So, Matt and I were on the way to find lunch and run some typical Saturday errands earlier today when his mom called, asking if we could possibly stop by and help her and Matt's dad troubleshoot a leaky washing machine. Thus, once we'd eaten we headed over to the parental homestead, and as luck would have it, we arrived pretty much just in time to see Bella show up at the feeding station. Unfortunately I didn't have my good camera with me -- just the one in my cell phone -- so the small picture below is the only one I was able to get of her:
When I took the photo I didn't know that the kittens were THAT close to emerging, but it was clear that something was going on. Despite the fact that she was still engaging in normal cattish activities like eating and playing, Bella was definitely walking with a bit of a "waddling" gait, and her back end was covered in a clear, slick substance that I soon realized must be amniotic fluid (meaning her water had broken). She wandered around the patio for about half an hour, then proceeded to make a beeline for a cardboard box Matt's mom had placed some old cushions and bathroom rugs in near the back of the house. And for a while she just sat in the box, breathing heavily and slow-blinking her eyes.
Meanwhile, something very interesting was going on with the other cats in the vicinity. There were maybe 4 or 5 of them, and before going to lie down in her box, Bella actually went over and approached each of them in turn, gave them a very intense look, waited for them to respond, and then walked away. Most of her feline cohorts simply gave her a brief sniff, blink, or nod, the one exception being Toby (the resident Queen Bee Boss Cat of the yard), who hissed and then trotted off looking annoyed.
I really wish I'd been able to film these interactions because I'd never seen anything quite like them before. Again, I can't even begin to offer an exact cat-to-English translation, but it was clear that something was being communicated. And then once Bella had taken her place in the box, I saw no less than three other female cats (who were all spayed, mind you) arrange themselves in a semicircle around her at a distance of maybe 10-15 feet from where she lay. As for me, I sat on a bench on the patio. I would have gone into the house but Bella didn't seem bothered by my presence -- in fact, she seemed to prefer it when I was there. At one point I did briefly get up to use the house bathroom, only to be informed by Matt's mom that when I'd entered the house, Bella had sat up, looked in my direction, and meowed!
But anyway...I'll get to the actual kitten-birthing I saw. It was simultaneously more awkward-looking and less gross than I'd expected it would be. Bella didn't explode with fluids or poop everywhere when the kitten started emerging, which was kind of a relief (I've read WAY too many horrifying birth stories apparently). What she did do, though, once the head began poking out was get up out of the box and walk over to the little rug under the food bowl. I think at that point she needed to stand up and move around more than the box allowed so that gravity could assist the kitten in popping out. And pop out the kitten did! Seriously, it was like Bella just did this one massive forward-sideways PUSH thing once she was standing up and suddenly there was a whole kitten AND a placenta dangling from her nethers.
At that point Bella seemed to sort of "shift into high gear". She was a little freaked out by what had just happened, and (this is the part I would describe as "awkward") spent about 20 seconds running in place in a tight circle with the kitten hanging down doing head-spins on the concrete (all the while going EEE! EEEEEE!). Needless to say, I got a bit worried at this point and hoped Bella wasn't too wigged out to cut the umbilical cord. But thankfully she figured it out and within another few seconds had the kitten in her mouth by the scruff. Which she then proceeded to carry off to the bushes. I had been hoping she'd go back to the box to have the rest, but my guess is at that point her instinct to seek deeper cover kicked in.
...so, to make a long story slightly shorter, as of right now I don't know whether she is even finished birthing yet. I will have to check with Matt's mom. Right now, though, I am just glad that Bella seemed to be getting through the process without complications despite her small size. Ideally Matt's mom will be able to coax her into the house where she will be welcome to nest in the bathroom for as long as she likes -- this will help immensely with both keeping Bella safe until she is strong enough to be spayed and with making sure the kittens can start acclimating to humans as soon as possible. As much as I know a feral cat can have a plenty worthwhile life without much, if any, human contact, being able to adopt out kittens is a very important part of good colony management as it helps maintain a stable-to-decreasing population (which means better living conditions for all the cats concerned). And in this case Matt even has a co-worker who may be able to adopt one of the kittens, provided they survive (which is still touch-and-go and will be until it's established that they're all actually born, and alive, and nursing, etc.). I'm planning on trying to make a case for her adopting two!