Adapting to Cat Motherhood, SMA-style

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by Brianna Albers |

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balance, normal, resisting, intersectional disability advocacy, self image

“I know I’m on my period,” I told my dad, “because I’m crying at the mere possibility of Rey not knowing that I love her.”

Rey, of course, is the newest member of the Albers family. I’ve been begging for a cat for years, and apparently, all I needed was my master’s degree. My graduation present was a cuddly rampage of a calico kitten. I named her Rey after the scavenger turned Jedi in “Star Wars,” half because she has the markings of a desert-dwelling scavenger and half because I’m enamored with the character’s instrumental theme.

Rey is the perfect cat. I look like I’ve been in the trenches, with my arms full of scratch marks and indents the size of kitten teeth, but the physical torture is worth the snuggles. As I write this column, Rey is perched on the lowest level of her cat tree, playing with a toy suspended from my bedroom window. Soon, she’ll return to the cardboard contraption that is her cat bed, tapping my cheek with her paw as if to say, “Hello, I love you, don’t beat yourself up over unattainable levels of productivity!” before resuming her nap.

As much as I love dogs, cats are the perfect SMA pet: lazy, low-maintenance, and easily entertained. I don’t have to do much of anything — or so I thought. 

Rey is only a few weeks old, so we keep her in my room as much as possible. The goal is to bond and eventually become the ideal human-companion duo — similar to Rey and BB-8, minus the life-threatening antics. The issue is that as a kitten, Rey needs attention. Much like human beings, she craves physical contact. Touch. Sometimes she wants something to bite, but mostly, she just needs to know I’m here.

SMA bodies are hard to love. Especially when they refuse to do something simple and life-giving, like pet a cat. I want nothing more than to hold this sweet, snuggly baby until we both die of heat exhaustion, but I can’t. If Rey had her way, she would spend the entire day sprawled on my arm, preventing me from doing anything — writing this column, working on my book, even talking to friends.

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Stretched out and loving life. (Photo by Brianna Albers)

For several days, I was torn between quality Rey time and, like, my everyday life. I felt like a deadbeat cat mom. Did I deserve the pure love of a kitten if I wasn’t willing to sacrifice everything to spend time with her? Would she grow up thinking I didn’t love her? Would we bond if we weren’t touching each other all the time?

Cue the hormonal hysterics. I was tired and overwhelmed and feeling like an absolute garbage can of a human being.

Then my dad came along, with his uncanny ability of simplifying the thorniest of problems. “Why don’t we rig something that will keep her from lying on your arms?”

I sniffled despondently. Rey blinked up at me, young and full of concern. “You really think that will work?”

Dad shrugged with the confidence of someone who had fixed many a problem with cardboard and duct tape. “Why not?”

And thus the cat-traption was born.

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Entranced. (Photo by Brianna Albers)

My arms — and my mouse — are sheltered by the cardboard. Rey can sleep as close to me as she wants. Whenever she needs a little loving, she can boop my nose, or lick my mouth, or eat my hair. It’s the best of both worlds, and it makes me sleepy as all get-out. Between Rey’s weight, the warmth of her blanket, and the sticky air inside the box, I feel like I’m moving through a fog.

But that’s OK. Rey has taught me to slow down. To notice the twitching of her whiskers, the mottled black of her paws, the noises she makes in her sleep — half-hearted, snuffly wheezes. To listen to the rain. And maybe even to forgive my body for the things it cannot do. To acknowledge the cat mom I want to be, the cat mom I am, and the differences between the two.

The cat-traption is ugly. I still can’t pet Rey, not without help. But it’s something. And Rey loves it, despite the flimsy cardboard, despite the reinforced arm holes and wobbly flaps.

Rey loves me, too. Today, that is more than enough.

Follow me on Instagram @briehalbers or subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with my work.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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