When cowboy and I first started courting "for real", we sat down and had a Big Long Talk - you know the kind. Covering all the Essential topics vital to the success of a relationship. Where will we live? Will we both work, or can I be a housewife? Do our goals match? Cats or dogs? Star Wars or Star Trek? (trust me, it's important!) One of those big questions that we asked each other, (and I'm guessing most couples probably get to this topic eventually, one way or another) was: Kids or no kids?
Let me tell ya, folks. As an only child, youngest cousin, non-babysitting, not-a-lot-of-friends-with-kids person - I do NOT have a lot of baby, or kid experience. I even struggle with fully grown human beings most days. (You think I'm exaggerating, by my childhood dream was to become a hermit living in a cozy cabin far, far from the nearest town.) So at 20 the idea of kids was one of those, "yeah that sounds great someday...really far down the line" type of thoughts. Cowboy, on the other hand, having been raised with the traditional western mindset, fully expected to have kids to "pass on the ranch" to someday...So, no biggie for him. Kids were always in the plan. Flash forward 8 years, and I'm finally catching up to that plan :-)
Back to the subject at hand - simply, at the time when we got married, I was not ready to be a mom, Cowboy was willing to wait, so in the meantime, we settled with CATS. And this is how I became Meowmy! The first five years it was rescue cats. We eventually took in three, who we still have. They are barn cats now here at the ranch, and are very faithful. If they hear me walk outside they all come running. I love those guys! When we decided to start raising Ragdolls, these three weren't super impressed when they were told they had to choose - they could be 100% indoor or outdoor cats, but not both. They all chose outdoors, because the only reason they really wanted inside was for food, which was an easy enough habit to break. So now we share our home with four Ragdolls. Let me tell ya, "raising" cats is very different than being a pet owner. I've learned a lot! More than anything over the past 8 years of being Meowmy to three rescues, innumerable other barn cats and kittens who we helped raise, and four amazing Ragdolls, I have learned how to be more nurturing. I've learned how to mother, the importance of health, the amazing process that is pregnancy and birth, and how awesome babies can be. To be candid, I feel I've learned more about mothering from watching Dusty raise her kittens than I've been able to learn from any human thus far. That may sound strange, but you have to understand, I watch her every day. I see her nursing them, encouraging them, keeping them clean and even disciplining them as needed, all first hand and up close. It's really inspiring! I feel like when I finally get to experience this journey myself, I'll be so much more prepared than I would have been without being Meowmy.
So here, friends, is a list of 5 of the most inspiring and true things I've learned about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood from being Meowmy:
1) Being Calm During Pregnancy Pays Off
Dusty is such an amazing example of this. Throughout all of her pregnancies, she has been the sweetest little doll. She loves to be loved. She purrs all day. She seems to know she's growing little lives inside and is so happy and mellow through the whole process. Of course there are "mood swing" moments where she might grump at somebody for getting in her way, but those are short-lived and rare. This amazing calm attitude throughout her pregnancies has always payed off with really chill, relaxed births. As I've sat with her through each delivery, she just seems so centered and focused. She never panics or overreacts to the pain. Just being there to support her has been really empowering for me, and made the prospect of childbirth seem much less scary and more natural and beautiful. The biggest effect, though, might be on her babies themselves. Due to her amazing calmness, her babies are always super chill and sweet. They don't fuss a lot, and they love to be loved, just like her. I think babies absorb their mommy's vibes, good or bad, while they're in the womb! This inspires me to try to be a super calm mama myself. Maybe it will work and I'll get really laid-back kids? :-D
2) The Importance Of Sleep
So when you're pregnant, you sleep a LOT. I'm fairly certain this goes for human mommies-to-be as well as feline. I certainly would feel exhausted if I were growing a person - can you imagine incubating an entire litter in there?? So yes, when Dusty is pregnant we pretty much see her for meals and maybe 20 minutes of play-time a day (exercise is important too!). As I see it, she's got to get her sleep in while she has a chance, because once you've got 5 or 6 little wiggly nuggets to nurse 20,000 times a day, you'll never get a solid sleep again till they're old enough to entertain themselves! I try to give her little breaks here and there so she can catch a few Zzzs. I imagine when I've got a newborn this will be a swell thing for someone to do for me ;-)
