Thursday, December 3, 2009
In September, my cat Beauty and I experienced a heartbreaking episode when she had a litter of kittens prematurely. She was in labour for days. Prior to that, she had exhibited no normal signs of pregnancy apart from indigestion. Her tummy never became large. Her appetite had not increased enormously. When the kittens were born, half were stillborn and one was terribly small. Beauty was a little more than a year old. It was her first litter. She was terrified throughout the ordeal and left the babies on the floor, separated and cold. When she went into labour for the next, the baby left behind cried piteously.
She never settled with her kittens. She was too involved with the labour process, dragging on and on.
I had to take control of the kittens who lived. I found an old shirt with a pocket and placed the little kitten inside. Although fully formed and able to cry, he voided everything I fed him. Poor Beauty did show an interest in the disposition of her kittens, once her labour was done, but they would not nurse properly. There were two live kittens, a boy and a girl, both pure white. I tried to make a formula and obtained a feeding syringe but nothing I did appeared to give them satisfaction.
During the next few days, the kittens died, one by one. Their deaths were not painless. It was horrible. They fought for breath and although famished, could not process the formula, however I modified the ingredients. I believe that their systems were not fully developed internally. That is the only explanation that makes sense. She went into labour for some reason prematurely. The kittens were wildly divergent in size. One of those who was stillborn was tiny. I wanted them to live so badly, but Nature had determined otherwise.
Should I have taken them to a veterinarian? Would it have made a difference? I have an extremely small income, barely enough for survival. Furthermore, they were born over the course of a weekend, when veterinary hospitals are understaffed, often even shut. The decision almost was made for me in a way. I have nursed many newborn kittens successfully in the past. The fact that these died was due, not to my own lack of expertise, but something else. Nonetheless... nonetheless, one always mourns and one wonders if something could have been done to change their sad destiny.
I cried when I buried them. I have assisted at many feline births but never one so fraught with sorrow and pain. Poor Beauty looked for her kittens as well in vain afterwards, when her labour finally ended. I felt cursed somehow, even though I knew she had been too young, too unprepared, that something had gone terribly awry.
Almost immediately, rather to my shock, Beauty went into heat, almost desperately. She rolled about, demanding the attentions of Ashleigh, her consort. In fact, prior to the ill-fated litter, I never had seen him attend to her, or exhibit any knowledge or interest in adult pursuits. It was yet another reason why her delivery of kittens came as a complete surprise.
I did not know what to do when Beauty went into heat so soon after her delivery. Should I separate the two? They were deeply bonded. If I separated them for a few minutes, they both would grieve.
I thought about Beauty and her heartbreak and decided to let her do whatever she wished... Her 'heat' lasted about three days and continued to be desperate. I never saw any female behave quite so passionately. It appeared to me almost as though she were determined to do it right, to have the sort of litter of which she had been cheated.
I watched as she began to show signs of pregnancy. Her appetite was boundless. She was like a woman who was determined to make her pregnancy as healthy as possible. Her tummy began to grow, slowly but obviously. Her appetite continued.
On the 1st of December, she began to act unsettled, a little uncomfortable. She was insecure, demanding my attention and yet unable or unwilling to sit in my lap for more than a moment or two.
On the morning of 2 December, her kittens 'dropped'. I suspect there is a veterinary term for it, but that is what it is called when it happens to a human mother, I believe. The shape of her stomach changed as the kittens moved towards the site of delivery.
I had seen a cat bed in the local chemist's shop on the 1st of December and wondered if I should purchase it. In the end, I did not do so. I had visions of Ashleigh commandeering it or of Beauty rejecting it because it was unfamiliar, filled with alien odours.
I made a bed for her, cutting the top from a deep, strong box and filling the interior with a small, padded 'infant' duvet that once covered the canary's cage at night. Orfeo's death had occurred some years ago, but I never had the heart to toss the duvet... The cats loved it. I felt Beauty would find it familiar enough to disguise the newness of the 'box bed'.
In the late afternoon of 2 December, she went into labour, not in the bed but on the floor below it. One kitten, howling loudly, was expelled from her womb. Less than half an hour later, she delivered the second.
I took matters into hand and scooped both kittens with their mother off the floor, depositing them into the warm bed. Much to my delight, Beauty accepted it.
A couple of hours later, she had delivered two more kittens, both live, both fairly energetic. She had not left the box bed even during the delivery. It was fascinating to watch.
Here is a young cat, a year and a half old. She had experienced a horrible, agonising labour in September that gave her nothing positive. She never had experienced the joys of motherhood, only the preliminary pains.
On 2 December, two months later, she was a consummate professional. She gritted her teeth, let out a low growl and pushed when the situation demanded it. She cleaned the kitten instantly and disposed of the afterbirth, cutting the cord with her teeth. Meanwhile, she continued to nurse the kittens who had been born earlier, sparing a little attention for them, cleaning them if needed when they got in the way of the rather messy birthing process.
Furthermore, she would not leave the box. She was alert for every cry from every kitten, rolling on her side to facilitate nursing for them. Only one of the four was born with no natural ability initially to find sustenance but, by placing him again and again near a nipple and holding his head on either side to force him to stay at the site, I managed to teach him to nurse within the first hour of birth.
Beauty is a natural mother. Not all cats are, actually. I have had cats who showed no interest in their kittens. When I had two queens, one simply deposited her kittens with the other's litter and stalked away, never to display one iota of love for the fruit of her loins, until they had grown into playmates for her. Beauty appears to be in ecstacy now. She is deeply bonded to her kittens.
