Childhood Experiments in Midwifery
By: Savannah Rigley | February 26, 2019
At roughly 5 or 6, my parents made the catastrophic decision to add a baby to our family. His name ended up being Jackson and he’s actually pretty funny so all things considered I guess that worked out. But, I must confess, at the time this choice struck me as pure calamity.
To lessen the blow my parents allowed me to have what I wanted absolutely most on this earth: one kitten. We already had a pet dog – my mom’s beloved elderly sheltie mix (a pet she got in law school). But this kitten would be mine.
We got the kitten, as many people do, from a friend. My mom’s longtime friend had a ranch – and ranches tend to have outdoor kittens. As we know, 80% of kittens in shelters come from outdoor cats – and my new kitten was no different.
Sorry, I mean my kittens were no different.
My mom’s friend presented me with an adorable 7 or so week old tortie kitten and I named her Kira. But, well, Kira had to have a friend – and I had my eye on her fluffy black sister.
“Well,” said my mother, “Go ahead and call your dad, but you have to ask him.”
Of course I got my second kitten.
We drove home with them that night and made what I now know was a hilariously bad move – we let the kitten immediately loose in the bedroom. These formerly outdoor kittens, now removed from their mama and their siblings, hid under the bed for a week. I was desperate to snuggle them and laid nearly constantly next to my parents’ bed, my face pressed sideways into the carpet. “Pleeeease, I love you,” I whined at them.
“Eh, give them time,” suggested my mother.
Eventually, though, as kittens do, they came around. Marissa and Kira grew to be both snuggly and aloof – that is, basically your average cat. I adored them.
We had an ample backyard and it was roughly the year 1998 so my cats were indoor/outdoor. Nowadays my cats are strictly indoor (please see Mabel’s escapade for more information), but at the time this was our normal.
You probably see where this is going.
One day Kira and Marissa seemed to disappear. They weren’t on the porch or in my room or even their favorite spot on top of the fridge. My parents and I looked for them and finally found them in the garage, nestled in a box of forgotten old sweaters.
Both nursing kittens.
Kira had 5, Marissa 2. They were impossibly cute and I was thrilled. Less thrilling, I’ll admit, was the fact that Marissa had birthed a stillborn kitten. I remember still this kitten, rigid, by herself in another box.
I know now that pregnancy is hard on mamas. Birth even more so. And kittens are so impossibly fragile. That day my mother and I gently wrapped the kitten in a washcloth and buried her in a box under a tree. I painted a rock with chalk as a headstone.
Ultimately, Kira and Marissa were good mamas and all 7 kittens thrived. We dodged upper respiratory infections, parasites, and other common kittenhood illnesses.
We were lucky. Only one kitten injured himself in his time at our house (either from playing too hard or hitting his head on a cabinet). Because 6 year olds are literal, I named him Hurt Head. My parents paid for a vet and were given antibiotics.
We rehomed each of these kittens to friends and strangers.
It would be easy to see this as a failing on the fault of my parents – easy and wrong. There were no high volume or low cost spay and neuter clinics in my community in 1998. Adoption was not the common, accessible choice it is now in 2019 at the APA.
Through advances and inclusions great and small we rewrite this narrative.
In 2019 here’s how the story goes:
My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat. She has a few, actually, so she contacts her local animal welfare agency. They are so excited to hear from her. They explain TNR and she borrows a trap. Since this is a free service she TNRs 15 cats on her property.
My mom’s friend tells her about this welfare agency. We adopt a fully vetted kitten from this organization. Maybe I even get 2.
Hey, maybe I get 3.
Well, that’s one way. But what if it went like this?
My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat and she gives birth. We take 2 of her kittens. Weeks or months or year later a woman knocks on our door. She explains she’s the outreach coordinator for a local nonprofit and would we like to fix our cats? She explains the health benefits. My parents are easily convinced. Frankly they were never opposed.
My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat and she gives birth. We take 2 kittens, they grow up to be my perfect angel adult cats, and one day we discover they have a litter – 7 between them. One of the kittens is stillborn and we mourn her.
My parents are unsure what to do next so they contact an organization, maybe even the APA.
The APA advises that they’ll take the kittens when they’re weaned. My parents have questions about how to care for kittens – especially when one we call Hurt Head bonks his noggin and gets an infected sore. They bring the kitten to the APA and the APA helps them with what to do.
The kittens all go to the APA when they’re ready. They’re fixed and chipped and vaccinated. In my capacity as the outreach coordinator, I bend space-time and I spay Marissa and Kira.
My parents like kitten midwifing so much they connect with the APA’s foster coordinator, Ashton, and continue to care for neonates. Eventually, we TNR the barn cats from the beginning of the story.
The difference in these stories isn’t my parents. My parents are the same people – vegetarian animal loving lunatics – in every story. The difference is accessibility and approachability. The difference is outreach and compassion. The difference is you, dear reader, supporting places like the APA and people in our community.
If you or someone you love (four legs or two!) needs more information about adopting, fostering, or free spay/neuter packages, call us at the APA. We’re open 7 days a week and we’d love to hear from you, whatever your story is.