Friday, July 29, 2011

The Best Place on Earth

When my dad's father was a boy, his family would sometimes travel up to New York State to spend a few weeks on the shores of Lake Erie. When he had children of his own, he and my grandmother took them on frequent trips to the same area - mostly to a particular little turn-of-the-century quiet beach community. Sometime in the 70s, they finally bought a cottage of their own. And that little place has come to mean so much to my family. Although it has a name, as they all do up there ("Maple Oak"), it's referred to simply as The Cottage.

The little beach homes up there are all known as cottages (not beach homes, not cabins for goodness sake!). They are simply made from wooden boards over a frame - without any insulation. They have big open front porches, swings or hammocks in the yards, and some of them (like ours) have wooden board walls that don't actually reach the ceilings (to allow for air circulation, in a time when people didn't have fans and air conditioning).

Life up there is perfect. Simple, beautiful, and relaxing. People walk or ride bikes to get where they are going. The neighborhood is pretty small, and yet there are woods, three playgrounds, tennis courts, volleyball courts, soccer field, basketball court....and of course, beach. None of these things, I feel the need to say, are "well-kept" or "monitored" or in any way pretentious.

I've been going up there my entire life, and I can confidently say - as can every member of my large extended family - that it is THE best place on Earth. Each summer, we have one week which is designated "Family Week" where the entire extended family goes up together. My grandparents (who are no longer living) have 8 kids, 26 grandkids, and (so far) 19 great-grandkids. When you factor in everyone's spouses's a big crowd! Two of my uncles have purchased cottages of their own, as have two of my dad's cousins. That makes five cottages under our family name! And believe me, we need all the space we can get during Family Week.

I write about this now because we are leaving to go there today. Even as an adult, I still long for this week all year, and get a thrill in my heart when we finally arrive at The Cottage. This year will be especially poignant, because I'll be introducing my son to the place for the first time.

I could go on about it for hours and hours. But instead, let me just share some of the story through pictures. I hope you readers can get a small glimpse of what makes this place so amazing for me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Apparently NFP Awareness Week...

Note: I know that NFP is a scientific and very effective way of understanding a woman's fertility. It can be used to great effect in helping couples with fertility troubles to conceive. This is certainly a good thing. But, as we all know, NFP is mainly discussed as a moral alternative to artificial birth control. And this is the aspect of it which I want to address in this post.

All over the Catholic Blogosphere, people are singing the praises of NFP today. I admit, when I first learned, years ago, just why contraception was wrong - and that there was a Catholic alternative for postponing pregnancy - I thought it sounded pretty great. But over the years, after reading more about it, talking to people who use it, and dabbling in (an admittedly minor and half-hearted way) it myself, I have to say: I just don't get what all the hype is about.

Sure, it's moral, and it's effective. But that does NOT mean it's ideal. For a married couple to have to postpone pregnancy is NEVER ideal. It means your family is experiencing tough circumstances. Raising children is the primary purpose of marriage. Of course, it's virtuous to be able to accept the fact, and cooperate with God's Will for no new babies for a time. But it's basically a self-imposed temporary infertility. Isn't it proper to think of infertility as something less than good?

You always read how NFP is so great for "communication" and engenders "respect" between a married couple. Some sources even seem to promote it merely for this reason. Why doesn't anyone talk about the difficulties of abstinence? The ever-present questioning of one's motives? The strain it can put on a marriage?

Maybe Catholics are too concerned with spreading the Gospel of NFP that they don't want to admit any of the negatives?

I don't know. Sometimes I get sick of hearing people go on about NFP like a high-schooler with a crush. One priest once asked us what we thought about the idea of using NFP all our lives. Using it "to achieve pregnancy" at those times when God seemed to will it, and "to avoid pregnancy" at times when He did not. I understand that sacrifice - even of a sexual nature - can be good for the soul. But we said we didn't think that was the right thing for us to do. I mean...what ever happened to just leaving things completely in God's hands?

Sometimes, too, I feel unsettled because it seems like some people use NFP with a contraceptive mentality. I'm not trying to judge other people here. I really can't know what anyone's situation is actually like. But I have trouble seeing a desire to "space" children as a grave enough reason for using NFP.

Maybe if there was a child with special needs, the parents might legitimately need more time to adjust. Or they'd had multiples or something....

So many people cite financial reasons for postponing children. I wonder if everyone is being realistic about it, though. Okay, if you don't have health insurance, or both parents are unemployed, it's probably not the best time for a new baby. But kids can be much less expensive to care for than society wants us to believe.

Unless our financial situation completely turns around, there's pretty much no way we can pay for our kid(s) to go to college. We might not be able to give our children a ton of gifts at Christmas, or go out to dinner much, or have two cars. But these are facts that I'm okay with. I think God wants us to experience some measure of poverty. And it's okay for children to be raised in homes without a lot of money. The children who lived through the Great Depression grew up to be known as "The Greatest Generation." And there's a reason for that.

