By Melissa Stefanec
Recently, my family decided we needed more kittens in our lives. As card-carrying cat people, we already have two lovely cats. So, instead of going straight for adoption, we decided to foster some kittens. My husband and I haven’t fostered since our pre-child days, but we decided there was no time like the present to dive back in.
We took in a mother and three kittens from the home of a hoarder. The kittens were only 6 days old. Their eyes weren’t open yet and they were deaf. They couldn’t walk. Our family was smitten.
I hadn’t fostered kittens this young before; as such, I was fascinated by Mama cat. After all, she is a fellow mammal, and I couldn’t help but study her mothering ways. After three or four days of watching Mama cat, I realized something — we humans could learn a lot from animal moms.
It’s been almost four years since I had a new baby, but I remember (as clearly as an overwhelmed and sleep-deprived person can) what it felt like. It felt like pressure and worry. If you aren’t careful, and you let the world in, being a new mom can feel impossible. There are so many expectations competing for your attention. Most of them are a complete waste of time, but society would never clue you in to that. That’s why I want to share what I learned from Mama cat.
Have two priorities. From the moment we brought her in our house, it was clear Mama cat had just two priorities — her kittens and herself. She had very little regard for anything else. She knew she had to protect herself to protect her kittens. She understood she had to sleep, eat and drink enough to take care of her babies.
Gobble down your food. Mama cat snarfing down food was a sight to behold. She shamelessly ate all the kibble she could. When I brought wet food to her right after a kibble snack, she had no problem helping herself to second dinner. She had babies to feed, and she wasn’t worried about how soon she would get back to her pre-kitten weight. She ate until she was full and didn’t think twice about it.
Breastfeed when you need to. Mama cat had no problem dropping whatever she was doing to nurse her kittens. When her kittens signaled they needed milk, she gave it to them. She wasn’t worried about who caught a glimpse of her nipple before a kitten had the chance to latch on. She didn’t care if she had visitors. She didn’t try to cover her nipples with a blanket, just in case someone might be looking. She didn’t care if her kittens had just eaten. She just let them eat.
Necessities first. I put toys in mama’s pen, but I didn’t see her playing with them. She had kittens to nurse and kittens to clean. She had sleep to get and food to gobble. She wasn’t worried about adventures outside of her pen. She wasn’t worried about outings and expectations. She was worried about herself and her kittens. She realized the world could carry on around her and without her while she focused on the task at hand.
Don’t try to keep up appearances. If anyone watches a cat long enough, chances are they will bear witness to some amount of grooming. I didn’t see Mama cat grooming once. I’m sure she did, but she wasn’t holding herself to her pre-kitten standards of beauty. She recognized she had more important things to tend to. If her fur was a little out of alignment, she didn’t sweat it.
Don’t worry about the perfect picture. I tried to get many pictures of Mama and her adorable litter, but Mama wasn’t interested. She didn’t care about her social media feed (possibly because she doesn’t have one). She wasn’t vying for likes on her kitten pics. She wasn’t worried about what filters put her kittens in the best light. She was too busy just being present.
Don’t be afraid to take a minute. Every so often, especially when the kittens were sleeping, I would find Mama outside of the carrier where she kept her kittens. She wouldn’t be eating, cleaning or playing. She was just resting and relaxing. As much as she loved the kittens, she knew it was necessary and perfectly normal to step away and take a little time for herself.
Make time for treats. When I shook a treat bag, Mama knew it was time to drop everything. She knew she deserved some cat treats. She would stop nursing, stop giving baths and gently roll a sleeping kitten off to the side to make way for treats.
Love, love, love. Our kittens must have felt like the most beloved kittens on the planet. Not because they had two adults and two children constantly fawning over their existence but because Mama took immaculate care of them. She let them nurse when they were hungry. She kept their bodies clean. She snuggled them when they were sleeping. She even looked happy and content while doing it. She was likely able to pull off a zen-like composure because she wasn’t worried about all the unnecessary stuff human parents worry themselves with.
May we all try to be a little more like Mama cat.