Ew, I said. I know it's the umbilical cord, but it looks like intestine.
The tests say I'm very intelligent. The tests qualify me for Mensa, and I was a member for a while in high school and college.
Sometimes I'm too fucking stupid to live.
I set the alarm an hour later than usual today and dealt with all the other cats before going down to the basement to check on Jenny. I had felt one of her babies move on the 6th, and that's last-week-of-pregnancy behavior, so I knew she was imminent. Each time I've checked on her, I've teased her for still having babies in her.
I teased her that she was waiting for Saturday night, because between 5pm Saturday and 8am Monday, I don't live one mile from the vet, I live half an hour's drive from the emergency vet. I know this.
Winry and Gonzo were born under the front stoop and moved into the basement when they were four or five weeks old. They lived there for months because their mom has FIV so the vet thought they were likely to as well, and violetcheetah's two cats didn't; as the residents at the time, they got the upstairs. Daisy and the kittens seemed fine in the basement, but the kittens rapidly chewed through any cable or cord. I thought it was annoying behavior.
One day, at four months old, Winry stopped eating and kept throwing up. The vet gave me an anti-emetic and appetite stimulant. That night, Saturday night, she was worse, so I took her in to the emergency vet. She cried in fear the entire half-hour drive.
She'd swallowed about a foot of window-blind cord, I learned over the next week, and the knot had caught at the bottom of her stomach. It was cinching her intestines tighter and tighter. It was killing her. Major surgery saved her life.
When I got to the basement this morning, Jenny had two babies, one shiny wet. When they moved, I saw the placenta. I stuck around, making sure everyone was fine, and was kind of grossed out by the whole placenta-eating thing. I emailed violetcheetah that my new band name is "Cats Eating Placentas", as news that there were kittens. Jenny was still big but didn't seem to be mid-labor.
When I was in high school, I thought I might become a doctor.
I kept checking on the cats, and at about ... 2pm? ... I found there was another. No placenta this time, but what must have been the umbilical cord. Weird Jenny didn't clip that short, I thought.
Ew, I said. I know it's the umbilical cord, but it looks like intestine.
Over the next several hours, I found that baby #3 wasn't really suckling. It moved, breathed, nosed around, but didn't try to suckle. It kept trailing that gross red thing. I handled it a few times, wondering if it would just break free, deciding not to mess with it because for all I knew it was still somehow open to the baby's bloodstream.
Most websites either tell you to micromanage the whole cat-birthing process, as a breeder, or generally take a hands-off approach. When I took Jenny to the vet on capturing her, the vet basically confirmed "Yep, it's a cat; yep, she's pregnant" and checked for ear mites. She spoke in terms of the cat knowing what to do and everything taking care of itself. Hands-off approach.
I'm a worrier, usually; to some degree a catastrophist. Leave it alone, I decided. Everything'll be fine. Hands-off approach.
I tried to see if I could tell the sex of the kittens yet. #1 and #2 didn't like the process of being lifted, and though Jenny's been remarkably patient with my presence and my handling of the kittens, she looked tense and I didn't want to push it. #3 seemed a little uncomfortable but not protesting too much. It looks under-developed, I thought. Something about the abdominal area going into the legs looked wrong. I didn't see why the "cord" hadn't yet detached. I thought of comparing it to one of the others but didn't want to stress them.
violetcheetah called at around 7:30; she had remembered my pointing out the kitten-nursing supplies at the vet a few days before, and she thought maybe I should go pick some up to make sure #3 ate something. She was worried. I thought it was a very good point, the sort of thing I would have thought of half an hour after Petco closed. Let me just finish posting this, I said, and I'll go check on the kitten, and if it's still not nursing, I'll go.
It was breathing but not nursing. I went.
When I got back, I brought down the supplies and decided to see if the emergency vet could give phone advice. They told me how to clip the umbilical cord and assured me the store milk was fine to try. I saw the kitten's mouth jerk open and was relieved, because I thought maybe it couldn't open its mouth until that point. I went upstairs to get the dental floss and scissors, and to pierce the nipple of the bottle, washing my hands thoroughly and treating most everything with alcohol, for sterility.
I went back downstairs. Jenny isn't real clear on this mothering thing and each time I went into the basement, she greeted me more urgently. Hungry, I figured, even though she had food. I decided to handle the umbilical first.
That required me to isolate the first full inch out from the kitten's body and tie it off. As I tried to find the root at the abdomen, I looked really closely for the first time. I saw that this wasn't just a cord, it was loops. Like an intestine. Coming from an opening that also had another organ protruding.
I've seen the emergency veterinarian shows. I know what intestines look like. I know protruding intestines are part of a serious condition. I'm not looking up whether it's generally fatal, because I don't deserve the consolation of "it probably would have died anyway". violetcheetah pointed out that if I hadn't brought Jenny in, the baby would have been in the same condition out in the wild (and the cool damp of a drizzly day); I don't deserve that consolation, either.
I called the emergency vet back, the baby cradled in my hand. Half its head was wet, around the mouth; it wasn't breathing but just gasping occasionally. They said I should bring her in -- I should keep her warm, I should keep stimulating her to keep her breathing, I should bring her in, if I could pay.
Unless I asked a neighbor or one of the street punks who were hanging out at the end of the road, there was no one to help. I had the baby still cradled in my left hand and had to drive with one hand, trying to stroke the baby with the fingers of the hand holding her to keep her breathing. A gasp as I pulled out. A gasp on Forest. A gasp, maybe, as I turned onto Route 123.
I checked the car clock when I hadn't heard a breath in long enough to worry me, marking time for the vet still too fucking far away. 9:11. (Car clock: fuck you.)
At about 9:15 my phone rang. I get cranky when the phone rings if I'm doing anything involving concentration, and I bitched at the phone as I steered along the dark rainy street with my knees and stroked the baby with my right hand, ready to grab the wheel if I had to. I don't remember if I had already started sobbing and begging the baby to be all right; I think maybe that was earlier. The call finally ended only to ring again a few seconds later; I fumbled the phone open, screamed into it, and hung up. I still hadn't noticed a breath and realized there was little good to driving both of us another 20 minutes to face a half hour return, all that in no fit state to drive, if the kitten was already dead, so I pulled off and turned on the light.
I called the vet and said I thought it was dead, but how do I know for sure -- I mean, I know breathing's a pretty big sign, but just because I couldn't see any, I didn't want to decide she was dead if there was still a chance .... They had me keep heading in.
I kept feeling little tickles on my palm. Probably just jostling from my stroking, or fluids leaking out, but I couldn't be sure. Maybe, I thought, maybe.
People sometimes discuss what they think would be the worst way to die. For me it's not any of the standards, fire or drowning or anything like that. For me, the worst way to die would be anything that was because I'd been stupid.
The only thing I can think of worse than dying of stupidity is my stupidity causing the death of another.
They were pretty sure when I walked in, and I had been since I pulled over, really. My first words were I think she's dead. They took it back to be sure. At my request they checked, and it's really hard to tell when they're that young but they guessed girl.
I'm sorry, baby. I am so sorry.
I signed the burial paperwork with bloody hands. Fitting.