I've Chosen Dog Motherhood Instead of Kids, And I'm Owning It

Do I understand that by not having children I am giving up on one of the most profound relationships possible? Yes.
Publish date:
July 29, 2014
motherhood, dog person, childless by choice

I fell in love with my dog the first day. A seven-week-old furry bundle of golden energy, she sat between my knees and kissed me on the chin. I named her Shafer, after my college friend Amy Shafer, who is also blond and beautiful, and who happens to be one of the most fun people on the planet.

I took her home with me. Four years after my divorce, I was sharing my house again. Shafer was more than just a dog for me, more than just a mini goldendoodle with a penchant for squeaky balls. In short, she was my kid.

My siblings got it. They understood this was the only motherhood I would be engaging in. They came to my lake house recently for a summer sojourn, a family reunion. We easily fell into a routine the way people do when a new configuration of humans assembles in a home. In the mornings, we all made our kids’ breakfasts. We collected their gear for the beach. We made sure to pack water and snacks. At the end of the day, sometimes all the kids piled into the shower stall together to rinse off the sand.

Obviously, my routine was a little different from theirs. At breakfast, I put the bowl on the floor instead of the table. The gear I packed was mostly deer tick treatment and an extra collar. The snacks were made of crushed bull testicles.

Not being a human mother was a decision I’ve made many times.

My former gynecologist (“Dr. Cosby” as many people called him, for his likeness to Bill Cosby) would always ask me during an exam. “So when are we having babies?”

It’s an weird question, coming from a man standing between your open legs, but I knew what he meant: Was I planning on having children, and if so when? Also, Dr. Cosby loved delivering babies, despite having a reputation around the hospital as a brutally tough doctor.

In my 20s, I would tell Dr. Cosby that I didn’t think I wanted to have kids. I was the oldest of four, and I had babysat scores upon scores of kids. I’d been in the childcare business, de facto, my whole life.

“Well, don’t wait too long,” he’d say. “It gets tougher and tougher.”

“Hey, I just want to not get pregnant, OK?”

He’d laugh. And then he’d bring it up again the next time I saw him.

By the time I’d reached my 30s, I was very involved with a man who would become my husband, and so the conversations with Dr. Cosby got longer, more serious.

“This has to be a choice,” he said, when I told him I was in love. His bushy, black eyebrows drew low over his eyes. “You need to make it. And now you two need to decide this together.”

He was right. The reflection on this issue needed to be different. When I’d considered motherhood before, a solo conversation I had often, I had never experienced any great inclination to have kids. And by that time in our relationship, I knew that my soon-to-be husband didn’t want kids either. But we hadn’t actually discussed that topic since our early days.

That night, after seeing Dr. Cosby, I took the conversation home. We talked about it, and each of us remembers being flooded with relief that we were both still on the same page. We very much did not want kids, even though bio-clocks were a-ticking. We had professions we were doing well in but which would require much more hard work. We had international trips scheduled two years out. And yet even without busy schedules, we just didn’t want parenthood.

“How can you not want kids?” friends would say. “You would make a great mom and dad.”

I explained that I’d never wanted to have kids. Never, ever. Not when I was little and I played with dolls. Not when I babysat. Not when I was in high school, not in college, not in law school, not when I started practicing law. I felt about having kids the same as I did about being a florist. Or a fireman. They were things I’d simply never felt a desire to do. Not at all.

Every year, including on our honeymoon, my husband I talked about the issue again. We checked in; we felt fortunate to be riding that same page together.

Eight years later, after our divorce, I returned to having a solo conversation. (And I would still text my ex, with whom I remained friends, to remind him to do the same).

Do I understand that by not having children I am giving up on one of the most profound relationships possible? Yes. I also know that by not being an astronaut I am giving up one of the most profound experiences a human can have. Ditto for not having gone to medical school and know the profundity of cutting open another human being, crawling inside them, fixing them and sewing them back up.

I love being an author. I love that I’ve written 15 books and have many more in my mind’s notebook. Do I think that someone who isn’t an author, who maybe can’t be, is missing out on something truly profound? Yes. I do. But we can’t do everything in the few scraps of years we’ve been given in this life. And so we have to choose. Just like Dr. Cosby said.

Our lives are all about choices -- choices about where we live, about what we do with our time every day, about who we love. I chose, specifically and upon much reflection, not to be a birth mother. And instead, specifically and after much reflection, I chose to become an adoptive mother. Of a dog.

I am happy with my choice. And I wish you happiness with those you make.