Maybe I'll understand better after I've been married longer, and have more children. Maybe one day, we will have to use NFP, and I'll experience the blessings it can bring. But for now, I just thank God that we don't have to use it.

I'd be interested to hear thoughts, experiences, and wisdom that anyone has to offer about this topic. I apologize if anything I said brought offense to someone. Please correct any misunderstandings I may have.

Extending our Cloth-Loving Ways

Ever since I've discovered the joys and benefits of using cloth diapers over disposables, I've had the urge to rid myself of other unnecessary disposable items.

The first, and most obvious culprit was paper towels/paper napkins. Even though we were already pretty conservative with their use (I only buy the half-sheet size, and I try to use just half of that, when I can get away with it), I knew we could cut down on waste even more by going all cloth! Plus, I suspected that, like cloth diapers, I'd find "real" napkins to be much more absorbent and efficient than the paper ones.

I already had one set of six cloth napkins that I'd picked up at a flea market months before (simply because they were the lovely teal/aqua color of my kitchen!). And a trip to a "vintage clothing and furniture sale" yielded me a handful of hand-embroidered hankies for $.25 each.

We keep them in a little basket on the counter (purchased at a dollar store). We really don't need too many, just being the two of us (Sly hasn't quite mastered the use of a napkin!). And the great thing is, I just need to use one all day, for all my meals. When one gets dirty, I just toss it down the basement stairs, where we do the laundry.

We really only use these "nicer" napkins for wiping our face and hands while eating. If I need to clean spills, wipe down the counter, or remove the typical huge mess off Sly's highchair, we have dishrags that we use.

As you can see, we do still keep a roll of paper towels. There are a few tasks where these come in handy...such as wiping excess grease out of our cast-iron pans, and squashing spiders!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rubber Ducky Explosion and Growing Baby

Sly is 11 months old now (well, technically, tomorrow). This makes me realize just how quickly the time has gone by. I cannot believe he's almost ONE!

My mind has been planning out what the do for a birthday party for him. Although I fully realize that he won't really care what sort of party he has, nor will he remember a single bit of it, I do want to put in a little bit of effort to make it cute and baby-appropriate.

I decided on a rubber ducky "theme", since Sly is obsessed with rubber duckies. In my mind, the extent of rubber duckiness was going to be some sort of cute homemade invitations (which are currently in progress - will post about them later), and - if I could manage it, being that I have no experience in cake-decorating - a rubber ducky cake.

I made the mistake, however, of mentioning this to my mother. Why don't I ever learn? My mom goes CRAZY with shopping anytime she has the slightest excuse. One day I casually mention to her that I want to make a rubber ducky cake, and the next day, she's calling me to tell me about the extraordinary amount of unnecessary rubber ducky items that she ALREADY ORDERED online!!

Some of the things I remember: Tons of mini-duckies to float in punch (and she bought me a new punchbowl too, since mine broke a couple years ago), felt ducky wall decorations, an 18-inch inflatable duck, ducky necklace party favors, a new ducky onesie for Sly, a ducky t-shirt for him, balloons, 2 tablecloths (we only have one table!!), some duck that all the guests are supposed to sign, and the worst one - 12 inflatable rubber ducky coasters. What?! There was a lot of other stuff that I can't even remember. So...this party is going to be a bit over-the-top now. And it looks like every future child we have is going to be having a rubber ducky themed 1st birthday, since what the heck else am I supposed to do with all this stuff?!

Since we're trying to keep this party small - immediate family, the godparents, and a couple close friends only - I don't think there will even be ANY other kids there. haha.

In other news, Sly has been confidently saying his first word over and over: "ball." It started out more like "BA!" but today he's been adding a slight l-sound at the end :-)

Also, my cousin got him to successfully walk across the floor to me (a distance of about 4 feet) several times in a row! Ahh, my baby's growing up!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Babysitting Duty

For the past two days, I've been babysitting my cousin's four young kids while she works (and I'm doing it again tomorrow, and maybe a few days next week!). She's mostly a stay-at-home mom, but has the occasional part-time assignment she needs to do.

The kids are one, three, four, and six years old. The oldest and the youngest ones are pretty easy to care for. The middle two, boy - well, they are pieces of work! They constantly have tantrums. It kind of makes me dread when Sly will be that age. These have been long, tiring days for me. And I've also had Sly with me, of course. So that's five kids to keep happy, when I'm only used to one. And I still have to come home in the evening and take care of my own house. Seriously - how do "working mothers" do it?

