Saturday, June 23, 2007

A mother's loss

I spent part of yesterday and today sitting vigil with a stray cat. About two and a half weeks ago she brought her two young kittens to meet us -- and also to show them where the food and water dishes were. They were too young at that point to eat solid food, and they toddled more than trotted, but since then they've made great progress. A couple/three days ago they finally hit the mighty leaps and mad dashes stage of kittenhood, and were finally getting good at wrestling with each other. The mother cat started taking them on short parades (there's no other word for it -- she had them in formation), extending their world just beyond the back porch. And then, yesterday we awoke to hear her frantically calling, and only one kitten in sight.

All day she called and looked. Her voice got hoarser and hoarser, until it was unrecognizable as the voice of a cat, until it was low moans and wheezes, and it seemed to hurt her to call. And still she tried to give her baby something to steer home by, something to reply to.

I went on search forays myself, hoping to spur the mother cat into giving me a clue, if she had one, hoping it was just a case of falling down a hole or getting tangled in a brush pile, something that could be handled by a human body but not a feline one. No luck there. She obviously had no clue where the kitten was.

This neighborhood has owls and dogs and raccoons and skunks and tomcats and cars and trucks and pedestrians, amongst other kitten-world hazards. I can hope the kitten went on a grand walk and followed her nose to another friendly house, or else got scooped up by someone who thought she was too cute for words and needed a home. (She was too cute for words, too. And charming, to boot.) But the chances of that sort of happy ending, I know, are pretty slim.

Her mother showed up at our back door for the first time at just about that age, way too young to be on her own, but on her own nonetheless. I like to think it's a case of like-mother-like-daughter, and the kitten just went off and found a home of her own. I rather doubt that, though, since of the two kittens, this one generally stayed closest to mama, and also was the more obedient of the two. Whenever mama meowed the code for 'stop,' she stopped. When mama said 'come,' she went straight to mama. I fear she's met an early death.

Whatever the fate of the kitten, the mother cat was beside herself. She'd drop down now and then to sleep, but I never saw her nap for more than a minute or two, fitfully at that, and then she'd drag her weary body around, crying, and crying, and crying, straining to see every possible movement from where she was off to the horizon, stopping her crying only long enough to listen now and again with everything she had in her. It was heartrending. I'd go out and sit on the porch and let her lean against me as she cried, wishing I could do more, both for her and the kitten. All day yesterday and today, I've stepped outside now and then to look and listen for all I'm worth, but... nothing.

I've tried to pet the remaining kitten, to provide him the comfort his mother can't right now, but the mother cat always moves in, not to protect the kitten but to grab every bit of petting that's being dispensed. She's needy in the worst way. She's hurting in the worst way.

I'm not sure I've mentioned this before, but incidents like this are part of why I went from being 'pro-choice' to 'pro-life.'

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that the abortion industry, perhaps without meaning to, treats women as if they have less understanding and imagination, not to mention less capacity for devotion or loyalty, than the average cat, or dog, or horse, or even cow, for that matter. I've seen a pathetically nonathletic pony break down a stall door to get to her foal. I've seen a formerly docile dog turn into a force to be reckoned with, once she got it into her head that she was the first and perhaps only line of defense for her puppies. For that matter, I've had songbirds attack me if I got too close to a nest, and who hasn't seen a mama killdeer feign having a broken wing while loudly drawing danger toward herself and away from her eggs?

And yet we're supposed to pretend that a woman, possessed of vastly greater understanding of cause and effect, of life and death, of possibilities, and blessed (or is that cursed?) with being able to look ahead and to recall the past, and possessing a sense of right and wrong (however mangled and rewired by modern culture) won't suffer after she's cooperated in the killing of her own offspring? That she won't ever know what's happened, or what it means? That she can't understand, sooner or later, that she was that baby's first and best line of defense against all dangers, natural and man made? That she might have lost her child to miscarriage if she'd carried on -- but that losing it naturally and handing it over to destruction are not at all the same thing, one being fighting the good fight, the other being betrayal of someone who was completely at her mercy?

The thing is, being human we can fool ourselves, sometimes for a long while. But, being human, we have dreams and memories and regrets. To tell a frightened or heavily-burdened woman that her best bet is to jettison an 'unwanted' baby to make her own hike easier is cruel, leaving out as it does the long years she has ahead of her, years in which she's liable to learn that she is, after all, stronger than she thought and more adaptable than she knew, and years in which she's apt to see phantoms at playgrounds and graduation ceremonies, and years in which, given half a chance, she'll find that love grows stronger in adversity if watered with nothing more or less than simple loyalty.

