Warning: This poem contains some intense material. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. There are canon-typical references to messy medical details, post-partum depression caused by new disability, difficult decisions, worrying about the future, discussions of necessary confinement, difficulty breastfeeding and bonding, dietary issues, and other challenges. On the whole, though, the tone is positive and plenty of support is available. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
Note: This is the first half of a two-part piece, because the original poem was so long that divided it. "The Strength of the Wolf: Howling" is still available for sponsorship.
"The Strength of the Wolf: Scenting"
It was pouring rain the day that
Alexandria rolled into the meeting
and said, "I feel like my life is over."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Hilla.
"What makes you feel that way?"
"I wanted this baby more than anything,
but the pregnancy just destroyed
my body," said Alexandria.
"I'm not coping well."
"Because of the paralysis, or
the abdominal pain?" asked Felice.
Spinal injury from an epidural
and soft-tissue damage from
an emergency c-section had left
the young mother in a lot of misery.
"Both," Alexandria said grimly.
"I love my daughter, but I can't
take care of her much, and I can't
enjoy her. I love my husband, but
we hardly do anything fun anymore
and we certainly can't have sex.
It's like ... love without hope,
and it's killing me inside."
Rain sheeted against the windows,
echoing the tears on her cheeks.
"Earlier you expressed frustration
with getting around the house and
taking care of yourself," Felice said.
"Everett was going to remodel the house
for accessibility. How is that going?"
"He tore out some walls and doors,
basically rebuilt the master bathroom,
and replaced the front steps with a ramp,"
said Alexandria. "He even made the ramp
and the driveway glow in the dark."
"That sounds wonderful," said Hilla.
"I wish I had practical skills like that.
I never had much chance to learn any."
Alexandria sighed. "I know, Everett
is wonderful, and the house looks great,
but it's hard for me to appreciate anything.
My body sucks all the joy out of life."
"It's been a few weeks since you
made it to a meeting," Felice said.
"There's a new option to consider."
She looked at Hilla and Randie.
"Hi, my name is Randie and
I'm a werewolf," said the Latina.
"I accidentally bit Hilla, so now
she has lycanthropy instead
of multiple sclerosis."
"That's not funny," said Alexandria.
"It's not a joke," Hilla said, getting up
to do a brief demonstration of yoga.
"Tell me more," Alexandria said
as she stared at the fluid motion.
So Hilla and Randie took turns
explaining the various pros and cons
of lycanthropy as a treatment
for other chronic illnesses.
"What do other people think
about this?" Alexandria asked.
"I already did it," Sigfrieda said.
"Totally worth it -- but then, I'm not
a new mommy. You might feel different."
"I'm seriously considering it," said Felice.
"I just have some other things that
I want to take care of first."
"I think ... maybe I'd better
talk about this with Everett,"
Alexandria said. "It's too big
of a decision to make alone,
even if it is my body."
"That's a good idea," said Hilla.
"Take your time with this. I had to
when I was thinking about whether
to offer people the choice."
"Thank you," said Alexandria.
"I don't know what I'd do
without this group."
So she went home and told Everett
that she was considering lycanthropy
as a possible solution to her current problems,
while they sat on the couch and listened
to the rain drumming on the roof.
Everett was skeptical at first, but
Hilla came over and showed off
her improved health along with
some images from the full moon.
That was enough to make him
take the idea more seriously.
"What do you think?"
Everett asked Alexandria.
"I don't look forward to
having the equivalent of
childbirth every month, but
away from the full moon,
I should be fine," she said.
"That's very appealing. I
want to have a life again."
"I'd enjoy that too," said Everett.
"I worry about the violence, though,"
said Alexandria, twisting her hands
together. "I'd need a cage, but I might
still get out, and there's the baby to consider."
"But what if you didn't want to get out?"
Everett said slowly. He tapped
a thumb against his chin.
"What do you mean?" Alexandria said.
"Randie didn't want to hurt anyone either,
but her wolf doesn't think like a person.
She broke out and then bit Hilla."
"We haven't finished more than
the spare bathroom in the basement,"
he said. "I could turn the larger room
into a den -- a real wolf den, not a cage.
This is your home. I think that if your wolf
feels safe and happy in a room of her own,
then she won't want to run off and
get into some kind of trouble."
"That might work," Alexandria said,
thinking of the basement and how
it did in fact feel safe, especially
when the weather was bad.
"Let me noodle around some ideas,"
Everett said, tracing a finger on his knee.
Just then, Lily began crying.
"I'll get her," said Everett,
and headed for the nursery.
A few minutes later, he returned
carrying their daughter Lily.
"Do you want to try feeding her
for a little while?" Everett asked
as he offered Alexandria the baby.
"I suppose," she said.
That required transferring to
the bed, since Alexandria couldn't
tolerate the weight of a baby on her lap,
and propping herself on pillows helped
to extend her limited supply of energy.
Soon Lily was happily nursing away.
It lasted a little more than ten minutes
before Alexandria had to give up,
too miserable to continue.
"Get some reserve from the fridge
and finish with a bottle," she said,
sighing. "I'll have to pump
some more later."
"Okay," said Everett,
and took over for her.
Their life wasn't fixed yet,
but at least now Alexandria
had caught the scent of hope like
smoke from a distant campfire.
By the next meeting, Everett
had constructed a little model
of a wolf den complete with rocks
and branches forming the cave.
