Christene Barberich & Phoebe


“Two years ago, on New Year’s day, I was finishing up my usual annual ritual—bringing my journal with me from the previous year to a special place and taking stock of all the highlights and accomplishments of the year past. This time around, I chose the Mondrian hotel. And as I sat there detailing the events of the year, I began to feel very low, reflecting on another year gone by that I hadn’t had a child. Not that I hadn’t tried—I had and failed a few more miserable times. Amid all the wonderful things blossoming in my life, that one enduring defeat never seemed to stop lingering, casting a shadow over every small happiness. But, always, on this day for the past four years that we’d been trying, it hurt the most.

On the way home from my ritual, I passed an animal hospital in my neighborhood. I saw a fluffy, white cat named Chalky in the window up for adoption, and went inside. I asked to meet Chalky, without even checking in with my husband about the prospect of fostering him. The attendant seemed delighted by my interest, but kept suggesting I meet another cat instead. Her name was Cora and she was deemed “special needs” because she’d lost her leg in a car accident the year prior. For some reason, I felt determined it was Chalky who should come home with us that day, but it was my husband who insisted we meet Cora since she’d been bounced around in foster care for months. About a half-hour later, my husband met me there. I was in kind of a daze, and didn’t even know what I was doing, but felt strangely guided to do it anyway.

They took us into a small visitor’s room where they do potential pet-parent meet-and-greets. A few moments later, the door cracked open, and in popped this tiny, tiger-striped head—her bigs eyes were so wide and curious. She was so small but so elegant. She hopped in and I watched her look up at both of us, pensively, and then curl around Kevin’s ankle. He scooped her up with one hand and just looked at me, like, “Let’s get out of here.” And that was it. We brought her home. She hid out in her furry little cat house that she’d lived in at the shelter, until she gradually got used to roaming the apartment and finding new spots to claim as her own. It’s obvious she’s deeply devoted to Kevin, likes to hide around corners and pounce on his feet and ankles. But with me, she’s more soulful and sturdy. She sleeps between my legs and then, at some point during the night, she sneaks up alongside my chest and purrs until we both fall asleep again.
I still don’t have a baby of my own. But Phoebe reminded me of how good it feels to love something, to really care for it and need that simple love in return. To feel like destiny had intervened and she had found her rightful home, too. Phoebe taught me it wasn’t all my fault that I couldn’t have a baby, and helped me find the courage to write about what all that loss was like in an essay on the website I co-founded,@Refinery29. The constant love and presence of a soul like Phoebe, reminded me that life does go on. That through heartbreak and failure and so much regret, comes other kinds of love and nurturing that you’re not always expecting, but that feeds you just the same. Very simply, Phoebe opened my heart again. And, she made me believe in myself, too, maybe in a way I never had before. “

Christene is the co-founder of Refinery29


Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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