In some ways, it seems like this could be "good practice" for when we have more kids. For example, I now know more than I ever wanted to about wiping little kids poopy bums after they use the toilet. But it would be different if these kids were my own. I would likely have received them one at a time, for starters, and had the time to adjust after each new addition to the family. Plus, if they were my own, I would know them much better, and know how much I could realistically expect from them. I would be seen as "mom" rather than "entertainer." And I would have a stronger authority over them. I've really had to experiment with different tactics to try to figure out how to get them to do what they need to do...or to stop doing what they shouldn't be doing.

I know one of my brothers has watched them a couple times, and he always pulls the old, "let the little ones watch tv, and the oldest one play video games the whole time" trick. And, of course, that keeps them busy and very easy to watch. But something in me - I guess the fact that I'm now a mom myself and constantly thinking about how much I don't ever want to fall into that trap with my own kids - prevents me from using that.

The oldest one, Jonathan, begs constantly to be allowed to play video games. I know his parents definitely limit how much he can play them, but I've already seen the damage it has done. All morning, he complained about how bored he was [I should mention that I'm almost certain that he would not have attempted to get video game permission from his mother. He thought I would be easy to persuade]. At one point he even said, "I'm so bored. I don't understand why the only time I'm not bored is when I'm playing video games." Oh my gosh! I know why. It's because video games are like crack! Tom was not allowed any video games growing up, and always insisted we withhold them from our own kids. I used to be kind of resistant to that idea. I mean, we had them growing up, and it never got too bad. But I'm also a girl. I have now seen many examples of the startling negative impact they have on some kids, especially boys. So now I'm in agreement. I made Jonathan look for his own fun instead, and you know what? He eventually found it :-)

And now, just a few cute things...

Olivia, age 4, thinks Sly is called "Slide".

Olivia: Who's your boy?
Me: You mean...Sly?
Olivia: Nooo...your big boy.
Me: My husband?
Olivia: Yeah
Me: That's Tom.
Olivia [with a swoon]: Is he awesome?
Me: haha...yeah.

Jonathan: You know those things that when you have four of them, it's a dollar?

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Blessings

On Saturday, I attended the beautiful wedding of two friends. During the Mass, I didn't have Tom to help me baby-wrangle, since he was part of the wedding party. It's sometimes difficult to keep Sly content in church, where all he can think about are the rows and rows of lovely pews to climb along, and all the people who would be fun to grab.

For a while, I found a solution that worked. Standing, I held him to my chest, and rocked slowly back and forth. Sly was relaxed and peaceful. When I heard the priest say, "Let us ask for God's blessings," my immediate thought was, "I have God's greatest blessing right here!" as I squeezed Sly a little closer, and gave him a kiss on his head.

At that very moment, Sly reached his little pincer-hand around to the skin on the back of my arm, and pinched it SO HARD. Had I been anywhere but Mass, I surely would have let out an, "aaaargh!" As I removed his little claws from my arm, though, it came to me that perhaps God was telling me something there. Telling me that some of His blessings are painful. That just because they hurt makes them no less blessings, and we should be no less thankful for them.

Looking just at the issue of parenthood...When people refer to children as "blessings" - which they so often do - it seems to be mostly based on the great joy that children bring to our lives. But what about the often painful ways that children help us to grow in holiness? As parents, we are forced to sacrifice much, to die to self everyday. And surely, anything that pushes us a little closer to Sainthood is a tremendous blessing from God.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Whole Kitten Ordeal, Part IV

...continued from the other day

Iive ("ee-vay") was ushered to a back room, and Mom and I were shown to an exam room to sit and wait for the doctor. When he eventually came (a different vet from the one who'd taken her back), he confirmed what we already knew - the only thing to do for her would be a c-section. But things were more complicated now. The remaining kittens were all surely dead, and there was no real way of knowing how long they'd been so. Changes were, some nasty infections were setting in. She would need antibiotics, and there was more risk to her life than originally thought.

At this point, I was starting to regret or decision to wait until morning to get the c-section for her. "If we had done it last night", I thought, "maybe one of those kittens could have made it!" (I've since been told that even that was unlikely, as it still would have been over 24 hours since the onset of labor.)

The vet left to put together an estimate for the surgery. A vet tech came back about 20 minutes later with an itemized list of all the procedures and equipment, and how much each part would cost us. The list was more than a page long, and had many rounds of IVs, drugs, and other little unexpected charges. The c-section ALONE was something like $708! The total projected cost was listed as $1800-$2000. WHAT?!?! If we had stuck with the vet from the night before - the one who claimed she was more expensive than most vets - our estimated cost would have been $1300. And that was already way more than we thought we could afford. Now this was really getting out of hand!!

The vet tech told us it that the increased estimate was due to the fact that things were more serious now than they had been the night before - the risk of infection made many more interventions necessary. Now I REALLY wished we had just done it before! Tom and I had already been debating whether it was worth $1300 to save the life of a cat...but at the time, we also had to consider the lives of the three unborn kittens. Now, those lives were out of the equation...

