(I’m pulling from the archives. “Unexpected Miracles” appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat, 2009)
I have failed as a cat parent.
My little cat Maisey, when she was just a smidgen over a year old, was going to be a mother. At first we weren’t sure. Perhaps we were leaving a bit too much milk in her saucer and too many scraps of deli meat in her food dish, perhaps that was the reason for her suddenly ballooning mid-section.
But my husband and I soon noticed that it wasn’t just her size that was changing, it was her attitude. She no longer wanted to bat at the shoelace my four-year-old son Elijah dangled at her. It seemed as if she hardly wanted to move at all. Once a playful, romping, kitten, Maisey now took four or five lethargic steps and then flopped down like a beached whale and went to sleep. When I picked her up to nuzzle her under my chin like she always loved, she would let out the faintest most pitiful, human-like groan. I remembered similar groans escaping my lips when I was nine months pregnant. And it became painfully clear that sooner or later, she was going to lactate.
But the most incriminating fact remained- I had let her out. More than once. Without a supervisor. Without a leash. Without being spayed. I can hear Bob Barker’s chastisement now.
Yes, I have failed as a cat parent. And people let me know it, too.
“Didn’t you know that she had been in heat?” a friend of mine who volunteered at the humane society questioned.
“Well yes, but…”
“She was bound to get pregnant, with all the cats in the neighborhood.”
I called the humane society to check on their policy of accepting kittens.
“You didn’t get her spayed, huh?”
“No, I know I should have but I never got around to it…”
“Well, I guess it’s too late now.”
There was no mistaking the tsktsk in her voice.
And there was no stopping the inevitable. I did some research on the Internet and learned that cats liked privacy when their time came. So we prepared a box for Maisey, lined with soft towels and old blankets on which she could labor and placed it in our basement bathroom. I even plugged in a nightlight so the atmosphere would be soft and soothing instead of glaringly bright or pitch black.
And then we began to watch her like a time bomb.
My Internet research had also informed me that many cats, right before they go into labor, become ultra affectionate. They purr, they cuddle, they want to be held. It was a Sunday afternoon when suddenly our cat who had wanted nothing to do with us for the last four weeks thank-you-very-much appeared and sprang on my lap and purred with such vivacity that I knew it was time.
My husband and I lead her to the basement and reminded her of her homey towel clad birthing box. When the panting began we knew she meant business. We walked with her down to the basement, turned the lights off, made sure the night-light was on and prepared to leave her alone. We had no sooner put a foot on the basement steps when she began to meow, long and mournful. She was right at our heels. We led her back to her box but she refused.
“She wants to be with us,” my husband said.
“But that’s not what the Internet said.”
He gave me a look. During labor I hadn’t wanted any of the back rubs my pregnancy books promised I’d want.
I carried her labor box upstairs to our kitchen and set it in the corner. She crawled inside. I walked to the living room to tell Elijah what was happening. She followed me. I returned to the kitchen and knelt down beside the box. She went back inside.
“I think I’ll stay in her for awhile,” I called to my husband as I eased myself down to the tile floor. Throughout that night, the minute I stuck a toenail beyond the kitchen Maisey left her box and yowled. She didn’t want to labor alone. Not that I could blame her.
She did not labor for long. Her panting changed and I knew it would be soon. My husband knelt down beside me. My son crawled in my lap as I sat on the kitchen floor. We spotted the first little head, and then the body, and her first-born was out.
“It looks like a rat,” my son said as we watched Maisey instinctively clean her offspring. The bath was cut short by the emergence of kitten number two.
“Isn’t that amazing,” I said to my son.
It was impossible not to get caught up in the moment. To realize that’s how creatures come into the world, to ponder the design of it all, to marvel at the God-given instincts with which animals are equipped. Planned or unplanned, the birth of anything is amazing.
“Is that what it was like when I was born?” my son asked.
“Sort of. Except you weren’t quite as hairy. And I didn’t lick you clean, the nurse gave you a bath.”
We witnessed number three emerge, then four and then five. I began to get nervous. But it was clear from Maisey’s expression that she was done as her scrawny, sightless offspring began to nurse. I reached my hand into the box and scratched her behind her ears. Her purring grew louder and she only gazed at me when I touched each of her kittens with my index finger. “Good job, Maisey,” I cooed. “Good job.”
We hadn’t planned on having five, furry kittens that all needed good homes, but sharing the miracle of new life with my son is a memory I’ll never forget.