A rather rough little piece about something that’s been bothering me.
Motherhood and Cats.
It was late afternoon when I heard the cries of kittens from their home beneath the overhang. I was draped with exhaustion from my day at work, but still, I turned my steps their way and walked over to where the babies tumbled around, crying loudly for their mothers. A small amount of stress crowed my throat—their cries were not the usual sort. I had kittens before, and these meows seemed desperate. While I often caught the mothers feeding their children in the past, I had not once seen these babies being fed. I leaned down to peer inside their home to see how the others were doing, and found several sleeping while their brothers and sisters called out. Gently, provoked by some concern rooted in the back of my spine, I prodded the sleeping kitten.
“Sweetheart?” I muttered, my voice almost consumed by the mewling around me. The instant my finger touched its side, I knew. The stiffness was familiar to me. Tears choked my throat and, more frantically, I nudged her, fighting back the rising anxiety that threatened to consume me. With more force, I spoke to her again, as if my voice would somehow rouse her from her slumber. As if I could beg her soul back into her body.
I found seven like this.
Nearly a year before, I wandered out into the chicken coop, bundled in warm clothing to stave off the chill of the winter night. The chicks were still young, and my concern over them prompted me into the ebony evening, stars doing little to light my way. Stumbling through brush and into the house where the small chicks resided, I opened the door and peered inside.
The weight of a baby in your hands—even if it was an animal—is something you never forget. And I buried several, despite hoping that the warmth of my body would somehow stir them back into this world.
People have always said I’m good with children. I’ve never known this to be true—I simply act with them as I would with any other being I come in contact with. I treat them little different than I would a peer, and somehow this makes me extraordinary in how I interact with them. Quite often this phrase has left the mouths of well-meaning family members:
“When you have children of your own…”
I will never have children of my own.
That day I found the kittens dead, I found one barely breathing. She fell asleep frequently in my hands, and her lethargic state had me in a panic. I held her close to me, climbed into my car, and raced to the local vet, petting her the whole way, gently moving her whenever she closed her eyes for too long. Or should I say—her one eye. Her other one was not yet open, sealed shut by a rim of brown and black that stood stark against her orange pelt. I asked her frequently not to die. I told her everything would be okay as soon as we got where we were going. He cried less frequently and moved even less. I locked my jaw against the tears and resolved not to be mournful. I told her she would be okay more and more, and each time I said it, it was more for me than it was for her.
I carried her almost-sleeping form into the vet, pleading her to stay awake. I walked inside and, when the desk woman met my eyes, I couldn’t help it—I started crying. I told her the kitten was dying and I needed food urgently. She stared at me for what felt like several minutes, as if my fear over this creature in my charge was meaningless. I’m not sure if she even looked at the little body in my hands. I think she was more concerned with me and the mess I undoubtedly looked like. I think she found it amusing I would care so much for a cat.
We originally had two kittens, whom I adored greatly. Sisters, the two of them, who I slowly gained the trust and adoration of. I often brought them my table scraps, or stole away pieces of bacon in the morning to bring them. I sat in almost the same spot each time, placing the food down to where they were hiding, and talking to them in a soft voice. Eventually, they left their hiding place and greeted me whenever I came outside. I sat down and crossed my legs on the wood deck, fed them, and was allowed to pet them as they ate. They stared intently into my eyes, as if they were analyzing what sort of person I was, and it was then I began to tell the two orange sisters apart. One had a tail striped with three bands closer together, the other had them wider apart, and a little white tuft at the top. Their face structure was slightly different, too.
One sister went missing, and I was distraught. I walked outside and called for them both, only for one to answer. I frequently asked this kitten where her sister had went, to which she would stare at me, purr, and nudge her face against my hand. I looked out over the countryside, worried over the kitten’s well-being. And when this worry caught the ear of neighbors, they scoffed.
“It’s just a cat,” they said. “There are plenty more like them.”
I fed the kitten I saved from the brink of death with a small syringe. After feeding her to her fullest, she fell asleep, soundly, and I was not worried of her wandering somewhere I couldn’t follow. I resolved to feed her every two hours and gave her the name Fi, short for Fighter. I was going to keep her alive. I was going to give her a life that her siblings never got to experience. This, I knew, would be difficult. But I would do it. She was my charge, after all. It was my fault for not noticing their condition before. How adorable I thought they were when they cried out for me. How sweet I thought it was when they slept together. If only I had realized they were starving.
It only took two hours for me to realize something I never knew about myself before. Something I suspected, but never had a way to prove. Never had a way to insist upon being the truth. And now I do. I have this proof and in some ways, I wish I didn’t. I wish I never experienced it. I wish…
There is no use in wishing. I will tell you what happened.
The schedule was for Fi to be fed every two hours, but she was hungry every thirty minutes. I fed her as much as she would eat, and she would eat a lot before refusing to receive anymore. At this point, I would pack up her food into a small lunch pail with icepacks to keep the milk cool, drape it over my shoulder, and lift her to my chest. I would tend to her hygienic needs, then move about doing other things. She never stopped crying. She never stopped moving. She wanted her mother. I was not her mother.
Before evening even reached me, I was worn to the bone. I wanted to curl up and sleep, but she was awake, needing me. Needing someone to help her. I was supposed to be this person, but I found my mind wandering. Wishing that her own mother would take care of her. Wishing she wasn’t rejected. But as I said not a moment before—there is no use in wishing.
I understand to a better extent why people worry when they discover they are pregnant. I never wanted this before, never wanted a child—but I understand now why there are those who opt to terminate the pregnancy at the earliest convenience. I understand why there are those who cannot take care of another life. I understand this because I am one of these. One of these who is incapable of holding another life in their hands and not hoping for a different life away from this reality. I understand how and why I cannot have a child.