Dog In Cooler by Eileen Palma

“Now that you’re living in Bronxville, you know you need to start having more kids right?  Everyone here has at least three.”  The other first grade mom looked at my seven years flat stomach with one hand on her third trimester belly and a toddler on her hip.   I smiled and asked when she was due.

“We have to get started now if we want four kids,” I would tell my husband Doug over warmed up cans of Campbell’s vegetable soup or spaghetti topped with whatever pasta sauce was on sale that week at the Kroger Supermarket.

“Three kids is enough,” he would counter, without looking up from his Feline Anatomy textbook.  He was in his second year of vet school at Ohio State, but with five more years of training ahead, there was never going to be a perfect time to have kids.  So we went with imperfect.

“If we have three, it’ll always be two against one.  We need to have four to even things out.”   Sandwiched between two brothers, my husband got that logic.

Always the planner, I had it all mapped out.  I would teach and support us while Doug finished school.  There would be plenty of time to write that great American novel later.  Pregnant with my first at twenty-five, we could have three more kids before we were too old to get down on the floor and play with them.

“Of course your ribs hurt.  You’re petite and that baby you’re carrying is getting very big.”  My OB with her Mid-Western reserve and no-nonsense haircut make me feel like a hysterical New Yorker.  I spent the rest of my third trimester telling myself to suck it up when the searing pain in my right rib cage kept me up at night.

A week past my due date, I was relieved to deliver a healthy eight- and- a -half pound baby girl by C-section.  We named her Molly.  The next night, my husband’s voice broke through my Oxycodone induced stupor.

“Did you say DIC?  Did you just say my wife is in DIC?”  Doug whisper yelled at two Labor & Delivery nurses with Molly asleep on his shoulder.  The nurses been discussing my case in low toned threads of medical lingo that most other new dads couldn’t have translated.

“Death is coming!  That’s what we say when dogs go into DIC at the animal hospital.  Death is coming!”

Doug didn’t tell them that the more cynical vets also called it Dog in Cooler.

It turns out the constant and unbearable pain in my rib cage wasn’t from squeezing an eight and a half pound baby into my 5’1” size 0 body.  It was from my inflamed liver.  I had a whole bucket of maladies at the same time; Toxemia, low blood platelets, DIC, and high liver enzymes, all caused by a life threatening autoimmune disease called HELLP Syndrome that affects a small percentage of pregnant women.

The original plan was for my mom to wait to make the trek to the Midwest till I got home from the hospital, so she could stay and help me take care of Molly while I healed from the C-section.  When my husband called her in the morning, she had already started the twelve- hour drive with my sister, after visions of dark hooded figures leaning over my hospital bed had kept her up all night.

I spent the next week in the hospital, while my mother, sister and husband stared at me with worried looks.  Six days later when it was clear I wasn’t going by the wayside like the poor dogs in coolers, Doug leaned over my bed and said “One is enough.”

The irony of being a stay at home mom who can’t have more kids wasn’t lost on me when I was too sick to return to teaching.  I spent those first few years crawling up the stairs while my daughter learned to walk, and staggering my appointments with specialists in between her pediatrician check ups.  I lost a small part of myself each day while I fought to get healthy.  There isn’t a lot of dignity in being sick.

When Molly was six months old, my mom bought me a copy of Writer’s Market.  I sat down with it heavy in my lap highlighting every magazine that might be interested in an article written by me.  I spent the better part of a month typing up one page query letters and printing them with jet -black laser ink.

I was caught completely by surprise when buried between Babies R’ Us coupons and cheap Viagra ads was an email from the editor of PTO Today asking me to write an article about elementary school parent volunteers.

When the magazine arrived, my husband cut my article out and put it in a dark wooden frame.  He hung it up over my desk and said it was just the first of many pieces with my byline.  When I was commissioned to write another article Doug rushed to Target to buy the matching frame.  And in that moment I was still the same girl he used to sit with in the student union, studying for his pre-vet classes while I labored over ten page short stories.


Eileen Palma has an English degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has studied Advanced Novel Writing at Sarah Lawrence College’s The Writing Institute.  Her articles have appeared in PTO Today and Our Town.

Eileen’s romantic comedy Worth the Weight placed third in the Wisconsin Romance Writer’s Fab Five contest and is currently a finalist for the Tampa Area Romance Authors contest.  She recently signed with literary agent Eric Ruben of The Ruben Agency.

Eileen lives in New York with her husband, daughter and a scrappy Wire Haired Fox Terrier. 

Follow Eileen on twitter @EileenEPalma

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41 thoughts on “Dog In Cooler by Eileen Palma

  1. This story is right from the heart, and it touched mine. It should be required reading for all those well meaning souls who comment on the the size of one’s family, or other personal matters. A beautifully written piece, Eileen Palma. I’d love to read more. Congrats on your romantic comedy success, but this piece shows you’ve also got a place in the blog-o-sphere!

    • Thanks Jackie! This piece really made me put it all out there! It’s easy to write in a fictional character’s viewpoint when writing rom-com compared to the terror of writing about my own life. Pat’s writing prompt took me out of my comfort level and gave me the chance to tell a story I never would have otherwise. Thanks for reading:)

  2. This was such a moving and courageous story!
    Eileen, I’m so glad you persevered. You are such an inspiration.
    I will be looking for “Worth the Weight”, in the bookstore. Congrats on the contest.

