Several years ago when I was desperately trying to conceive my first child, my husband came home with a tiny kitten he had found abandoned inside a dumpster.
We are both cat lovers and would often rescue cats and kittens from off the streets then arrange for them to be rehomed – but the very first time I held this particular kitten in my hands, I just knew that he was meant to be mine.
His name was Ozzy
He was so small and we guessed he must have been about a few weeks old, judging from his size and how clumsy he still was when trying to walk.
I named him Ozzy and he would crawl onto my lap and nuzzle up next to me every chance he got – so much so that my husband said he must think I was his mother.
We planned on bringing him to the vet for a full check-up the following week once we had enough money and made big plans about bringing him out with us wherever we went since he was still so tiny and required a lot of close care and attention.
I was his new mother
He slept in a box lined with a small blanket over a hot water bottle and a few kitty plush toys to help keep him warm, and I even put in a small clock thinking that the ticking sound might comfort him.
I carried him everywhere I went, he sat on my lap as I did my work on the computer, I bottlefed him his milk every 3 hours like you would a baby, I brought him to the toilet and gently wiped his bottom with a wet piece of cotton to coax him to pee and poop (like how a mother cat would usually lick her kittens’ bottoms), and I would wake up in the middle of the night to run to him when he made those tiny soft pleading meows.
If he was placed on the ground, he would cry frantically and search for me, then would run to me, nuzzle my leg and would immediately stop crying once I picked him up and held him.
It was the beginning of our third year trying to get pregnant without any luck and I was convinced that Ozzy was sent to me as my “first baby”, so I embraced this trial run as a first-time mother, even though it was to a fur-baby.
But something unfortunate happened which changed my life completely.
That fateful day
As much as I hated leaving him home alone, I had a class to teach that week and didn’t think it would be appropriate to bring him with me to school, and so I fed him and left for work.
On my way home, I received an upsetting phone call about an urgent matter I had to tend to immediately which caused my stress level and anxiety to sky rocket, so as soon as I got home I rushed to my computer to search for some important documents.
Ozzy heard me and cried from his box, but I just told him to wait as I furiously typed away, not even glancing at him in his box.
An hour went by and Ozzy kept crying, but I kept telling him to please wait and that I would feed him in a few more minutes.
He eventually stopped crying and I thought he fell asleep, so I tried to quickly finish up my work and reminded myself it was past his dinner time so I must feed him once he wakes up.
But then he started crying again, only this time it was a strange soft whine I had never heard before.
I stopped what I was doing and slowly peered inside his box, only to be horrified by the sight of him laying flat and sprawled out in an unusual position.
His eyes were closed and he could barely lift his head, but he was still giving out these low, heartbreaking meows.
I screamed and scooped him up and started to cry hysterically, kissing him and apologising to him over and over again for not coming to his side earlier.
We rushed him to the vet but unfortunately there was nothing they could do to save him. He died in my hands and I stood there crying inconsolably, wondering why fate was so cruel as to take away this “baby” of mine especially since I had not been blessed with a real one yet.
Runt of the litter
The vet revealed that Ozzy was actually a few months old already, but was most likely the runt of the litter so he wasn’t growing properly, and that it wasn’t my fault because he was probably suffering from a few health issues already and not developing well.
But I blame myself for his death. I should have checked up on him as soon as I got home, I should have sent him to the vet the first day we found him, I should have listened to his cries, I should have been a better mother to him.
I cried for days and was slowly sinking into depression, but it was then that it dawned on me that this was probably why I have not been blessed with a baby yet – I get too easily consumed by stress and overwhelmed with work that I tend to neglect everything else around me.
If Ozzy was a real baby, would I have ignored his cries and left him in his crib as I was busy doing work, thinking that he’ll be ok as it was just for a while?
I vowed to myself that if I were ever to have a child of my own, I would never neglect nor forsake her and that she would be the most important priority in my life, above everything else.
My prayers were answered
A few months later, I finally conceived and when my baby was born I remembered the important lesson I learned when I was a mother to Ozzy – that no matter what I was going through or how I was feeling, my baby must come first.
Ozzy made me realise that babies don’t cry just to annoy or manipulate you, they cry because they need you and are asking for help.
Being his mother helped me to see that a baby needs to constantly be held, kissed, hugged and cuddled to feel safe, comforted and loved.
He showed me how to be patient, observant, gentle and nurturing.
He taught me that no matter what, a baby always needs its mother.
My daughter turns four years old this year and I still apply what I have learned from Ozzy to how I parent her – I have chosen the attachment parenting approach; I became a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) for the first year so I could fully focus on taking care of her and eventually a Work At Home Mum (WAHM) so she could still be under my watchful eye; and when things get tough or when days are hard, I will remind myself that nothing is more important than my daughter so I must never neglect her.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Ozzy for being my “first baby”, and thank you for teaching me how to be a loving mother.
Do you think having a pet helps prepare you for parenthood? Does your fur-baby get treated like a real one? Share your comments with us below.