy, got diagnosed with depression and *OCD light* and was medicated for a couple of years to sort of recalibrate my mental health. By the way, I want to say two things here: 1) This was the late 1990’s and pharma was all about depression diagnoses and prescribing prozac and its family of meds – so much so that even general practitioners could diagnose and prescribe anti-depressants! What the fuck?? And 2) I bought the diagnoses of depression and *OCD light* because it gave me something to DO and to focus on for those first couple of years after the sudden end of my marriage. Because when my ex-husband asked for the separation, I learned very quickly that he meant he wanted a DIVORCE. We tried ONE couples therapy session that lasted 5 minutes. I wanted to work on the marriage and he didn’t. That was it; end of therapy and end of the marriage. So my diagnosis – when I look back on it – was *SITUATIONAL*. Something big happened in my life – something that I did not ask for or expect – and it threw me for a loop and on a bit of a downward spiral. UNDERSTANDABLY. Anyway, a couple years later, I decided it would be fun to get a puppy – something to focus on outside of myself. And there was no question the type of puppy I wanted. A black pug. I had grown up with boxers – loving the pushed in and serious faces – but I didn’t want that big of a dog. I did want a dog with a pushed-in and serious face and had always loved my college roommate’s black pug, Mugsie. What a face and what a big attitude in such a small package! So, I googled pug breeders in New York City and I immediately found Pat the Pug Lady in Staten Island, so off I went on the ferry to meet her two litters of black pug puppies. They had the same father and – obviously – different mothers. I was immediately in love with two of them. A girl puppy and a boy puppy. The girl was hilarious and wild – she’d give me a bunch of kisses, they run off and do her thing. The boy wasn’t much of a kisser – he was a snuggler – in my lap and he’d nuzzle his face into my neck. I loved them both and chose the girl puppy. She seemed more independent and more my speed. I worried that the boy puppy would be a little high maintenance and he needed a different mom than I could be at that time in my life. So, I brought the girl puppy home and looked up girl puppy names on-line. I knew I wanted a two-syllable name and something that ended with the “e” sound, because I had read that dogs had an easier time recognizing their name if it ended in an “e” sound. I don’t remember if I debated names, I just remember that I named my girl puppy *Cookie* and it suited her. And me. And Cookie and I went EVERYWHERE together. And not just everywhere in NYC, in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side where we lived. And she got so much attention on our walks and lots of petting from strangers. And famous people. Kevin Bacon and his kids. Ally Sheedy and her daughter. Cyndi Lauper. Of course I never acknowledged who they were. We just were neighbors sort of bonding over Cookie’s cuteness. And when I tell you that Cookie and I went everywhere together, I really mean everywhere. To the nail salon, where she sat on my lap every week while I got a pedicure and manicure on Sunday evenings. Clothes shopping, holiday gift shopping, we’d sit outside together for lunch or dinner at any of the many dog-friendly restaurants in Manhattan. Just Cookie and me. I’d take her off lead before 9am in Central Park and I’d always have to rely on the kindness – and quickness – of another dog parent to help me *catch* Cookie when it was time to go home. While she learned her name quickly, Cookie did not like to come to me when called. She thought it was funny to run away! When she was six months old, I decided I wanted to take her to Europe – to one city for 10 days, to get to know the city and just hang out with Cookie there. I was debating between two dog-friendly cities – Paris and Amsterdam. I decided on Amsterdam because I had never been. By the way, I know when people think of Amsterdam, they think of the red light district and legal weed in the coffee shops…I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I just wanted to walk the city with Cookie, and try a new cafe every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s funny how many people approached me on that trip and spoke to me in Dutch. Turns out, when you walk around with a puppy, people think you are a local! We’d always get by in English, Spanish or even a little French when they realized that I wasn’t a native. 

Cookie traveled with me multiple times to visit family in San Francisco, L.A. and South Florida. She even accompanied me on many many work trips to Tampa, FL and Hartford, CT, and my company approved for me to stay in different hotels than everyone else, because theirs weren’t dog-friendly. Cookie was my baby girl and a true companion. I photographed her ALL THE TIME – this was back before cameras on our phones – and I developed the pictures by the dozens and mailed them to family and friends as postcards from Cookie in *her handwriting* – air quotes! – that was meant to resemble that of a child. I’m telling you Cookie was my baby girl. She had countless toys, sweaters and even a raincoat. I’m getting the idea that when I launch my Audacious website, that I want to include some photos of her, as a loving tribute to her. OMG, I’m remembering how sweet my mom and dad were with her, allowing her to jump up on their bed, and one time when I was looking for Cookie and I couldn’t find her anywhere, I knocked on my parents’ bathroom door and my mother said to come in. I kid you not – Cookie was sitting on my mom’s lap while my mom was trying to do her morning business. Oh my god. Cookie sure was something and my mom was a trouper! 

