It’s 3 a.m., a night in April, in a room under a roof. I’m sitting crossed-legged on the wooden floor, my head resting on my hands, with an aching back, fascinated by a plastic box covered with an orange quilt.
In the box, a heart melting scene: a serene, purring mummy cat, who has just given birth to four little jewels.
The dim light, the silence, the purring… and the imperceptible sucking noise of the tiny hungry mouths. I’m holding my breath, trying to make myself as small as possible in this painter’s masterpiece.
Earlier that night, Mummy-cat suddenly jumped on my knees, caught my eyes, and started… talking!! I swear she did! Continuous and modulated mewing – imperious and terrifying! I’m no good at foreign languages, but even I understood it all! It meant: “Stay with me, it’s RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!”
11.15 p.m. : Adrenalin and action stations! I heat the hot-water bottles, glean towels, stock up the kitchen towel, catch my mobile and the vet’s phone number – that’s my optimistic side -, winch the beast up to my room, and settle the little mum in her delivery box. Then I check the gear: a wide set of objets and products of all sorts, ranging from the cissors to cut the cord and the water-based lubricant, to the homeopathic granules, the various desinfectants, and the stitching thread – that’s my far-sighted, anxious side.
11.30 p.m. : Contractions! Shortly followed by a “pop” as the water breaks.
No time for panic here: a small orange mummy, wrapped in a gluey and gauzy membrane, has appeared all of a sudden, under my girl’s tail! Time stops for a second: the mummy starts shuffling, the tiny mouth opens and lets out an imperceptible squeak: this is a living being! My very first kitten!!
Mummy-cat, who is being less emotional than me, has already teared the pouch and is busy licking-cleaning-drying the red shrimp, who is trying to get near the teats, pulled back by the cord her mum doesn’t really care about.
No placenta. I give red-baby a rub to help dry him.
And here comes a second nose, a black and white one, which slids out in no time at all. Heeyyyyy this is going too fast! There’s a bit of a traffic jam down there!
Two kittens held by two umbilical cords, but no placenta! There’s a lot of scrambling and squeaking going on, and a clear eagerness to suckle – now’s the time to make myself useful. I take a deep breath and cut both cords. Now the little wolves are free, they rush to the teats. Mummy-cat and I get back to the drying business. Everything turns quiet for a couple of minutes, and then at last both placentas pop out. My girl jumps on them as though they’re Faux Filets.
I watch in wonder, convincing myself that all this is going to help the milking – also remembering I didn’t have those for my lunch at the maternity ward ten years ago…
0.20 a.m. : A quick photo, and here we go again – out comes a third mummy, a black one. Then the placenta: slurp, yummy, shuffle-shuffle, squeak-squeak, Mummy-cat and I are getting good at this!
0.30 a.m. : Phew! It’s over, and now all is quiet. Good job, my girl! If I had more time, I’d shed a tear. But I’m taking pictures, changing the undersheets, rubbing the babies, weighing them, checking the temperature in the box, and I’m lecturing my daughter about Obstetrics – I haven’t had time to put her to bed, so she’s been watching since the beginning (“Yuck mum, that steak at the end of the cord is disgusting!”).
1.15 a.m. : Huh? What’s this now? Looks like Mummy-cat is pushing again!! A latecomer? Oh well, just two white back paws and a black tail.
All right then, seems like we’ve got a lunatic here, who’s trying it backwards – and is getting stuck in the process. I help free the head with a gentle tug during a contraction. There we are! A fourth, big black and white puss is born! This one looks like he’s got a bad cold: he’s crackling away – the poor thing is chocking! It’s time to get out the infallible device all mums know about: the snot sucker! A cleaning session, a good rub with a warm cloth, and off he goes to the milk bar with his brothers.
Fancy a fourth placenta, my lady? No way, thanks – Mummy-cat is ignoring this one, so it ends up in the bin.
1.30 a.m. : All is quiet again. My girl’s belly is all flat, I’m sure there’s no room in there for a fifth buddy.
At last I have the time to take a closer look at the kittens. Ok, so we’ve got one red and white, one black, and two black and whites, is that right?
Not at all.
Now they’re dry, I can see the shades clearly: one red and white for sure, but one brown tabby and white, one smoke tortie, and one blue and white – what a beautiful palette! I’m beaming.
One girl and three guys. I’ve got to thank the tortie – a female, obviously – and the red lad for helping me sort the others out!
2 a.m. : I’m making myself useful again, but I can’t take my eyes off the show.
My daughter’s gone, defeated by sleep and more aware of the hour than her shameless mum. This is my first litter, my first delivery, I’m so proud of my girl – now there’s a perfect mother!
I feel like I’ve passed a test, some kind of initiatic ritual, which has got me through to the “secret”.
These are real gems, real miniature cats, everything is there – fur, small ears, tiny tongue, micro-claws that are already very sharp. Miracles of delicacy. The work of a goldsmith.
And so skilled for life already! Strong enough to struggle up to the teats bursting with milk, instinctively battling for the best place, so much better equipped than our human babies!
Feeling indiscreet all of a sudden, I finally step away, overwhelmed by what I have just witnessed – the very first minutes of some little cats’ long and beautiful lives.
Translated from french by Stefan Eckert