  3. Eileen, this blog is extremely moving. As a “kid mom” and a “dog mom,” and someone who has a close friend who almost died from a liver rupture due to pre-eclampsia (but she and her baby survived and are fine!), I so related to your blog and felt your angst and that of those who love you. Thank you so much for sharing this – it must not have been easy!

    • Rickey, I’m so glad that your friend and her baby survived and recovered from the pre-eclampsia. It’s not easy to recover and take care of yourself when you have a baby that needs you to take care of them too. Your friend must be one tough cookie!

  4. Very well written, I wish there was more to read! I will be keeping my eyes open for Worth the Weight, hopefully it gets published soon! As a mother of three this article touched my heart!

  5. Wow!!! What a wonderfully captivating story. It was almost as if I lived all those moments as I read on. Superb writing!!!!

  6. This is a well written piece that will touch the hearts of all who read it. The power of this message is relevant on so many levels; most importantly, how this family persevered in the face of near tragedy and also, how they were able to restructure their lives to welcome their new destiny. I wish Eileen continued strength and success in her writing, and can’t wait to read more of her work.

  7. Eileen – your story brought tears to my eyes. I understand what it is like to be fighting through illness, though I cannot imagine doing that with a toddler. You are braver and stronger than I am for being able to share that with the world. I hope your husband bought a lot of those frames, because it sounds like one extra frame was certainly not enough.

    • Thanks Sarah! I’m sorry that you’ve had a rough road with your health too. When your health is a struggle, it affects so much of everything else in your life. You’re right, it did take courage to share my story, but it was very cathartic for me. I usually take comfort in writing fiction because then I don’t have to put my own story out there for everyone. But writing this piece gave me a sense of freedom. Thanks for your support:)

  8. This a beautiful and honest piece. Eileen, I look forward to watching you prosper as a writer–a prolific one.

    • Thanks Marlena! You,my friend, are the true queen of personal narrative and I can’t wait to say “I knew her when” about you one day.

  9. Wow! What a story, the writing is so wonderfully eloquent. Kudos your recent accomplishments. Can’t wait to hear and celebrate more!

  10. Eileen! This is wonderful. Its very forthcoming and touching. It shines light on the reality of social expectations, life planning, and the obstacles one faces(and brilliantly overcomes in your case). I’m so excited for you, and to read your work in the future. And I agree with Jacqueline, this really does show you have a place in the blogging world. Congratulations!!

  11. Working with Doug, its great to hear your version of the story – and much more entertaining! I am glad that the three of you are all well now and you make a perfect family. Congratulations on your success thus far, Eileen – I look forward to reading more!

  12. What a touching and well-told story. I’m glad you’re ok! Thank you for sharing with us. I’m looking forward to reading your next piece!

  13. Wonderful piece. True to life and quite humorous. Characters have depth and insight. Lovey to read, wish there was more.

  14. The article is captivating. You do a nice job of balancing the tension between your experiences of powerlessness, moments of magical insight, and successes of both the heart and mind. You capture a large experience in structured narrative that doesn’t rely on sentimental cliches. Instead you reach for almost humorous moments in the darkness. The cynicism of hospital employees and other mothers highlights the challenges that all women face. The message that dominates the piece is one of perseverance, yet your journey also seems to come full circle, driven by fate and love. Well done, I look forward to reading more.

    • Thank you for your positive and detailed feedback Katie. I can tell you read this piece with a “writer’s eye” and I appreciate the kind words you had for my writing. This was my first stab at a blog piece and your supportive words helped bolster my confidence, so maybe I won’t be so nervous the next time I write a personal narrative.

  15. Wow! I did not know any of this about you, Eileen, the most cheerful and optimistic person I have ever met. Your story gave me goose bumps. I can totally picture that encounter with the Bronxville mom the way you wrote it. Well done!

    • Thanks Jen! You are so sweet! After going through what I did, it helps me to “not sweat the small stuff”.

  16. Great story, Eileen. Well told. I got serious about writing following a miscarriage but went on to have a small family, too. I also note you have a fox terrier – my favorite breed. I’ve had two and long for another. Did you find yours in NY?

    • Thanks Gloria! It sounds you were able to personally connect with my piece because of your own experience. My Wire Fox Terrier Oscar is one now. We got him in upstate NY last summer from Br’er Fox Wire Fox Terriers. The breeder’s name is Caroline A. Mouris and her email is You can tell her I sent you her way. We are very happy with our little guy. He has a spunky personality and he runs on the treadmill a few mornings a week before I go to work.

  17. Great job, Eileen! This is such an inspirational story, and it just goes to prove that a little bit of positivity goes a long way!

    Stay the course!

  18. Eileen, what a wonderful piece of writing! You never know the struggles behind the smiling face. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Whoa, superb website layout! The way long do you think you’re running a blog with regard to? you’ve made blogging and site-building appear effortless. The entire glimpse of one’s web site is terrific, not to mention this article!

  20. What a beautiful article! Eileen, you are a true star!!! Congratulations always!

    Pat, you are a generous teacher and friend!


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