Throughout all this, I was sending texts to Tom via his work e-mail, keeping him up-to-date on what was happening. I said "$2000 is a LOT of money!! I think we might have to consider...putting her to sleep." Poor Tom. All he wanted was to be with me at the vet to help make these tough decisions, but he was stuck at work, forced to communicate by text only. He said I should ask what Iive's chance of survival was, to help us make a decision. W were still were keeping in mind the generous offer of his parents to pay half the cost, and thought maybe we'd be crazy enough to go through with it all.

The vet tech went to get the doctor again. When he came back, my mom spoke up for me immediately, "listen - this estimate is much higher than we were expecting. You know, she's considering just having the cat put to sleep." The vet - who was actually a really nice guy - seemed taken aback. "Oh," he said, "we don't want you to have to consider that option. No. Let me take another look at this and see if I can cut out some of the less necessary procedures, and change out some of the drugs for less expensive ones..."

And this is when I learned a VERY IMPORTANT LESSON about visiting the vet. They often can give you a lower price: if you ask. When the initial estimate is put together, the vet will often choose all the "best" and top-of-the-line procedures. They will assume that the pet owner wants to do anything and everything to get their pet back to health. I used to think that they were just trying to gouge the customer, and take advantage of them during an emotional time to make a lot of money. But after all my interactions with various vets recently, I've come to see that they are actually just very passionate about saving the lives of their animal patients. It's not their money, so I don't think they really consider the cost too much.

The new estimate came back - only half a page long this time - and listed the final cost as $800-1100. Still a good chunk of change, but definitely more manageable. My mom and I were studying the paper, and noticed that the c-section itself was no longer listed there. The highest individual cost for something was $266 for "feline OVH" which didn't mean anything to us. We thought there was an error, and checked with a receptionist. Nope - that one item was the cost of a feline ovarian-hysterectomy (essentially, spaying, which we wanted). Of course. Why would they charge us for a $700 c-section of dead kittens when for $200, they would achieve the exact same thing by just removing the whole uterus? Again, I don't want to assume the vet was trying to cheat us with the original figure. But I think he realized he could save us money by billing it differently.

After a few more agonizing text exchanges with Tom, we decided to go for it. Tom made me promise to see Iive one more time, just in case she didn't make it (the vet gave her a 70% of coming out of everything fine). They brought her and the kittens back out, and I snapped a few pictures.

I asked what they would do with the two kittens, while Iive had surgery and recovered. They wouldn't be able to stay with Iive, they said. They'd be kept in a separate cage, and bottle-fed. "It's going to cost more money to have you guys lodge them and care for them, isn't it?" I asked. "Yes, a bit more" was the answer. So I asked if I would be able to take them home and care for them myself. They were fine with that, and went over what I needed to do. They packed the little ones into small box, and we headed home.

Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature well, and need their environment to stay between 80° and 90°. Thankfully, it's summertime, so we don't have the cold weather working against us. But the vet still advised us to use a hot water bottle or something similar. My mom remembered that she had a product called a SnugglePuppy (she had bought it for a pet dog, but never used it). This thing turned out to be perfect! It's a little stuffed puppy, and inside its belly is a mechanical "heart" that produces a realistic "heartbeat." It also came with heating packs which you could insert in the belly. The kittens took to it as their temporary mom. The only sad part was that they were constantly rooting around for a nipple on it, and mewing and mewing because they couldn't find one.

In a laundry basket now

For the next 30 hours, we were dropper-feeding them kitten formula (yes, they do make such a thing) every two hours. Tom and I had to take "shifts" setting our alarms and waking up during the night. It was like we had a newborn baby in the house again!

But the kittens made it through, and we got to pick up Iive the next night. She was groggy and not eating enough yet, but at least she accepted back her babies (we had been warned that she might not)!!

It's almost two weeks later now [geez - it took me forever to type out this whole saga!], and the babies are still doing well. One is much chunkier than the other, and they both seem larger than kittens typically are at this age - probably because there's so little competition over the milk supply. Their eyes opened a few days ago (kittens are born blind), and their ears are starting to lift and become more pointed.

We gave them both intentionally ridiculous names - ones that we've often joked about being potential names for future children, but would never actually use: Odoric (actual name of an obscure Saint we found in our "Is it a Saint's Name?" pamphlet a couple years ago), and Suitbert (after Fr. Suitbert Mollinger, who founded St. Anthony's Chapel, one of the largest reliquary churches in the New World).




Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Whole Kitten Ordeal, Part III

...continued from the other day

The vet had told us that even though the induction hadn't worked, there was a chance that Iive would end up going into labor naturally during the night, and having the other three kittens. I wasn't *expecting* that to happen, but I think a part of me was definitely hopeful that it might. We woke up the next morning (Tuesday). Tom had to go to work, and I was tasked with making a vet appointment as soon as possible, and taking Iive ("ee-vay") in for her c-section. We went to the closet to peek in at Iive and her babies, and see if by some miracle, another had been born in the night. There were still just the two kittens there. But Iive was gone.

