The Mama Cat and 3 a.m Thoughts

My son’s cat, Rain, gave birth to three adorable, fluffy kittens the day before Mother’s Day. This was her first litter, and we could barely contain our excitement when she walked out into our living room with a wet backside, noticeably skinnier and begging for food. We searched every corner of our house until we finally found their cozy nest in the back of the master bedroom closet, snug between sewing supplies and a bridesmaid dress that I actually would have worn again, had it not become the single casualty of this long-awaited birth. Rain stood by, obviously proud and exhausted, accepting our praise and pets as we snuggled her tiny, warm babies. Good job, mama cat.

The next morning, it was obvious that Rain was well-rested again, and recovering quickly. But by nightfall, the crying began. The kittens were mostly silent, other than some soft grunts here and there, but Rain was different. For the next 48 hours, our mama cat was an entirely different creature than we had ever known before. She spent all day and all night running around, crying incessantly. She wore a wild look in her eye that made her look feral and frightened. She was hyper-attentive to the slightest murmur of a babe in need- including my own, who turned two months old the day the kittens were born. After those first two days, though, Rain settled back down to her normal volume, and carried on with life, both completely the same as she always had been, and completely different.

Rain takes her responsibility as mama cat seriously. She will spend 12 hour stretches in a seemingly trance-like state, nursing her tenaciously hungry babes. But I often find her following me into the bathroom in the middle of the night where we keep her food and water, visibly frazzled, and she will ask for attention before chowing down a bowl of food and heading back to her nest. The mama cat and I enjoy a moment of solidarity, both taking a deep breathe to relish the now rare feeling of being just one body for a moment, as we both attend to our 3 am needs. And before you think that this is all just a rambling about our beloved pets, and as silly as this sounds, the truth is that I’ve seen a real life mirror image of my postpartum self in this postpartum feline.

I never thought that I would see any comparison between cats and humans, but the effect of birth seems to be nearly universal. We are all changed by it. We all have a new set of needs and responsibilities created the moment blood, water, and life pour from our bodies. Why are we the only species that tries to hide this? Why do we pretend that we are not also as entirely new as the ones we birthed? I will never forget the wild, wide-eyed expression that Rain wore on her face for the first two days after giving birth. I knew she and I were experiencing all the same things, and something about the raw simplicity of this universal response to giving birth struck me as incredibly beautiful. I want to see our culture learn to honor the wild that exists within mothers. May we learn to find the sacred in those wide-eyed, frazzled, early days, in both ourselves and in each other. May we learn to be comfortable with the aspects of our humanity that connect us with the larger web of life. May we learn to allow postpartum to just be what it is.

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