It’s May 2015. The sun has set and there is nothing to do tonight but be with each other.
Glen are I are moseying around the house, fluffing about, cooking, talking about stuff that lovebirds who are expecting a baby talk about. Love is in the air. The mood is buoyant. Our baby is coming.
Before long, I’m settled on the couch with my laptop googling girls names (call it Mama Intuition), and when I land on one that feels lovely, I sing it out to Glen, looking for his approval, to which he mostly responds with a flat out no, or vague enthusiasm; none of them feeling quite right to him.
After a while, Glen takes the laptop, scrolling through thousands of names.
‘What about Layla?’ he ventures.
It’s a name I’d heard a million times before, but never had I considered that it'd be one I’d name a child of mine.
Layla. Layla Farmer. It sounds so beautiful coming off the tongue, and let’s not lie, I may also be about a million times besotted by the very sight of my wonderful man googling girls names. It’s enough to make any woman melt, I’d hazard a guess.
I smile big and respond with 'Yep, I love it,' and then quickly snatch the laptop back off to google the meaning of the name. (Because words and their meanings are lyfe to us word nerds. Holler) What I found gave me goosebumps on top of goosebumps all over my head.
It means ‘night’ in Arabic.
It’s the name of the object of romantic poems written by the 7th-century poet known as Qays.
But it can also mean ‘wine’, ‘intoxication’ and ‘dark beauty’.
#Swoon. A name after my own heart.
That very night in May, we decided we would name our little girl Layla Winter.
(Winter being an ode to the season in which Glen and I met and fell in love. An ode to the snow and the mountains and the adventures in all the countries we’ve travelled to and snowboarded in)
I started fantasising over the mysterious little soul she would be with a name like that. Taking both her first and second names into account, I fused them to create my own meaning for her: The dark, intoxicating night of winter. I imagined myself writing poetry about her; the meaning of her name reminding me of none other than Rumi himself and his incessant mentions of drinking UP on the divine goblet, filled to the brim with the wine of love. I was so in love with her already for choosing such a beautiful name, full of depth and complexity, through her daddy.
Glen and I listened to Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ about a dozen times that night. We danced around the living room and giggled and absolutely beamed at one another.
Layla Winter Farmer.
In Part I of this series, you’ll have read that Glen and I did not carry to full term. Not long after this beautiful night that will be etched into my brain and heart forever, we miscarried. You can read more about that (and connect with the 80+ women who contributed their stories to the conversation) here.
Let’s fast forward now to October 2015. Glen and I have moved from our small apartment in Burleigh, and now live in what we affectionately term The Treehouse, in Currumbin Valley. It’s an expanse of bright green, the freshest and chilliest of air, and the birdsong is suitable to meditate to. It’s gorgeous, and, we’re permitted to keep a dog here. One of the reasons Glen I stopped travelling to 3-4 countries every year was because we were desperate to care for, love and be loved by, a dog.
On October 12, after waking, Glen announces that we’re going to the pound and coming home with our first family member. We’d been holding a space for an animal in our hearts for so long, but mine skipped a beat when I imagined a pup in the back seat at the end of the day.
I felt what I’m sure many, many people feel after they experience great loss — a deep yearning. I just wanted to love something smaller than me. Something or someone that needed me and was dependent on me. I wanted to channel my mother energy in another being.
When we arrived at the Animal Welfare League in Coombabah, we had expectations that we would leave with a puppy who would grow to no more than 20kgs. We were told that there were 3 rows of dogs. Turns out, all we needed was one.
Before I go on, I just want to say that seeing animals in such a vulnerable state is troubling. Imagine if you were to visit an orphanage. That would tug at you, wouldn't it? Wouldn’t you want to take a child home and offer it love, knowing that that one decision could have a limitless impact on not only the child’s life, but that of the planet?
I felt the same way when I saw those dogs. It almost felt wrong to walk past one without spending a minute or so with it just so I could send it some love and hope that someone would come and collect it soon and give it a loving and nourishing space to be.
