I have extraordinarily healthy children. My older daughter will enter fifth grade having missed just one day of school in five years. My younger daughter enters third grade with a similarly stunning record. My husband and I are fortunate: We have two healthy, smart, beautiful girls.
I’ve always taken credit for the healthy part. I recall rarely being sick as a child, and I think I, too, made it through whole school years without an absence. But I don’t pat myself on the back because I passed on healthy genes. I do it because I breastfed both girls, and to say it wasn’t easy is one of the great understatements of all time.
My older daughter and I got off to a cruel start, perhaps because of her unexpected entrance into the world via C-section. Each feeding brutalized my breasts more than the previous one; my nipples were so raw I cringed when the cotton of even my softest T-shirt brushed against them. Being too stubborn and proud to give up, I kept at it, although I could never understand how something supposedly so natural, could be so awkward and, at times, feel so utterly impossible.
Ultimately, my body healed, and I nourished my child the “right” way, giving her all the benefits researchers say come from breast milk. We got so good at it, my daughter decided she had no use for a bottle, and for six months I was her sole source of nutrition. My younger daughter latched on more easily, but she decided to go bottle-free for nine months. What were the chances of that happening again?
Needless to say, I always figured I was the reason I had such healthy kids… until I read this in The Week:
“Finnish researchers found that children who lived with a dog were 31 percent more likely to be in good health than those who didn’t. They were also 44 percent less likely to have developed an ear infection and 29 percent less likely to have needed antibiotics… The more time pets spent outdoors, the healthier the babies that lived with them were, which suggests that dogs and other pets may track in dirt and germs from outdoors that ‘stimulates the immune system’ of babies ‘to do a better job of fighting off infection.’”
While my breasts suffered the wrath of my babies’ gums, Gryffin’s sheer presence in our home may have been as beneficial as my breastfeeding!
I often refer to Gryffin as my first child.
Kevin and I rescued him from an Atlanta-area shelter when he was twelve weeks old, and we were living in Philadelphia. I doted on Gryffin: He came with me to work, we walked around Rittenhouse Square together, and he slept on my bed many a night when Kevin’s medical training kept him at the hospital round the clock. My mother says Gryffin brought out my maternal instincts, and I agree.
I will always be indebted to Gryffin. He taught me I was ready to be a mom, not just to a canine kid, but to human kids, too. He was my protector in Philly, the alarm system that Kevin could count on to keep me safe when he pulled all-nighters at the hospital. Gryffin instilled in my children a love of dogs so strong that after he died, the girls persuaded me and Kevin to cut our mourning period short. Thus, we rescued Galen, whose name doesn’t start with “G” by accident.
And now it turns out, he may have given the girls the gift of health, via all the germs, mud, dirt, and grime he tracked in off the city’s streets and dog parks. If I’m worthy of a pat on the back for the girls’ good health, Gryffin surely deserves a pat on the head.
When I’m feeling magnanimous, I share some of the credit for our girls’ good health with Kevin, who is a strong believer in the hygiene theory, which posits that exposure to viruses and bacteria in early life strengthens a child’s immune system. Thus, he never panicked when one of our daughters took a toy from the floor and stuck it in her mouth – even after Gryffin, just back from the dog park, stepped on it.
All hail the hygiene theory!! Life is not sterile- get rid of the hand santizers (recycle them, please), stop taking unnecessary antibiotics, and live your life full of all the dirt and grime the world has to offer.
Oh, and breastfeed, too (although Michael Bloomberg may be going a bit far on this one).