And then where is she? A mother, without her child. Knowing and feeling her loss. Because it is a loss, and nothing can change that.

The 'pro-choice' community seems to be fond of spreading the rumor that 'pro-life' people only care about the unborn baby. I'm sure that's true in isolated cases (any controversy draws or spawns a few folks with more fervor than sense, who are blind as a bat to the suffering of people around them, or at least it seems that way to me), but I was pleasantly surprised to find, once I looked, that by far and away most pro-life people are passionately concerned about what abortion does to women. What it does to a woman. (Feminists For Life and Silent No More are just two of the organizations that have women as their primary focus, and most pro-life groups put a strong emphasis on it.) What it does to men, and the health of relationships, and society, and siblings and other survivors is also of concern, of course, but when offered abortion, it's the mother who ultimately decides whether to defend or desert, whether to be a fortress or a trap. And then she has to live with it.

Another fancy bit of disinformation I bought into in my younger days is the assertion that Christianity shuts out women who have had an abortion, because it's murder, and murder is a mortal sin. This is, as I've since found out, turning Christianity on its head. Basic Christianity in its many flavors and translations does consider abortion to be murder (authentic Christianity insists on calling a spade a spade, and no wonder, since Christianity teaches that if you delude yourself on matters of magnitude you're endangering your eternal soul), but Christianity also teaches that even murderers can put their misdeeds behind them and start over with God. (What? You thought prison ministries were just for show? Or for the fun of being chummy with people with a history of violence and deceit?)

Besides which, abortion isn't murder in the usual sense, is it? In the usual sense, you have a murderer who's out there all by himself, making up his own rules as he goes, picking his victim or victims for his own twisted reasons, and running the risk of horrible punishment and severe and widespread disapproval if he gets caught. With abortion, it's too often a matter of a woman getting targeted by sometimes-terrible pressure to go through with a 'termination' whether she wants to or not, being told, oftentimes, that she ought to do it - for her own sake, for her boyfriend's sake, for her parents' sakes, for society's sake, for the planet's sake, for some other cause's sake, for her business colleagues' sakes, what have you, even, God help us, for the child's sake - and that she'll probably be in big trouble if she doesn't do it. And besides which, abortion providers advertise. Openly. And people offer funding to pay for it. Openly. It's crazy. Tee-totally, absolutely, one hundred percent crazy. You might as well hand the woman a formal petition while you're at it: "We, the undersigned, declare you Inadequate For The Task At Hand and think that for you to give birth to this baby would be a bad idea." Sheesh.

A pregnant woman has enough to deal with, it seems to me, without having to fend off people fussing at her to second-guess (and second-guess again) whether she really wants to go through with it.

A few years ago I realized that I'd become part of the problem. Upon getting news that an unmarried couple with financial trouble had just found out they were pregnant, the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh, they are going to keep the baby, aren't they?" And then it hit me. By thinking that way - talking that way - I was helping to put pressure on a woman to "choose" whether to give birth to a baby she was already carrying, and also to justify, if you will, whatever she decided to do from there on out. I vowed not to do that again. Even if I have to force myself to show more optimism than I feel, I have promised myself I will find something more positive to say - "Oh, that's exciting," if appropriate, "Let me know how I can help," if that's better, whatever, just never, never, anything that undermines a mother's faith in herself. Never, never anything that adds to the gauntlet that many pregnant women must endure these days. Not if I can help it. But there's the rub. Popular culture has a horrid tendency to treat a positive pregnancy test as a trigger to sit down to consider whether you want a child after all (unless, of course, you were openly trying to get pregnant, in which case the pro-choice people will probably leave you alone unless prenatal tests come back with results with which they aren't comfortable). It's a poisonous attitude, but it's pervasive enough that sometimes it affects you whether you mean for it to or not.

Sunday update: Last night my husband was startled by a big owl when he stepped outside. I mean a big owl, searching our yard for prey. All day today the mother cat has been furtively watching the skies, and tackling her sole surviving kitten if it tries to venture from cover. It seems likely that the first kitten was taken by an owl, and even more likely that since then an owl has taken a dive at the remaining cats. In general, I like owls. Right now, not so much.

1 comment:

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, this is a touching post. Keep up the good work!