The bedroom door was shut, so she obviously hadn't gone far. As we started scanning the room for the cat, we noticed spots of blood on the ground in various places. We became a little worried, and started searching more frantically. Did she have complications during the night? Could the blood have been from the birth of more kittens? Tom found her under the bed, and coaxed her out. She had been sitting on a pillowcase which we stored there, and it was also covered in blood (luckily, it was a special waterproof case, so everything washed right off!). Tom comforted her, and placed her back in the box with her kittens. I searched under the bed, thinking maybe the third kitten (the one whose sac had been bulging out of her) had been born. But I didn't find one. Under Iive's tail there was such a bloody mess, that it was hard to see what was going on there.

Tom left for work, and I went about my usual morning routine until it was time to call the vet. I called only minutes after they opened to request an appointment. I quickly explained our situation, and said that Iive would need a c-section at the earliest open appointment. The receptionist didn't seem to buy my story, and kept trying to convince me to bring her in later in the afternoon so the vet could do a check-up on her, and then figure out what needed to be done. I insisted that I wanted a morning appointment, and I wanted the vet to set aside time for an immediate c-section. She finally gave me one at 11:00.

**Warning - the story is going to get gross for the rest of this installment**

I had my mom come over to help me transport everyone to the vet. She's a fellow cat lover (/crazy cat lady) herself, and has a lot of experience with taking sick animals to vets. I just couldn't manage the baby and a box of cats (we don't own a cat carrier) by myself. My mom drove, and I held the box of kitties on my lap in the car. During the drive, Iive was licking up the blood from her ladyparts. When she was satisfied that it was clean enough, she lay back down. And that's when I saw it....What had been just a blob of greyish amniotic sac sticking out, was now a little bulge of furry orange kitten. Her third baby, which had been trying to get out for over 24 hours now. I stroked it, trying to discern what part of its body it was. The head, I thought...maybe. But it was cold. And it didn't seem like it was alive anymore...

The first vet we had visited had mentioned that when kittens die inside the mother, there is some sort of gas given off that smells really bad. Since she had not smelled that gas from Iive, she said there was reason to hope that the kittens might still be alright. Here in the car, I didn't smell it either. Maybe, I thought, even if this kitten hadn't made it...the other two were still happily kicking around in there??

We arrived at the vet, and signed in at the counter. We sat down to wait: my mom occupying Sly, and me trying to get another look at kitten #3. I was carefully probing at the little body, and narrating my findings to my mother. My mom is one of those people who does not get grossed out at all by bodily "stuff" (she's a nurse, in fact). She soon started poking at the little kitten herself, and sadly confirmed my suspicion that it was probably dead. She then passed the baby to me, and went to grip the barely-born little kitten's body. "You're not going to try to pull it out are you??" I asked. She just gritted her teeth, and nodded at me. She began pulling on it gently. Iive became very alert, and seemed to be uncomfortable (I don't blame her!). My mom kept wiggling it out. And then we could see a little face - so it had been the kitten's head. And then a paw came out! It was so sad. And it was definitely dead. We were both too struck by that little paw and too nervous about hurting Iive to continue. We needed the vet!

I went up to bug the receptionists again. "Okay, now there is a dead kitten hanging out of our cat! We need to see the vet!" But they were pretty rude, and just sent me back to the seat to wait. That's when I noticed the horrendous odor. It must have been that "kitten death gas" we had been told about. I wanted to gag.

There was a nice old man at the vet with his big friendly dog. Before my mom had messed with the kitten, she had brought Sly over to pet his dog, and chatted with him for a few moments. He had been busy at the front desk for a while, but now he came over to us, asking, "can I see what's in your box?" like it was pet show-and-tell. He was very nice, and I know he just wanted to take a peek at whatever cute animal we had brought. But we couldn't let him see the gruesome sight in there! A cat with a dead kitten hanging half out of her! Instinctively, both my mom and I kind of covered up the box with our hands, and made unintelligible sounds, "uhhh, mmm....I don't think...ermmm...." The poor man just felt awkward, and started apologizing, and turned away without understanding what had happened. It was pretty uncomfortable.

And then Iive gave a big lurch. And the entire dead kitten flowed out of her, riding on a sea of blood and placenta. Oh, and the stench. It was unbearable. I leapt up from my seat, and yelled at the receptionists, "There's a dead kitten in here, and tons of blood, and we need a vet RIGHT NOW!!" At that very moment, a vet was coming out of the back, and she went right over to Iive. She calmly looked down at the gruesome scene, and said, "yeah, I'm sure the kittens are dead too. Let's take her to the back."

