Borrowed Babies

I saw a series of shows on TV recently called “Baby Borrowers.” The show is a social experiment. The producers give teenaged couples (18ish years old) a few days in which they must care for infants, toddlers, preteens, teenagers, and elderly people. Some of the teens came into the experiment thinking that child-rearing would be easy. Some wanted children right away and saw no reason to wait. Some just wanted to prove that they were grown-ups.

Even if you never intend to have kids, I think that this is worth watching. I truly believe that many high-school kids who think that having a baby is the answer to their problems will rethink their positions on having children. I’ve never wanted kids myself – I think of them as screaming poop machines – and I got a lot out of it. There are life lessons about relationships, cooperation, creative problem solving… seriously good stuff to be gotten from this show.

All of my babies are borrowed. In most cases, my kittens are orphaned. Even when the kittens have a mom, she generally needs my help raising her babies. The babies tend to be these amazingly wonderful creatures that I feel lucky to have gotten to know, even for a short time. There are so many wonderful things about fostering kittens. Above all though, this stuff is work.

A typical day goes like this:

  1. I get up in the morning. I don’t really feel like doing much other than reading my newspaper comics and drinking my tea, but I know there are babies depending on me so I warm up their bottles while trying to attend to only my most pressing needs.
  2. I go into the kitten room and see who needs feeding. The bottle babies are all screaming and want my attention at once. I listen to several minutes of hungry, crying kittens while I am feeding one of them who isn’t cooperating.
  3. The bottle-babies still haven’t settled down yet because they still need to go to the bathroom. I get out the baby-wipes and rub their genitals until they they are able to relieve themselves. If I am lucky, no one has diarrhea, but that isn’t the norm.
  4. I grab the towels that are covered in various forms of kitten excrement and toss them into the laundry. I also grab the heat disk so that the babies have something to keep them warm (kittens cannot thermoregulate themselves until they are several weeks old).
  5. While I am waiting for the disk to warm in the microwave, I wash my hands. I grab clean towels and a can of food for the bigger kittens.
  6. When the disc is warm I return to the kitten room and remake the beds. At this point I can put the bottle-babies away for their morning sleep.
  7. I move on to kittens who need to be helped to eat. This is a messy process, so I make sure I am wearing my scrubs or an apron. It helps to be wearing pants (as opposed to a nightgown or shorts) so that my legs don’t take a beating from kitten claws.
  8. I put the wet food on a plate and grab a baby spoon. I attempt to insert said spoon into a struggling kitten’s mouth. The kitten does not want food – she wants a bottle. Too bad. I have to be the meanie here.
  9. After about 20 minutes of trying, the weaning kitten catches on. She hates having to feed herself and deeply resents me for denying her the bottle.
  10. I bring out the baby wipes again and scrub the kitten because she is covered in food. There are food-prints on my clothes, on the floor. The kitten has food on her entire underside. All of this needs to be cleaned.
  11. I let the weaning kitten run off to do her own thing while I look for the broom and dustpan. She and the other kittens have kicked tons of litter out of the box AGAIN, so I have to sweep it up.
  12. I find a puddle of vomit or diarrhea on the floor. I check all the kittens to be sure no one is obviously sick. I clean up the puddle.
  13. I handle any kittens who just need attention. I snuggle the fearful kittens. I play with the kittens who need exercise. I remind them to eat because they need to get big.
  14. I finally get to eat breakfast. It’s been about an hour and a half on a good day. My stomach has learned not to anticipate an immediate breakfast by now.
  15. Repeat steps 1-13 every 6-8 hours if the bottle babies are at least 3 weeks old. If they are smaller, prepare to do this every 4-6 hours. If they are newborns, give up all hope. You have just become a slave.
  16. If anyone is sick, remember to add the medications (and the ensuing battle) to the schedule.

I have to put the needs of tiny little people above my own. I forsake sleep, food and recreation. I have my heart broken when a foster kitten doesn’t have the decency to survive. And the icing on the cake – I have to give them all away just when it gets easier. Why would anyone do this? I can give you 133 reasons why. Their names are Abbey, Nebula, Orion, Cupcake, Cream Puff, Wisteria, Margo, Caterpillar, Sundae….

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