I have lots of wonderful memories of Tricia Anderson, who was my friend and colleague. One of the many things that we had in common was that we both wrote and spoke about cats and labour. The fact that we took very different approaches – in that Tricia created a cat-related analogy to show how the medicalisation of birth was illogical, and I talked about the behaviour of cats when their humans were in labour – was missed by some. We were both entertained by the fact that each of us was often credited or cited for the other’s work on cats and birth. Sometimes when one or both of us were present!
Although Tricia was passionate about women, midwifery, birth and making a difference, she was also passionate about red wine, singing, art, poetry and having fun. I wrote the following poem in tribute to her work and as a reminder of the importance of retaining a sense of humour.
Now everybody knows that, as far as cat birth goes,
most kitties like to labour in a box.
Somewhere dark and quite secluded,
with a warmish spot included,
like an airing cupboard full of pants and socks.
She may go awol early and avoid the hurly burly
of the children and the noise of the TV.
For the kitty undisturbed is far, far less perturbed
and will be the bestest mummy she can be.
And everybody knows that she will keep you on your toes,
looking high and low to see where she has gone.
Yet if you find her hidden nook, you can take a little look,
but any touching and you’ll bring rejection on.
Even the kindest human touch to the kitty and her clutch
can stop her mother tendencies so fast.
So we know we mustn’t provoke by our desire to coo and stroke,
til those crucial early kitten days have passed.
But imagine that, one day, a noble scientist might say, “We must investigate this feline parturition”.
And they issue a request for humans east and west to help them in their knowledge-seeking mission.
The cats are brought in hutches to the laboratory’s clutches when the onset of their labour’s drawing near.
There are scientists in robes who attach the cats to probes and switch on all their technologic gear.
The machines that go beep beep stop the cats from getting sleep
and there’s nowhere they can nip away and hide.
All the lights are very bright, there’s no sense of day or night
and the kitties to the monitors are tied.
They can hear each other wail, with barely room to flick their tail;
their distress becoming audible to all.
And the boffs who run the lab think that all this data’s fab
and grab clipboards upon which they quickly scrawl.
As the data’s analysed and the scientists tantalised with the thought of all the papers they will write.
They notice something weird, an anomaly that’s appeared, and they huddle to discuss the kitties’ plight.
The mummy cats, it seems, are haunting in their screams and appear to be in rather great distress.
The kittens are born in shock (a problem they must unlock), and the reason is but anybody’s guess.
They conclude there must be danger for just the presence of a stranger can make the process stop for quite a span.
And with their scientific minds, intervention of all kinds was charted on a labour cat-o-gram.
They develop resuscitation, in a separate location, so the mummies and the babies are apart.
Drugs to help the pain, to speed labour up again, and they do surgery on a little kitty cart.
As they share what they have found, scientifically duty-bound
to report back in the pages of a journal.
In their write-up they decide that the kittens might have died
if they didn’t have a monitor external.
Drugs must be on hand and the kitties mustn’t stand,
they must all be on their backs for the duration.
And if kitten distress is seen then all must dress in green
and prepare for a purr-sarean operation.
The papers made the news and it was difficult to refuse the conclusions that the scientists had found.
So it became the thing to do, and everybody knew, when your cat got fat then you were duty bound.
To take her to the lab where the technology was fab and the scientists could check her every mew.
The section rate did swell, but that was just as well, for cat birth was a dangerous thing to do!
And every now and again a kit would start to strain
in the airing cupboard or hidden in a box.
She would cope with the pain alone, nary a mew or a moan
and give birth without the monitors or the clocks.
Some people would recall when this was the mode for all
and wasn’t seen as deviant or queer.
But the scientists would scoff; this was surely a one-off,
for kitty birth was full of risk and fear!
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The text of this post was originally published as Wickham S (2007). A tribute to Tricia’s lab cats. TPM 10(11): 46.