At 2.00 a.m., she had not left her bed but was starving. I scooped dry food out of the dish and handfed her. She ate happily, still ensconced with her kittens, every inch a proud parent.
Ashleigh meanwhile, was confused and terrified by the invasion of tiny alien beings. I had to baby him a little... I hope that he will learn to love them when he has become accustomed to them. At the moment, he skulks along the edges of the bed, peering inside briefly, then leaping away to a safer, more distant perch.
Now, it is late morning and Beauty has left the box to eat properly, but again returned to her babies as soon as she had finished her petit dejeuner.
I hesitated to write at all about the delivery. Last time, I wrote about the birth of the kittens, only to be forced to write about their demise a few days later. This time, however, I believe that the tale will be a joyful one. Everything appears to be normal.
Why did Beauty have to undergo that terrible ordeal in September? I do not know, but Nature has her own wisdom. Purebreds are more delicate than mixed breed and Beauty is a purebred. Although I still mourn the little kittens buried in the garden, perhaps that was the sacrifice that Nature demanded for this litter.
As a veteran fan of Harvest Moon, I always enjoy the excitement of a new birth on the farm... infants always are born healthy and strong, but Harvest Moon does include the other side of the coin, in giving a natural life expectancy to every Ranch animal. When any Animal reaches his/her life expectancy, death will occur randomly. I always sell my animals when they reach their life expectancy, because I cannot bear the sorrow of witnessing their deaths, even in a game. A part of me wanted to reload when Beauty's kittens died in September... but Death is the other side of the coin of Life. The Carthaginians sacrificed their firstborn to the Gods for the welfare of all and because they believed that the afterlife was better than this life. They sent their firstborn to a place where there was no pain, no ugliness, no hatred... nothing that was not bright and fine.
I would not sacrifice the firstborn voluntarily to the Gods, but sometimes Nature takes her own sacrifices, gathering back some of those whom she sent into this world. If these kittens thrive and grow, I will be filled with joy, but I will not forget the little ones buried in the ground... those who died in order to pave the way for successful motherhood for Beauty. I wonder if she remembers them as well... Humans tend to be very self-centred, believing that only the pain of our species counts. I have witnessed the grief of animals over the loss of a loved one, whether one of their own species or a beloved human. In any case, Beauty is one of the most determined Cats I ever have known... Her quick 'heat' after the tragic delivery in September, and her incredible appetite, as well as her behaviour throughout this delivery, demonstrated a NEED to be a Mother. I hope that her experience now will be entirely positive and joyous.
When I witness the miracle of birth, I realise there is nothing in this world quite as magical, as filled with mystical significance. The incredible instinct that took hold of young Beauty, allowing her to 'multi-task' in a way that few humans could manage, amazed me. While in labour, producing another tiny kitten, she still managed to care for the kittens born earlier. She cleaned the bed, cleaned the new kitten and continued to nurture the others throughout the day and night that comprised her labour and delivery.
Once the labour ended, she relaxed and surrendered to the magical experience of Motherhood. She stretched languidly, and kneaded the air with her paws, a certain sign of ecstacy in a cat. My own heart overflowed with love and happiness. This is the ultimate reason for our existence. It truly is. Those females who never experience Motherhood are denied the most glorious crown in existence. The old religions who exalted Woman as Goddess, whether human, animal or a mythological combination of the two, understood this essential truth. As much as I adore my Ashleigh, he is the lesser being in this spiritual sense. There is no doubt that his seed quickened Beauty's womb and allowed her to become an earthly goddess, but having fulfilled that purpose, he definitely is superflous at this moment in time.
Mind you, not all Males are like sweet Ash. He remains a kitten, despite his size. Mentally and spiritually, he has not matured at all, but he is one of the most affectionate Cats in the world towards me. He may grow into fatherhood. I have known male Cats who combined the nature both of Mother and Father, jealously aware of the welfare and health of any tiny soul in their lives. My dear Pi, now deceased, was one such Male. I do not think he actually fathered any Cats. That robust role was reserved for his half-brother Friendship. Pi, though, would care for any litter tenderly, keeping them warm while their mother ate or performed the other necessary acts of Nature, watching tirelessly even when she resumed her duties.
Most gentle of creatures, most spiritual... timid almost to the point of paranoia where strangers were concerned, but completely devoted to his extended family.
Every creature is different and every Cat is unique. I pray that I will have the opportunity to discover the unique personalities of each of the four tiny lives that Beauty brought into this world yesterday. At least I can rest easy for the moment, knowing that Mother and Kittens are content. The tiny bellies are filled with milk and their mother is enjoying the ultimate joy of nurturing life.
Even less than a full day old, the four Kittens begin to exhibit their own personalities as well as having different appearances. Three are white, but probably will be Bluepoints like their Father. The fourth and last to be born, when I was beginning to believe ALL would resemble Ashleigh, is a darker colour... although one cannot begin to see any markings at this point, I suspect that the 'runt of the litter' may become a Flame like his mother. In a domestic shorthair, the colour would be Marmalade, but purebred owners tend to be a little more poetic or pretentious, depending on your point of view. In any case, it is this little one who is the fussiest. I wondered if he knew how to nurse properly even this morning, as he flailed about desperately and ineffectually, searching for the source of nourishment directly beneath his tiny nose. As is usually the case, although a Mother has more than enough nipples for four kittens, they tend to fight over one or two. As soon as this one found the fountain of life he sought, one of his siblings begin to strive mightily to deprive him of it.