Next thing I knew, Cookie turned 4 years old on April 25th. Soon after that, in July, I found out that my firm and employer of 10 years, PricewaterhouseCoopers, was conducting planned layoffs and that I would be offered a generous severance package. My last day would be in early August. That last week of work for PwC, I took Cookie to the vet for a regular check-up and Dr. Dena Long discovered an abscessed tooth. I’ll ever forget how she said, “Eck. We’ll have to get this out so there is no infection.” “Right, okay. Let’s schedule it for as soon as possible,” I said. As a good dog mom and given that I would not be working the next week, I scheduled it for the Monday. Dr. Long said, “You know, I won’t be here that day but my husband will be.” She didn’t actually say *my husband*, it’s just that I can’t remember his name. They were actually a husband and wife veterinary team and had a young son together. I always thought they were an odd match for a couple: she was young, beautiful, smart and personable. He seemed much older – maybe by even 20 years – he was not particularly attractive, he clearly smoked cigarettes – I could smell them on him – and he was very business-like and had a terrible bed-side manner. I paused for a moment and briefly considered scheduling the procedure when Dr. Long could do it, but I decided to go with the earliest date available to give Cookie the best and quickest care. 

The next week, I took Cookie back and handed her off to the technician. The technician that was not my favorite technician. I guess my not-favorite vet paired up with my not-favorite technician. Cookie did not look back at me while my not-favorite technician took her back for my not-favorite vet to remove her abscessed tooth. I walked back home not having told any friends or family that Cookie was having this procedure. There was nothing to worry about with this simple procedure on a young and healthy 4-year-old pug. I kept myself busy while waiting for the call to pick Cookie up. I emptied all my make-up and hair products from my bathroom vanity to re-organize and clean out anything I wasn’t using any more. With everything still spread out on the bathroom counter, I heard my phone ring. I went to my desk and answered the call. It was my not-favorite technician. He said, “Dr. X – or whatever his name was – would like to speak with you” and he put me on hold. Sensing something was up, I picked up a pencil and notepad and braced myself to write down and understand whatever he found in Cookie and to give her the best treatment possible. Dr. X got on the phone and said, “I don’t quite know how to tell you this. Cookie expired.” I couldn’t fucking believe it. There was nothing to write down. There was so much to process. What had happened? And did he really say EXPIRED? 

Cookie had had a rare allergic reaction to the anesthesia and she went into anaphylactic shock. He couldn’t bring her back. I raced outside to catch a cab to the vet’s office and made 3 phone calls: one to my sister, one to my friends who lived a few blocks away and who were the dog parents of Cookie’s brother, Rudy and the third call was to my downstairs neighbor and fellow dog-mom, Beth. I cried and cried and we all tried to process the suddenness and shock and unfairness of it all. She was only 4…she was “supposed” to live for many more years. Rudy’s parents – Carol and Bill – both immediately left work, went home to pick up Rudy and would plan to meet me at my apartment when I got back from saying good-bye to Cookie. My not-favorite technician took me to see Cookie. She had been wrapped in a pink blanket and was still intubated. I pet her and cried and nuzzled my face into hers. 

It’s been 15 years since this awful day and I felt nauseous and my make-up was running down my face as I prepared to record this episode. I want to be sure to get to the point of this episode – how did sudden loss and tragedy lead to my having a baby? We’re almost there. Bear with me a few minutes more so I can tell you about the call I got from Dr. Dena Long a couple days later. “I just had to call you. I just had to call you because I saw the look on your face when we scheduled Cookie’s procedure. I saw your hesitation and I want you to know that no matter what I think of Dr. What’s-His-Name in my PERSONAL life, I think he is an excellent veterinarian,” she said. “Wait, what – are you and he getting a DIVORCE?” My mind raced. “Yes, but we are continuing our practice together and I do think he is an excellent vet. What happened to Cookie would have happened if I did the procedure. She had an allergic reaction that no one would have predicted in a young dog. We don’t do blood tests on such young dogs before going under anesthesia.” I told her that I appreciated her call and her insights. “Still”, I said, “I would have preferred Cookie’s last moments to have been with my favorite technician and with you. Although I think her independent and playful personality wouldn’t have known the difference.” At least that’s what I told myself to get through the guilt of not having trusted my intuition and not having waited an extra couple of days for Dr. Long and her lovely bed-side demeanor for my baby girl, Cookie. 