And thus died any hope of rescuing any of the unborn kittens :-(

...To be continued

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Whole Kitten Ordeal, Part II

...continued from the other day...

The receptionist at the vet told us that it was going to be a long day. They would try to induce Iive, but then it would just be a waiting game for hours, hoping that she would "produce" the kittens. She suggested we go home and try to enjoy our holiday.

We took her up on the suggestion, and headed back for home. We stopped for fast food on the way since we were rather hungry, and, I suppose, wanting some "comfort food." It was hard to make ourselves do much once we were home, as we were worried about Iive and worried about all the money this was going to cost. There was also a bit of excitement thrown in, at the prospect of three more kittens to come. Our sincere expectation was that we would get a call and be headed back to the vet in a few hours to pick up the happy family.

Not so.

We had a family cookout to go to at 5:00, and decided to check in with the vet before we left. We said another quick prayer to St. Gertrude of Nivelles, and made the call. They said they had given Iive four hours on the oxytocin, and nothing had happened. Still no contractions. They were about the start another round, and said they would get in touch with us later that evening to let us know how things were going.

We still went to the party, but I can't say our minds were entirely on the festivities. Tom, especially, was having a tough time handling it all, since Iive is his beloved baby girl. At various points, Tom and I separated ourselves by hiding out in a bedroom or going for a short walk. We needed to discuss the issue, or make phone calls to our moms (fellow cat-lovers) for advice. We knew that if this round of induction didn't work - and neither of us felt at all confident that it would - we would be faced with a tough decision: come up with another $1000+ that we didn't have for a kitty c-section (from which neither Iive nor the three unborn kittens were guaranteed to come out alive), or...have her put to sleep.

Before this whole incident, I didn't believe I was one of those people who would even consider spending thousands of dollars on a cat. No matter how much I might care for a pet, I thought, it's still just an animal - not a human. If desperate and expensive measures should be called for to save one's life, I had determined that I would just have to steel myself and let it go.

But that was before we actually found ourselves in such a situation. It wasn't that our cat was old, and at the end of its life. She was young and otherwise healthy...and the lives of her two born and three unborn kittens were also thrown into the equation. Now it wasn't just my emotional attachment to the pet I had to be concerned with - it was my husband's.

Another call to the vet confirmed the worst - the second attempt at induction wasn't working. The only hope now was a c-section. They said they'd put together an estimate and call us back. We were already hundreds of dollars in this thing. The c-section, they said, would add an additional $1300 or so to our bill. This is when we really started agonizing over the decision. That's a LOT of money! Tom's mom had told us earlier that they would be willing to cover half the cost of the c-section (knowing how much Iive means to Tom). This was certainly a generous offer, but it's always hard to take so much money from someone. The vet told us that we could have the operation that night, or wait until morning, and take Iive to a different vet. Since she was at an emergency vet center, they told us, the pricing there was a bit higher. Waiting until morning might save us money...but did we want to take that risk?

At this point, we had already missed half the party anyways, separating ourselves so often to deliberate over the cat situation. Everyone in the family was starting to gather for the walk up to the high school, where they'd have a great view of the fireworks. Tom and I decided we would just head home instead. We really weren't in the right spirits to watch fireworks anyways.

At some point on the short drive home, Tom suggested we just go to the vet in person to talk with them and get all our questions answered. That way, too, we could see Iive before either surgery or...the other thing. We called to let them know we were coming, and started heading there. Stupid us, we had to drive right through the city just as downtown fireworks were starting, and the streets were jammed with people! We were slightly late, but at least we got to see a few fireworks on the Fourth of July.

We met with the vet, and she laid out our options again. Iive needed a c-section to survive. The unborn kittens may or may not be alive - there was no way to tell for sure. She could do it that night for $1300, or we could take her home and bring her elsewhere in the morning. The vet assured us that it would be "several hundred dollars cheaper" if we went to a regular vet. She also said that Iive and the unborn kittens would probably be "about the same" in the morning. She did seem to be pushing us toward the latter option, and we decided to take her up on it. If we could save some money on the c-section, and have Tom's parents helping us out with the cost, we figured we should go ahead with expensive as it still was.

Iive and her two babies rode home with us that night, and we put them back in our bedroom. Iive seemed happy to be home, but didn't look too well. Her belly was still large with babies, and there was blood and mess down under her tail. We looked up the phone numbers and opening hours of a few local vets, so I could call them as soon as they opened the next morning.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Whole Kitten Ordeal, Part I

These last days of Iive's ( pronounced "ee-vay") pregnancy have been very trying ones. For ages now, we've been hoping she would get pregnant and give us a litter of kittens to enjoy (we're both huge "cat people"). But I know that after these recent events, Tom will NEVER let us own an un-spayed female cat again.