3) Healthy Diet Is Key
I've seen it both ways. Barn cats eating mice and cheap kibble, 9 out of 10 times end up with frail kittens who are prone to infection and disease. It's a horrible thing to witness. I can't help but compare it with the effect fast-food and soda has on humans. The vast difference between the outcome of the nutritionally deprived barn cats' kittens, and those of a cat fed a Biologically Appropriate Raw Diet is worlds apart. Nutrition plays such a crucial role in forming new life, and supporting mama during and after. When my girls are pregnant, they not only have their regular raw diet, but are also supplemented with probiotics, Lysine, and a feline whole body support product as well. I've seen it do wonders even in small areas like keeping a healthy coat and not losing color in the coat due to mineral loss, which is very easy to spot in pointed breeds like Ragdolls. After seeing firsthand how important diet and nutrition is for a healthy pregnancy, strong babies, and the quick recovery of mom...needless to say, this is one area I feel strongly about. Pregnant or not, FOOD IS FUEL!
4) Nursing Is a Beautiful Thing
One of my absolute /favorite/ parts of having kittens in the house, is watching them nurse. They all pile on mama, latch on, and go into this relaxed happy place. Mama gets all relaxed too, purring up a storm and patting the babies heads' with her paw, licking them, or just falls asleep with them all curled up. It's amazing. Their little ears twitching and whiskers vibrating... *squee* I LOVE IT! Apparently I'm not the only one, either - videos of the kittens nursing are always some of the most popular on our Instagram! After seeing what an incredible bonding experience nursing is, I definitely look forward to breastfeeding any future children I may be blessed enough to have.
5) Kids Need Discipline
That's right, I said it. Nobody freak out! This is my observation after watching many many animals raising their babies. Horses do it, dogs do it, cats do it, and humans, in my opinion, should follow their example. If you've ever fostered a kitten or a puppy, who never really had a mommy to learn from, have you ever noticed that frequently when they grow up they have weird habits? They may play too rough, bite too hard, have bad potty training habits, etc. These are all things the animals would normally learn from their mamas, not only through example but also through discipline. When her kittens get big enough that they're starting to play, Dusty starts showing them what is and is not an acceptable way to play. If they bite too hard, she swats them - hard enough that they know she means business! If they're being obnoxious to her or another adult, they will first give a "body language" cue, then a verbal warning, and finally if the kitten is still persisting in bad behavior, they'll get a sharp smack with a paw (no claws) to make them get the point. I remember my mom doing this with me, as well. (Remove hands from dangerous object, verbal "NO", slap the hands if still not getting the point) I know she started this method at a very young age, before I was old enough to talk or understand an explanation of why I shouldn't do something. This is important, and it works well. The force necessary to administer discipline to an infant or toddler is like swatting a fly - you are not trying to hurt them, just get their attention. When I'm training my kittens, I use a rolled up magazine or newspaper to make a loud "SMACK" sound, accompanied with a "NO" if they are getting into something they are not supposed to. If they're still not listening, they might get a swat on the butt to reinforce the point. It doesn't hurt or harm them, but it does teach them to avoid something that could potentially be a danger to them. After watching this process play out over and over again with horses, dogs, cats, and friends who are really good parents.....You guessed it. I want to be the kind of mom who loves her kids enough to appropriately discipline them when necessary.
Well, you lovely people. If you took the time to read all this you must really be a trooper. Or you're a mom and you're getting a good laugh over how silly it is for a kid-less person to write a post about how much she's learned about motherhood, from watching cats! Either way, thanks for sticking it out to the end, and I hope I get lots of feedback on this topic - positive or negative!
Let me know in the comments:
What lessons have you learned from watching your pets?
How did your relationship with your pets change when you went from only having fur-babies to having human babies as well?