I’m not too sure what goes into the process of resonating with an animal. People have oftentimes asked me ‘How did you know that Layla’ was the one. That kind of knowing happens in the slightest fraction of a moment, I am sure it. For us, it happened like this...
I continued to walk past row 1, looking at the dogs, young, old, big, small… most of them were barking a little, or a lot.
When we arrived at the second last kennel, I looked down and saw the sweetest golden being, 'ordinary' in overall appearance, but stunning in the eyes, looking up at me, giving me doey puppy eyes. In and amongst all the chaos and barking, this gorgeous one was silent, still, calm. When I bent down to sit at her level, and made eye contact with her, she moved my heart, and opened it softly, and tears started pouring from my eyes. She pressed herself into the cage as if to say ‘Will you love me?’ She poked her nose through the gaps so she could lick our face and our fingers.
Hello beautiful. What’s your name?
I need to tell you, that no, we did not in fact name our beloved dog after our unborn daughter. That would be kinda weird, guys.
When I looked up to her details that were clipped onto the cage, I read:
Ridgeback American Staffy X
Age: 2 years
Yep. I bawled.
You’re coming home with us, Layla. Where's the paperwork?
I have wanted to tell you that story for so very long. The connection and love we have for Layla can be felt for eons through the webs, I know, because you have told me. Most of the emails and comments I get these days are about Layla and her light and our love.. But hopefully from sharing this little back story, you are able to understand the extra depths of miracle we experienced with her coming into our lives.
She ain’t just a pet. Ready for the cheesiest cliche? She’s our biggest teacher.
She came with Soul Lessons
Our Layla was slightly anxious and had a serious lack of social skills. What more could we expect from a stray pup who’d been in a cage for nine months?
We’ll never forget her pacing our home on that first afternoon, checking out all the nooks and crannies, all the smells of this weird new place. It became apparent pretty quickly that Layla wasn’t allowed inside in her last home, and certainly not on the furniture. Dogs are pack animals, they want to be involved. Just like us, they want to feel as though they belong, and we wanted her to know that she belonged inside, with us, that this home and its comforts were hers just as they were ours..
When I patted the couch, encouraging her to jump up on it with me, she gave me these eyes that said: I’m not allowed to do that.
I can’t remember if Glen picked her up and placed her on the couch or if she eventually climbed up herself, but afterwards, second by second, we watched as her facial features relaxed, along with the rest of her muscles, as she truly settled into the couch. It was almost as if she wanted to give a big, emotional sigh. Finally. She passed out from the excitement of the day (listen to me narrating her emotions like I'm some kind of animal psychic. Hilarious) and we continued to stare and smile and cry at her well into the night.
Socialising her was an interesting process, and if I may, I’d say the one who grew the most out of that process was actually me. Let me explain.
We were unsure of Layla’s history and so the first few beach visits, if any other dogs were around, we kept her on the lead out of respect to them and their owners. Otherwise, she was free to roam and jump and splash and dig and do all those insanely beautiful doggy things.
We realised in the first week that there were certain dogs that she resonated with – they were usually around her size or a bit bigger; dogs that could match her boisterous and super high-energy vibes.
But smaller dogs, particularly fluffy dogs, and dogs that were more submissive in nature, well, our Layla liked to own their ass, often by chest bumping them or offering a nasty-sounding growl, sometimes baring teeth.
This was confronting for us (me), because I felt instantly triggered by the primal need to belong and be accepted. I wanted everyone to love my dog, to accept her just as we had, to think she was beautiful, just as we did, and comment on how divine she was, just as we waxed lyrical.
And yes, those comments came sometimes, but when they didn’t, when people looked scared of Layla, or when they ushered their children away from her (she happens to adore all human beings and is especially gentle around babies and toddlers), or when they’d mumble under their breath ‘Yuck, it’s a Pitbull,’ (she’s not), I felt as though I was copping a boot in the gut; as if their rejection of Layla was also their rejection of me.
I have played the ‘strong, independent, tough’ game my whole life – much to my detriment. I have spent the better part of my late twenties attempting to remember at every corner to soften – and when Layla came into my life, so many of my insecurities bubbled up to the surface. At times, it really wasn’t pretty.
This Mirror is Confronting
My favourite, pitiful example of this, is when I took Layla to the local pet store to see if she’d be a candidate for doggy care.
Layla hated being left alone, as you can probably imagine. Coming from the pound where there was always some noise, some person, some dog around her, she didn’t do well being left for hours at a time in the deep silence of Currumbin Valley. She’d get incredibly anxious and eat everything, our shoes, our hats, our mattress. She’d break into the cupboard and eat mountains of food. She even howled like a wolf for us when we weren't there, as we discovered one night. One of us stayed downstairs to listen to how she'd react as the other drove off in the car. It was heartbreaking.
We considered doggy day care for the days when Glen would be working long hours and I’d be interstate.
When Layla and I arrived at pet store, she pulled at the lead and growled at the birds at the cage and her tail was smacking everything on the retail shelves. Absolute chaos.
The owner guided me outside and asked me: ‘Is she going to put the other dogs at risk?'
That was such a jarring question and I didn’t like what the answer might be and so, I...
fucking bawled my eyes out.
Like, I erupted.
It just came out of me, uncontrollably.
I sobbed like a madwoman.
The lady stood there with a raised eyebrow and a hand on her hip, clearly thinking: What a whack job.
‘We just got her… (sniff)… last week, from the … (snot!) pound… and she’s the best thing that ever (gasp!) happened to us but we don’t want to leave her (sniff!) alone, because she gets anxious and I just want the other dogs to (snot!) like her and play with her and …..'
She cut me off. ‘Have you looked in the mirror lately, young lady? You’re beautiful. You’re young. You have everything going for you. You have the whole world in front of you but unless you deal with whatever shit is up there in your head, Layla is going to keep feeling your anxiety come through the lead.'
It took me every ounce of strength not to say the most ridiculous thing that would’ve ever come out of my mouth: ‘But, but, I’m a life coach...'
I can just see her throwing her head back in laughter at the comment. I’m so glad I kept it to myself. But what she said impacted me profoundly.
What if Layla was just picking up on my insecurities, my shadows. What if she senses through all my bravado and is here to show me what it means to be whole?
Layla has taught me so much about authenticity, about wearing our hearts on our sleeves, about flat out honesty of character. When she doesn’t want to be alone, she whimpers, when she’s elated, she almost shakes her tail from her butt, when she’s bored, her eyebrows say ‘Hoorumpft mama! Can’t we have some fun already!? Get off the computer!’ And the love. When she wants to tell us she loves us, she does, and in doing that she brings us both to tears.
Being with Layla became part of my spiritual practice, and I was amazed to see how much of a spotlight she shone on my shadows. Like a fractal that continues to unravel unto eternity, I decided to play with the energy of trust. If I worked on trusting myself more, could I, in turn trust Layla’s behaviour? And alternatively, if I could work on breathing some trust into Layla’s behaviour, could I learn to trust myself more deeply?
Settling Into Her Grace
I don’t remember the day it all changed, probably because it was such gentle transition, but Layla is a different being now. Well actually, you know, she’s not different, she’s just simply settled into her grace. She needed some time, not only to adjust to new surrounds, new parameters, a new family, but trust is something that’s earned, and so Glen and I made of point of showing Layla at every moment that she could trust us.
We left her with a nice juicy bone each time we left the house for an extended period of time, and when we got home, we made a big deal of it. We’d wave ‘hello baby girl!’ with big smiles on our faces and run up the stairs to wrestle her and snuggle her and we’d say, ‘We’re home now, we’re home! We’re not going anywhere for the rest of the night, we promise!'
When she was afraid of the ocean, we would walk in with her, first to the ankles, the shins, the knees, allowing it to take as much time as she needed. Glen was always there to catch her and hold her when she showed struggle or was afraid. He would whisper in her ears ‘I’ve got you honey, I’ve got you, you’re okay’ as they bobbed in the waves. (Bah. I’m crying) And now she D I V E S over the waves and swims a hundred meters out to sea. (Proud mama right here)
For me, the biggest thing was breathing into my own anxiety every time Layla got close to a dog who I thought she’d have a problem with. My chest would tighten up and I’d become rigid and I would just try to breathe into that space and practice trust. Besides, the more she trusted us and our strength and learned that we didn’t need her to protect us, the less she felt as though she had to guard us. ‘Gentle sweetie, go and play with that pup, and be gentle,’ and she would trot on over, sniff its bum, suss is out, and if she liked what she saw, sometimes she’d lick their nose, or bounce around and play with them, or simply trot back to us for a pat.
I don’t have children but I imagine that our experiences with Layla might be similar to that of getting a call from your child’s teacher at school. It’s as though we heard everything from:
‘You’re child is disobedient and irresponsible and is causing trouble amongst the other students.'
‘We’re worried about what might be happening at home. How is your relationship with Layla?'
‘She’s really coming into her own, and is incredibly social, loving and caring. All the kids love her.'
There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not absolutely flawed at the love, light and transformation she has shared with us.
Could Dogs Have Destinies Too?
Layla helped us heal from our miscarriage in 2015.
During our most recent pregnancy, earlier this year (which I will write about in Part III), Layla was my care-taker. I don’t know if I could have endured as much as I did if I didn’t have her and her big, brown, loving eyes looking at me all day, her paw on my belly. Dogs just know, don’t they?
During a ceremony that was held by my yoga community to honour the mother in me, and with those closest around me – those that had witnessed first hand the struggle Glen and I experienced – during such a special and sombre occasion, Layla walked laps around our sacred circle, licking the chops of everyone as they attempted to meditate and pray. In moments where we wanted to cry and feel and acknowledge the grief, instead, giggles erupted as Layla reminded us of all the life that was yet to be lived. Dog slobber brings smiles and laughter to any occasion.
It’s as though her Soul Purpose is to remind people of their infinite light, and to make them smile.
#furbaby is more than just a cute hashtag
I never thought I would the person that spams their pets all day every day. I was wrong. I am.
I never thought I would be the one to talk about my dog every time I catch up with friends or family. I was wrong, because that’s pretty much all I do.
And I certainly never thought I’d be the one who resists the idea of vacations, because it means leaving her; those big brown eyes turned up at me are hard enough to walk away from for a few hours, let alone a few weeks. Recently, Glen and I booked our tickets to Japan next January, which is reason to be mega excited, Japan is our favourite place and it plays home to our favourite food, where we get to do our favourite thing (snowboard)... and so one would think I would be jumping out of my skin about it. Part of me is, of course, but down in my womb, I think about Japan and I instantly ache for Layla. That is some real, hardcore, visceral love there folks.
An ode to the fur mamas
In the last post, I wanted to honour those that have conceived, loved and lost their babies. Today I want to honour the fur mamas and papas of the house, for all that you selflessly give to a being that can never in so many words, say ‘I love you’ back. We are so blessed to have our animals, and our animals are so grateful to have good homes. Thank you for saying yes to your pet, and for opening your home to him or her. I want to offer double the love to those of you who have rescued an animal from a place less fortunate. That was one of the best things you ever did, and I’m so glad you did it.
If you have lost a child, or are struggling to conceive, I cannot recommend welcoming an animal into your home to love and care for. Layla, who was once that 'ordinary' looking dog with the big sad eyes, has transformed into the most beautiful, sparkly, spirited being, and in doing so, has brought so much joy and delight into our home,that oftentimes I find myself asking Glen: ‘How on Earth did we survive before, missing out on all this happiness?’
Thank you for being here and following this journey with me. In the next instalment of this blog series, we’re going to get deep and dark and ugly. (I figured a warning was necessary) I’ll give you a hint. Two words. Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you below – how has your furbaby changed your life? – and of course I’d be so appreciative of your support in sharing this love-drenched article with your community.
If you’re considering becoming a pet parent, please take the time to seriously consider visiting a rescue shelter close to you. I can’t recommend the Animal Welfare League enough.
All our love,
Tara and Layla xo
Professional photos: Jo Anderson
Ceremony photos: Rhett Strauss from Centre For Life
All other piccies: good ol’ iPhone