I could tell Iive's labor was approaching on Saturday night. She was "nesting" around the house, following me around, and there was some discharge coming from her ladyparts. By Sunday night, we knew the time had finally come. We placed her in "her box", which we made for this purpose a couple weeks ago. She lay down and started having visible contractions. This was about 11:00 on Sunday night. Tom and I remarked about what good timing this was since he would have the day off of work, it being July 4th the next day. We both poured ourselves cocktails, and sat down around the box, excited to watch "the show."

Iive was mostly keeping her tail down over the action, but every now and then, I would steal a peek. At one point, I saw that there was a little tail sticking out! We both "awwww'd" when we saw it wagging around. It seemed a little odd that the kitten was coming out tail-first. So I ran up to the computer for the first of many Google searches that night, to see if this was normal. I found that kittens could come out either head or back-legs first. So I figured all was well.

You can just barely see the little tail poking out

I remember the several litters of kittens we had when I was in middle school. As far as my memory serves, the labors were quick and easy. Maybe an hour or two total. So when two hours had gone by, and Iive had made no more progress, we started to worry. I occasionally touched the little tail to make it start to wag again. And we'd sigh with relief that at least the kitten was still alive. We started saying many prayers to St. Gertrude of Nivelles, Patron Saint of cats (we're so Catholic!)

We don't have air-conditioning, so the house was horribly hot. All the fans were on, but understandably, Iive was still uncomfortable. A woman in labor needs to stay cool! She kept trying to get out of her box, and eventually we just let her. She labored for a while on the cooler linoleum floor of the kitchen. Then she went down to the cold concrete floor of the basement. This was the place we'd wanted to prevent her going at all costs. But Tom was starting to get really worried about her, and therefore gave in to indulgence.

We followed her down, and tried to keep her calm. All of us were starting to get pretty tired at this point, and Tom and I were asking many "what ifs". Tom ran upstairs for another Google check, and came back telling me that we could try to pull the kitten out ourselves. We got a rag, and some gloves, and I gave it a go. But all that I had to grasp was the kitten's little tail and a tiny bit of its bottom. I just couldn't get a good enough hold, and Iive was flipping out every time I tried. She was very stretched out down there, and it looked painful.

It had been three hours by this point, and we finally resolved that it was time to call the vet. This is what we had been avoiding, because we both know too well how expensive it is to visit a vet, especially for emergencies. Tom had read that 99% of cat births go without a hitch, and we were still holding out hope that Iive's would turn around.

Not many vets are open on a Sunday, let alone the 4th of July. And by this point, it was about 2am in the early morning of the 4th. Tom called an emergency animal hospital. They said we should try applying Vaseline inside of the birth canal, if at all possible. If that didn't work, we would have to bring her in. Tom grabbed the Vaseline (which I'm so thankful we actually had at our home!), and some Q-tips. He did the job, while I held down the struggling cat with both arms. Now there was nothing to do but wait for the next contraction, and see what would happen.

The next contraction came, and Iive stood right up for it. To our amazement, the kitten glided right out! We couldn't believe how easy it was.

She set to work cleaning the kitten, and eating the placenta. She didn't get very far on either job, though, because she started having a second kitten right away. We were hesitant to touch the baby with our hands, knowing some mothers will reject a baby with a foreign scent. I used one of Sly's burp clothes to pick it up, and realized that Iive had left half the placenta, still attached to the kitten by the umbilical cord that she'd forgotten to bite through. Luckily, we had already read what to do in this situation. Tom grabbed some scissors and thread. We tied off the cord, and cut it ourselves.

The second kitten had been born by this time (we think maybe they both got "jammed in the chute" as they tried to come out at the same time?). Iive didn't clean it's face well enough, so I used Sly's snot-sucker bulb to suck everything off, and help it to breathe. We also had to cut the cord for this kitten. We just threw the remaining placentas in the trash, because Iive wasn't interested in them anymore!

Both the kittens are all orange, so it's almost certain they are boys. We placed them in the box, and got Iive to lie down with them. They started rooting for her nipples, and eventually found them, and began suckling. Iive looked completely exhausted by this point, but didn't seem to be having anymore contractions.

I kept saying how surprised I was that there had only been two kittens (typically, it's around 5), and that it seemed weird that Iive's tummy was still rather large. I felt her belly, and couldn't really discern any movement in there. And she seemed to be done with the contractions. We moved the box up to our bedroom so we could be on hand during the night in case anything happened.

Having stayed up so late into the night, we slept until 10am the next morning (amazingly, Sly was willing to fall back asleep in the bed with us, after nursing at 7!). I went over to peek at the cats, and noticed something distressing. There was a bit of amniotic sac bulging out of Iive's ladyparts. There was definitely another kitten there. But she wasn't having any contractions.