So, how did all this lead to my baby girl, my actual baby girl and daughter? Well, it would take a few more years. Just to highlight a few things on the way: 

❖ I could not live without a dog after Cookie died. In my grief, I would tell myself I just wanted to go home and snuggle with Cookie. Except Cookie wasn’t there. So I called her breeder to find out if she knew of any pug rescues. She did not, but Pat the Pug Lady told me she was expecting a new litter of black pugs in early September. Long story short, 2 boy puppies were born on the morning of September 11th. I met them when they were 5 weeks old and fell in love with the one with a little white stripe on his chest. Turns out, their father was Beethoven – the boy puppy I had considered when I chose Cookie instead. And this boy puppy was just like his father – a Mama’s boy and a snuggler and this time, I was ready for that kind of personality. When he was 12 weeks old, I was able to separate him from his mom and bring him home. While I was waiting for this boy puppy to get old enough, I would go on walks that I used to take with Cookie in Riverside Park, on the promenade, and I asked Cookie what I should name him. I couldn’t think of any boy names and then Cookie figured it out. I love Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and I have a few framed studio photos of them. So my little boy puppy was named Humphrey Deforest Bogart Mendez and I call him Bogie. 

❖ When Bogie was about to turn 1 year old, I was a few months into a new job with Merrill Lynch, down in the World Financial Center on the Hudson river. I had been commuting on the subway from the Upper West Side. I started to wonder what I was doing at 41 years old, living by myself in the co-op apartment I had bought a few years before. Yeah sure, the Upper West Side is beautiful and I lived on Riverside Drive on W 79th Street by the Boat Basin and within blocks of fabulous restaurants, shopping and great grocery stores….but I was surrounded by families, their nannies and a whole bunch of single older-than-me women who were living alone. These were NOT my people. Where were my people? Turns out they were downtown in the Financial District. Post-9/11, many banks and financial institutions moved their headquarters or spread out their employees in multiple locations and those office buildings had been converted into luxury rental apartments. I chose 37 Wall Street which is ½ block from the NY Stock Exchange and next door to Tiffany. Nothing like having a little *retail therapy* if needed RIGHT NEXT DOOR and living a 15-minute walk to the office. I sold my co-op for the price I wanted to list it for – which was $10k more than what my realtor wanted to list it for – and Bogie and I moved downtown. 

❖ And a year after that was when I woke up one day at 42 years old and realized that if I was ever going to have a bay, now was the time. And the 3 friends I asked to consider being the donor, were all men I had met the year before. And we met because we all lived downtown. Had I never moved downtown, I’m quite sure I never would have met those men. Had I never moved downtown, I’m not sure I would have had the idea to have a baby. The thing to think about is, had Cookie not died so young, so suddenly, would I have thought to leave my co-op on the Upper West Side? Had Cookie not died so young, so suddenly, would I have considered having a baby? Bogie had filled the huge hole in my heart soon after Cookie died, but he was – and still is at almost 15 years old now – a very different kind of dog than Cookie was. Cookie saw and loved and interacted with all people and all other dogs. Bogie ignores – literally doesn’t even see – other dogs and his is only interest in humans for their hands and fingers to see if they are bearing treats. Oh, and when humans are seated, he can be interested in their laps to snuggle and nap. Cookie loved her tennis balls and other toys and a good game of tug o’war. Not Bogie. No interest, in terms of balls or toys, not an interactive dog. So, Bogid did fill a hole in my heart, but not the huge void Cookie left in my life in terms of personality and presence. Cookie was much more like a DAUGHTER in that I could dress her up and in the way she was a companion and gave me a sense of family. Don’t get me wrong – don’t misunderstand me – Bogie is definitely family and my baby and I have always loved him to pieces. 

Anyway, I’m glad Bogie and I moved downtown. I’m glad I met so many people I would not otherwise have met, including the 3 possible donors and especially the donor I chose. He’s the reason I have my particular daughter, Mercedes. And, man does she have a personality and a presence in our family! Even if I had had the idea to have a baby while living on the Upper West Side, I would have had to ask other friends to donate and honestly, I have no idea who they would have been. I didn’t have guy friends in my neighborhood or even at work who I could have asked. I knew some married men, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with asking that of them AND THEIR WIVES! 

Yeah, I’m sure I would not have Mercedes if not for moving downtown and I’m pretty sure I would not have wanted a different lifestyle and neighborhood had Cookie not died so young and so suddenly. Knowing that can help take the edge off of her loss, but my daughter’s presence does NOT replace a good cry when I re-live that awful phone call and the next days and weeks while I mourned and cried and looked for the kind of comfort you can only get from another heartbeat in the home. For the past almost 15 years, I have shared my home with Bogie and his heartbeat and for the past 12 + years, I have shared my belly and my home with my daughter. We are a complete family of 3.

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