By Sophie Fletcher
Yesterday my friend Katie rang to say her cat, Sox, had finally given birth to the kittens we knew she was expecting. Last week we were watching her intently over coffee, her belly swaying in time with her step, noticing that as she lay down in various places in the sun trying to get comfortable she couldn’t lie for long. We had a feel of her belly and you could feel at least 3 kittens in there moving around. We hedged bets on when she would give birth, neither thinking it would be within the next few days.
Suddenly, Sox’s behaviour changed and she was restless, clawing at boxes in the study near where Katie has been making a box for her to nest in. Birth was sure to be imminent! Katie put the box down for Sox and left the study. Tom her youngest had been unwell and having a few sleepless nights, so there had been lots of noise and movement through the night, but in the afternoon just after Katie popped the box down and joined Tom for an afternoon nap, Sox snuggled up in the afternoon quiet in her box in the darkness underneath the desk and gave birth to four kittens. Coming down an hour or so after putting the box out and having a nap Katie found her licking the sac off the kittens.
The study has become a no go area after the birth, so Sox can feed and nurture her kittens in quiet, undisturbed by the three rowdy children in the house. My children are allowed to go and peek into the box, but not make their presence known and certainly not to touch the kittens at this stage.
We have more in common with Sox in how we birth than we think. One of the prerequisites for a good birth is that the mother is undisturbed, that she feels safe and that her environment supports this. During her birth Sox was in the darkness under a desk away from prying eyes and free from people and interruption. She felt comfortable in her nest. Us humans make a joke of our ‘nesting instinct’ but it’s a wonderful reminder of the instinctive birthing mammal within us.
If you compare the expectations of Sox’s birth to your own, you realize that we didn’t know when Sox’s kittens were to be born, we just knew that she’d been getting bigger and slower! There was no due date at all. We simply guessed when she’d give birth, we even had no idea when labour started.
When Sox gave birth, she instinctively knew when it was quiet and she wouldn’t be interrupted – when the house was sleeping. This reminds me of a story that someone told me of how she labored really well while her birth attendant was sleeping, and that the gentle reassuring snoring helped her. She knew someone was there, and would be there if she needed them, but at the same time was utterly confident that she wasn’t been watched and would not be interrupted.
Then after the birth, Sox had time to bond with her kittens, us knowing that she may reject them, if the children or we touched them. Her space will be kept quiet and protected for a few weeks at least.
If you compare this gentle, quiet experience to the bright lights of hospital, people chatting away, noise and interruption everywhere then you can begin to understand where we are going wrong. At the end of the day we are animals, with big brains that get in the way of birth. Animals don’t have birth manuals, they just know what to do. Let your brain go to sleep, let your animal instinct wake up and tune into what you want for your birth. It’s probably not so different from what Sox wanted.