We called the vet again, and they said to bring her in right away. The vet was about 25 minutes away, and I held the box of Iive and babies on my lap in the car. As soon as we got there, they took them from us and told us to have a seat. This was a really fancy and high-tech vet's office. They deal only with emergencies, and you would swear you were at a hospital for humans. They had a little child play area, and we sat in there with Sly. He had a blast playing with all the toys, and it was a good way to stay distracted while we waited for news.

The fee just for bringing her in was $125. They asked if they could do X-rays (for another $95). We said yes. About an hour later, a doctor called us back to talk to us. There were still three other kittens inside. There was no way for sure to tell whether they were alive. The vet said we should go ahead and try to induce her with oxytocin. They had us sign an agreement to pay the final cost which, at this point, was estimated to be $400-$500. A serious blow to our already-dwindling funds. But what choice did we have?

I got very matter of fact with God, and started telling Him, "alright, God, we'll do what we have to do. But you better find a way to send us a lot of money here."

To be continued...

Friday, July 1, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 7)

This blog has existed for more than just seven Fridays! I'm so bad about writing Quick Takes each week. Oy. Well, here we go.

1. T
oday is the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It makes me wish I'd tried a little harder to make it to Mass this morning...It also reminds me of something that has been at the back of my mind for a while now: that we should really Consecrate the family to the Sacred Heart.

2. Since today is a First class feast, this does away with the obligation for abstinence. Which means we can go to the cookout we were invited to, and enjoy some burgers and dogs on a FRIDAY! :-D

3. I've been slowly trying to get myself back into the habit of running. Throughout college, I ran basically every day, between 3 and 6 miles. The past few years, I've hardly done so at all. But I just feel so much better when I start my day out with a good run.

I've really only done it a couple mornings so far, but the muscles in my legs are getting used to it again. I wake up at 6am, and hurry out as soon as I can get dressed. Tom needs me back around 6:45, since that's when he gets in the shower (and he doesn't want to worry about Sly during that time). So after subtracting the time it takes me to stretch before and after, I really only have the time to run a bit over two miles. But for now, that's a big improvement over what it's been!

4. Last weekend was spent in Toledo, where our good friends Katie and Chuckie got married!

The happy bride and groom

I was a bridesmaid, Tom chose to wear own of his retro-fabulous suits, and Sly is keeping it classy in a dress shirt/tie and...a diaper

We wish them all the best (and pray that they don't move away too soon!)

5. We shared our suite in the hotel with some friends. Their son, Anthony, is a bit older than Sly, so he was teaching him all sorts of tricks - like how to use the stairs. Before that weekend, Sly had climbed our stairs a couple times (though not without needing to be caught by Mommy at some point during the ascent!), but he didn't seem all that excited by it. But after watching Anthony zoom up and down all weekend, it's now his favorite thing. He wants to be a big boy, I guess, and seems determined to be as good as his friend at getting up the stairs. He still can't get down on his own, though, so the baby gate remains firmly shut at the bottom!

6. The boys were pretty cute when they interacted.

Tom is baby-herding at the top of some stairs

Though it left me wondering if Sly is going to be a little bruiser. I've seen the way he abuses our cats and also Tom's face (he loves to smack and pinch Tom, but not me so much...hehe). His treatment of Anthony over the weekend wasn't much different, unfortunately :-/

This was taken a second before he tackled Anthony to the ground

And then here's the boys fighting over Tom's glasses case.

7. Following recommendations of various people (both "real" and in "blog world") who had also liked Downton Abbey, I had Netflix send me disc 1 season 1 of Lark Rise to Candleford about a month ago. I had heard so many good things about the show that I just went on faith that it would be good, and never actually bothered to look up what the show was about before I added it to my Netflix queue. At this point, it's hard to remember exactly what I thought the show would be like, but I do know that my expectations were nothing like the reality of it. I think I must have assumed it was another of those high-society costume dramas that the BBC is known for. But it's very different. Larkrise to Candleford, though, tells the stories of people in a small English town (Candleford) and an even smaller rural hamlet (Lark Rise) nearby. They are simple folk with more realistic sorts of concerns.

After watching the first few episodes, I was fairly disappointed, and sent it back in the mail. I'd given it a chance, and unfortunately, it just didn't grab me. I thought that was the end of it. But a few days later, what should arrive in the mailbox but the next installment? Darn! I had preemptively put the entire first season in my Netflix queue, assured that I would love it like everyone else did. I didn't want to "waste" the movie, though, so figured I could put on while ironing and folding laundry.

Well, I can't say exactly when or how it happened, but now I am hooked. I think it may have had to do with the intriguing and suspenseful romantic aspects. But I found myself enjoying many of the characters, and excited to see what would happen to them next. I'm on season 2 now, and there are at least two more after that! My recommendation is: watch it!

See Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes