The Spaying

Image description: a colour photo of Demi, a young grey and ginger cat with a white front, sitting on purple cloth.

The spaying was necessary after three sets of lockdown kittens, eleven in all. Two of the cats have already been neutered. Demi was the last. Demeter, my baby, who gave birth before she was one year old. My baby, who came to me when she was in labour and made me sit with her all night while she birthed four beautiful kittens. A cat going to the vets to be spayed isn’t a great and momentous event, but it felt that way to me.

The most memorable moments of today were standing in the kitchen knowing Demi was in the vets being spayed, and suddenly having that awful dropping feeling of dread, of fear for her life. Knowing it was just my love for her creating that dread, but afraid it was there for a real reason.

Image description: Demi inside a cat carrier in a car, with her face pressed against the bars of the carrier door and her paw through the bars, curled over the photographer’s hand.

Then waiting in the vets with the powerful scent of something in the air. Diarrhoea, I assumed. A dog, perhaps. The vet coming out into the reception, mask on, apologising for the smell, opening the windows. ‘We’re doing an autopsy,’ she said. Suddenly the smell felt a thousand times worse. ‘Is it the bowels?’ I asked. ‘No, just dead sheep. It’s a sheep,’ she said. And my mind became revulsed. My body wasn’t telling me to retch, but my mind was, the whole time I was waiting there for Demi to come out. I can smell it again now, recounting it, as if it’s here with me. I’ve smelt dead sheep before, but never a smell like that. The stench of real death, the dead insides of a being.

Then, sitting in the car with Demi, her paws coming out through the carrier bars, her wet nose pressing against the bars, pressing into my hand. Her paws wet and warm with sweat. Letting her out while we were parked, while my husband was in the shop, buying me a drink to push away the memory of that awful smell. Her sweetness, her purring, fawning over me, so pleased to be back with me, so loving despite my being the one who took her to this place that gave her pain.

Image description: Demi lying on a grey chair, wearing a cone which obscures her face, feeding her two tabby kittens and one older black kitten.

Then, having her home, and the purring. Letting, against all the rules, her kittens back to her, and the relief I saw in her as she climbed onto her usual chair, her nursing chair, and lay with the kittens, arm protectively over their backs, while they suckled. The resonance of the purring like the sussuration of wind, a reflexive thing that builds on itself in waves. Her happiness at being where she belonged again, with the ones that she loves. 


Three Kittens

Image description: photo of a black and white mother cat’s legs and abdomen, lying on a purple towel, with the lower half of a newborn tabby and white kitten just visible, cradled on the photographer’s hand, which is smudged with blood.

It had been a hard few days when Sputnik gave birth. I’d been suffering autistic shutdown and meltdown with events in the world at large and at home. But on that day, June 4th, Sputnik made me calm and focus. She had been acting strangely all morning, very loving, purring around our legs. She took my husband out to the shed to show him the straw in there, then brought him back in again, and continued purring, crying, rubbing against our legs.

I went to sit in the conservatory to drink my morning coffee. I sat there in towelling bathrobe and t-shirt, in an old recliner chair that had belonged to my grandpa. Then Sputnik came out to find us. She climbed onto my lap and settled down, purring.

I realised quite soon that she was having contractions. I could feel her stomach tightening under my hand, making her whole body respond in quivers. I stroked her and spoke to her. The contractions seemed to come in clusters of three, in relatively quick succession, then ease off, before coming again. When they came she braced her foot against my hand, pushing hard, until the feeling had passed.

I’d just thought we should get some towels; the standard panic response to a mother in labour. At that moment I felt warm heat spreading down my legs. Her waters had broken. The kittens were really coming. She lay there, unconscious, it seemed, of what was about to happen. I could feel the movement of her kittens under my hand, through her fur, through her tightening abdomen.

The first kitten slipped out, a wet little thing. The wet, dark body, tiny claws with curiously splayed, blunted tips, the little whip of the tail. The blunt nose, folded in ears, and closed eyes. Then the afterbirth came, curiously solid and meaty, an organ in its own right. Sputnik curled herself down to eat this. While the blind little kitten nuzzled towards the first teat it could find, she bent her head and sliced through the umbilical cord with razor teeth, then devoured the afterbirth. She set herself to licking her newborn dry, unquestioning of the strangeness of this thing that had occurred. She just knew what to do.

Three kittens came this way, over three hours. Short by human terms, but a long time to sit in a chair under a labouring cat. One little black and white slip of life, one white and tabby, another black and white. My husband came and went, with towels to sop up the amniotic fluid, water for me to drink, and to crouch by the chair to make sure the new kittens didn’t fall as they came into the world.

When all was settled, we finally moved them. I eased myself out of my towelling bathrobe, bundled mother and babies up carefully together, and transplanted them, bathrobe and all, into a clean litter tray cushioned with a folded towel. From there, they went to live on our bed, and there they stayed.

I couldn’t have had a better gift, after days of turmoil, than to share this birth. For three hours all I had to do was soothe Sputnik through her labour pains and welcome her babies into the world. She’s besotted with her new children, and so am I.


Image description: photo of a black and white adult cat called Sputnik sitting on a purple sheet against a green garden background.
Image description: photo of three kittens on blue towelling. One black and white kitten trying to sleep, with a black and white and a tabby and white kitten play fighting beside her.