**This blog post was originally written for the Empawthy Project, a Chicago-based movement bringing awareness to the mental health benefits of animal companions. Read more here.
At 34.1 weeks pregnant, I developed eclampsia and had to deliver my twins. Miraculously, we were all ok, but the experience left me with lingering neurological difficulties, a five week stay at Hotel NICU, and a hearty bout of postpartum PTSD.
This was, without question, the darkest time of my life. It was a season of being separated from my babies, beeping alarms, intense worry, extreme sleep deprivation, endless appointments with specialists, all while healing from a c-section. During labor, I developed Bell’s palsy, losing control of the muscles on the left side of my face. This created difficulty with speaking, eating, hearing, and balance. We weren’t certain that I would recover. For the first five months, I had to tape my eye shut to prevent it from drying out. Because the body doesn’t always behave as it should when delivering babies prematurely, I also had to strictly follow a lactation schedule to maintain proper milk supply. The twin newborn phase, as I’m sure everyone can imagine, was also no joke. The guilt, doubt, shame, isolation, fear, and anxiety were crushing.
As a former therapist, I want to be clear that there is no replacement for mental health services, a support network of friends and family, and meds when necessary. However, Chuy was able to help me in ways that nothing and no one else could have. He woke up to snuggle with me during every late night pumping/feeding session. He was battling his own health issues, but still sprung into action anytime I left the couch. Not a minute passed without him putting out a reassuring paw or leaning against my legs. At times, when everyone would be crying and the wheels were falling off, he and I would exchange glances and I’d just giggle. It was as though he had the soul of a friendly old man and I never felt alone. I will never fully be able to describe my gratitude, and I’m can’t imagine getting through everything without his healing love.