Tuesday, April 6, 2010

ta-da! kittens!

Early this morning -- certainly earlier than I got up -- mama Tabitha kitty gave birth to four kittens. I wasn't certain about the fourth one this morning (it's so dark it was camouflage by her tail). But this evening when Tabbie was ready to leave them for a few minutes to scarf down some food, I got a good look and a good photo or two.

Names and personalities will arrive later. Right now they are a tiny mass of light and dark kittenness.

I am quite fascinated by how much genetic programming there is in a mother cat. All by herself, Tabbie, like all normal mothers, found a safe corner (not the nice box I prepared by the way) and gave birth alone. She cut the cords with her teeth, cleaned all the placenta off the kittens, especially their mouth and eyes, and licked them so that they would start breathing and nursing. She ate all the afterbirth as well. Leaving her little nest clean and dry. I had been worrying for days about whether such a small young cat as Tabbie would manage, but genetic programming and instincts came through. Tabbie harbors no dark doubts about her abilities to mother.

Human females have none of these instincts. We have to learn from others what is required to give birth and nourish our babies. In traditional societies girls observed and assisted at births, and had close contract with nursing mothers. The knowledge of mothering was part of daily life. We might question today, how good that traditional knowledge was -- especially in agricultural societies where infant mortality rates were extremely high -- but women in those cultures did not worry about how to be mother. Today, modern societies make knowledge of birth and mothering something that requires formal instruction, and often raises many concerns and anxieties is mothers to be.

My own mother frequently tells me the story of how she cried and cried in the hospital because she was terrified she wouldn't know what to do with me and would hurt me. The 1950's were perhaps an extreme period of isolation and lack of knowledge (with traditional means of learning to be a mother disappearing and little formal instruction to replace it yet) for new mothers, but I have heard other new mothers today express similar, if not quite intense fears.

With all our medical and technological progress, have we lost something we need to retrieve from the past?

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