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You cannot choose not to be a mother. This is a truth I realised after being a reluctant mother to Miu, yet, becoming one without realising I was.
I was a mother to a little kitten for fifty-nine days.
Miu entered our lives on the insistence of my 12 year old daughter Kiana who had clamoured for a pet since she was eight. She was desperate for a dog, but I refused. I am not a nurturing kind of person and a dog with its need for affection, constant walks and shedding hair was not something I wanted to handle.
A cat seemed a breeze in comparison. From the day she came, Miu knew where her litter box was and slept in a basket with a cloth teddy. She curled around our legs when we went to get her food. She didn’t need walks. She cleaned herself meticulously and slept on the chair in the sunny patch. She let you hang around with her and when she had enough, walked off and went to sleep. It was perfect.
The day she came, my daughter gave me a long hug. Her whispered “thank -you” sounded like a sigh escaping from a long tunnel.
I stayed away from Miu right from the start. I didn’t want any sort of relationship with her. I pride myself on being a detached person. My maternal feelings were reserved only for Kiana. I had traversed the bumpy terrain of her infancy and now was free of the fears that a young life in your care foists on you. Miu was my daughter’s pet, not mine. Kiana and our house-help Neha, were her people. I looked on from a distance.
But it’s hard to ignore a black, white and brown bundle with big, golden yellow eyes. I would pat her head at times. If she and I were alone at home, I would scratch her under her chin while she rolled back in bliss. Once she licked my hand and actually looked at me. She didn’t smile or anything, but I thought maybe she did.
One day she tried to climb up on the dining table. My husband and I yelled at her and put her down. When she did it again, we shut her in the room for a few minutes. We looked at each other and smiled at our shared memory of Kiana’s childhood. We felt like young parents again, bound by our desire to bring up a well-behaved child.
Another day, my husband went to tuck my daughter into bed but took very long. I went to her room to check and three pairs of eyes looked guiltily at me. “Caught out by Mamma,” my daughter laughed. It was the family with the sibling that she had imagined.
I hardly shared photos of Miu with my friends or on social media. I used to laugh at the umpteen photos and videos that people uploaded of their dogs, cats or goldfish. If I found myself telling a story about her, I cut it short. I wasn’t going to be a crazy pet parent who was obsessed with her offspring. And I wasn’t going to bore anyone else either.
We realized that Miu was falling ill frequently. Within ten days of her being with us she had been sick twice. Her stomach would bloat, and she had a constant fever. I did not go to the vet with her, always sending her with Neha, finding new excuses to stay away each time. I didn’t want to handle her illness. I didn’t want to be her mother.
Miu’s stomach got larger. A sonography revealed she had ascites which meant fluid collected in her abdomen. We had to get it drained periodically. A painful exercise that she fought against. Neha told me it needed two people to hold her still.
Tests on the fluid revealed that she had FIP- Feline Infectious Peritonitis.
“What does it mean doctor? What can we do?” I asked the vet, as always, on the phone.
She was gentle in her tone, “Actually FIP is fatal in most cases. A kitten’s immune system is too weak to fight a virus that mutates rapidly and becomes an auto-immune disease.”
Mutate. Auto-immune disease. Fatal. The words rang in my ears. I looked at Kiana trying to get Miu interested in a piece of string. I looked at Miu’s stomach. I decided to look for a vet who could offer more hope.
I started taking Miu to all the doctors myself now. I could no longer delegate responsibility. Or deny love.
The senior doctor at the animal hospital confirmed the FIP.
I asked my usual question hoping for a real answer, “How long will she live?”
“Can’t say. Cats have nine lives.”
Nine lives. I clung to that. My daughter was in tears when she heard the prognosis. I dared not show my tears. Instead, I went the self-help, positive affirmation way to make her better.
I gave her homeopathy. I consulted a cat whisperer. I put on a cheery tone and told Miu she looked great. I told Kiana that the medicines were helping but we could not be sure. And every morning I sighed with relief when the golden eyes stared out at me from under the table, her favourite spot.
One Sunday, Miu wouldn’t leave us alone. All day, Kiana and I took turns keeping her on our lap. I had a sinking feeling I would not admit to.
The next day, I was back at the vet. He said the ascites hasn’t reached her lungs yet. “When it does, they drown in their own fluids and die.” Doctors mean well but don’t mince words. He gave her more steroids. I was now yo-yoing between hope and despair.
When we came back home from the vet, Miu started walking in circles. Her legs buckled under her. She walked straight into a wall and then collapsed, her eyes glazing into an unseeing stare.
I rushed back to the clinic. She was clawing at the basket, gasping for breath. I wanted to hold her, but I was scared. I didn’t want to feel those gasping breaths. I kept patting her and saying, “Mamma is with you. You are safe. Mamma won’t let anything happen to you.” Her panic-stricken eyes looked right into me. She was a child crying for help. I had to be the mother who had to help her. I started singing a prayer aloud. I tried to keep calm and give Miu confidence when I had none.
By the time we reached the clinic she had experienced multiple seizures. The vet said we would have to euthanize her. I had been through this moment in my head several times in the past few days. I had imagined myself signing the form. But when I read it, in black and white saying “I hereby agree to euthanize…” my hands holding the pen trembled.
Could I let her go? Could I take her life? I had told her Mamma will take care of you? Was I?
I signed the form but as if to save me, she gave up the fight and passed on. I held her close as she breathed her last few gasping breaths and stroked that little body, only skin and bones and a bloated stomach. I kept praying and saying her name in a voice that I hoped sounded strong and sweet. I didn’t let a single tear touch her. She had to go unafraid, safe, happy. Loved till the end.
I was two mothers that day. I was a mother that held a dying child. And I was a mother who had to hold a broken heart as it sobbed into mine.
You can’t choose not to be a mother. That is the truth.
Image source: Smita Vyas
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Smita considers herself an octopus with tentacles in different delicious jam jars. An alumnus of
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