Alexandria took it with her
to show the werewolves
and explain Everett's idea.
"This looks amazing," Randie said
as she trailed a fingertip over the tiny wolves
lounging in front of the model cave.
"I wish we had a nice den like this,"
Hilla said. "Ours is just a cell."
"Everett wants to know if there's
any way to improve it," said Alexandria.
"What do you need on wolf nights?
What things help you feel better?"
"If it's supposed to be like a real den,
wolves usually put theirs near water,"
Randie said thoughtfully. "Maybe
you could add a doggie fountain
or even a little pool somewhere?"
"Food," Hilla said. "Zookeepers
hide food around the enclosure
so the wolves have to hunt for it.
Even if you just put down dog food,
that would give you something to do."
"I am not eating dog food!"
Alexandria said vehemently.
"Dog food isn't very good for wolves,"
Randie said. "I tried eating that,
but it just made me bloat. I
need lots of raw red meat."
"I'm not eating raw meat either,"
Alexandria said. "That's disgusting."
"There are dog food recipes
that use real meat, and even
vegetables too," said Felice.
"I'll think about that,"
said Alexandria as she
took notes on her tablet.
"Bones are good too,"
said Randie. "You can
get them free or cheap from
a butcher, and they help reduce
the urge to roam because you
just want to lie there and gnaw
until you reach the marrow."
"Maybe put some food in a dish
where it's easy to eat right after
the change, but hide a bone and
some other treats," Hilla said.
"Toys," Sigfrieda suggested. "I've
seen treat puzzles and pet beds
designed for big, destructive dogs.
Those should work for wolves, too."
"Werewolves are stronger than
natural wolves," Randie said quietly.
"Work in progress?" said Hilla.
"Zoo animals have toys too,"
Alexandria said suddenly.
"Are werewolves stronger
than lions? Or elephants?"
"I don't know," Randie said,
frowning as she pondered it.
"Maybe as strong as a lion?
Probably not stronger
than an elephant!"
"Research zoo toys,"
and wrote it down.
"I'm writing that down too,"
Hilla said. "Our cage is boring."
* * *
This is the Paxton family.
Everett Paxton -- He has pinkish-fair skin, hazel eyes, and short wavy ash-brown hair. He is 35 years old. He is a handyman who runs a construction business. He has already renovated their house once for wheelchair accessibility and has recently turned part of the basement into a werewolf den.
Alexandria Paxton -- She has tawny-fair skin, hazel eyes, and short chestnut hair. She is 29 years old. Alexandria sustained permanent damage from childbirth including spinal injury with partial paralysis from an epidural, and severe abdominal pain from an emergency caesarian section. She is a graphic designer, currently on maternity leave.
Lily Paxton -- She has fair skin and a few wisps of dark blonde hair. Her eyes have not yet changed from baby blue. She is 5 months old. Lily is very observant, and securely attached to her parents.
* * *
"The Law for the Wolves" by Rudyard Kipling
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Disability from childbirth is most associated with poor countries, but can happen anywhere. Chronic pain and disability may contribute to postpartum depression. Women need to grieve the loss and learn how to cope with the disability.
Remodeling can make a house comfortable for people with disabilities.
This is Alexandria's house. To make the front door accessible, the steps were torn out and replaced with a concrete ramp that glows in the dark. Glowstones were also added to the gravel in the driveway. To make the interior accessible, walls were torn out between dining room and living room, living room and foyer. Doors were torn out between kitchen and living room, living room and master bedroom. The remaining doors in the master bedroom have been automated. There used to be two walk-in closets, of which one was sacrificed to make the bathroom bigger and more accessible, the other being remodeled for better access as well. Originally, the bathroom was the only part of the basement fully finished. The other two rooms just had bare concrete floors and walls and were intended as extra family room or bedroom space as more children arrived. The master bedroom has subsequently been renovated as a safe room for werewolf nights, designed with large logs and sculpted concrete to resemble a wolf den. Green indoor-outdoor carpet resembles grass, and there is a pool for drinking or playing. The window and front of the room have sturdy iron grates, with shutters for privacy.
A glowing path may be created with spray or pebbles. Read more about glowstones.
Chronic pain can impact personality and relationships. Understand how to socialize and cope with chronic pain.
Anhedonia is an inability to feel pleasure, which can be caused by chronic pain. Learn how to overcome it.
Commitment and values contribute to a healthy marriage. Making important decisions together is a vital part of maintaining long-term relationships.
Breastfeeding typically takes 20-45 minutes.
Wild wolves dig dens to shelter their cubs, and captive wolves may enjoy a den at other times. See the wolf den model.
Homemade dog food can be better than the commercial kind. Wolves and wolf-dogs often benefit from a raw diet.
Canines love chewing bones for evolutionary reasons, and it helps them stay calm. Raw meaty bones are a healthy part of their diet.
Dogs need physical and mental stimulation to avoid developing problems. Zoo animals likewise need various types of enrichment. Explore some enrichment for wolves.
My first resource for zoo animal toys fiddled their website, so now I have to splice together some different links. A tire feeder is a torus with holes in it, similar to a feeder tube. A ball-in-ball has a small ball contained within a larger perforated ball, A fling-around or tug ball is a ball with one or more ropes attached to make it easier to grasp. It may have a customizable scent cage or jingle bells inside for sensory enrichment. The overall idea is to give animals something tough to manipulate, carry around, and figure out.