“I think Pinky is going to have babies,” I remarked casually one day. “I think she is, too,” said six-year-old Terry. “Her tummy is fat like yours was before you got John.”

“…And Katy and Peggy and you and me,” added Wendy, from her eight years of experience.

When Pinky had come to us the previous fall as a young cat, we had not been enthusiastic. Living in small quarters with a fairly large family, we figured if there was one thing we didn’t need, it was a cat. We gave her a saucer of milk and figured she would disappear as had the other cats the children had brought home before her. But Pinky was different. She decided we were her family, despite tail-pulling by toddlers, eating only table scraps, and spending most of the winter outdoors. She was gentle, very affectionate, and smart, as cats go — smart enough to keep out of sight until the smaller tots became used to her and ignored her presence.

However, when spring brought evidence of Pinky’s approaching motherhood, she was no longer persona non grata–in spite of the fact that if there is one thing we figured we didn’t need it was more cats. The whole family looked forward to her approaching accouchement.

My husband and I, both city-born and bred, had never before had a cat that had kittens. Nor, for that matter, had we had a dog that had puppies, a horse that had colts, or a cow that had calves. The annual springtime harvest of baby animals that a farm child takes for granted was something we had only read about.

I had raised rabbits as a child but had never seen them born. Because of what I learned from my rabbits, I thought Pinky’s having babies was a good idea. We got a box ready for the kittens so, to quote Peggy, “they wouldn’t get borned all over the place.”

One day as I broke an egg into a saucer of milk I explained to Wendy that not only Pinky’s health depended on what she ate but also that of her kittens.

“When the kittens get born, I’m going to give them milk every day,” she announced.

“You won’t have to,” I said. “Pinky will give them her own milk.”

“How?” she asked, obviously puzzled. I was just as puzzled. Had not Wendy see me nurse four babies? Hadn’t I shown her pictures of nursing kittens in the past? Hadn’t she seen suckling pigs, lambs, and puppies on television?

I can to the conclusion that if one picture is worth a thousand words, first hand experience is worth many a picture. I explained to her (again) how animals fed their young but I counted on Pinky to give her the information that would really “take.” I began to wonder if maybe my children didn’t know as much about how babies are born as I thought they did. Pinky was treated with unaccustomed solicitude as we awaited delivery day.

When the kittens finally arrived, it was without fuss or fanfare. It was not until I saw Pinky emerge, slim and saggy, from the front room coat closet that I realized she had become a mother on the sly. A flashlight revealed four immaculate kittens huddled together on the floor. I had not expected them to be so large, or so furry, or the delivery spot to be so clean.

The children were thrilled as we put the babies in the cat box that Pinky had ignored. Later we pulled the box out and watched the sightless kittens root about for milk and nurse while Pinky purred contentedly. From time to time the girls would help out a kitten which didn’t seem to be having much luck in finding nourishment. Now they knew beyond a doubt how baby animals are fed.

It seemed we were the only family for blocks around that had an animal that had been allowed to reproduce. There was a constant stream of youngsters coming to see Pinky’s progeny. One ten-year-old asked, “How did the babies get out?” I thought of referring her to her mother as the proper source of such information but recalled the complicated reasoning by which I, at the same age, had arrived at the conclusion that mothers did not have to be cut open for their babies to be born.

The answer was too simple to be shrouded in mystery. “Pinky has an opening down here,” I said, pointing, “and when the babies are ready to be born the opening stretches enough to let them out.” I turned Pinky over to demonstrate that she was quite intact despite her recent delivery, and no one who had seen Pinky leap after a butterfly the day after her kittens were born would have doubted she felt fine about the whole thing.

The remains of the umbilical cord on each kitten’s tummy came in for some discussion as the source of the kitten’s food supply before birth. On another occasion I pointed out that one of Pinky’s kittens, the orange striped one, looked just like a tomcat the roams the neighborhood. Perhaps, I suggested, he was the father of Pinky’s kittens. “The kittens have to have a daddy, you know, just like you do.” The tomcat was promptly acclaimed Pinky’s “husband” and the matter rested there.

Though Pinky gave birth to her kittens unobserved, Marble did not have the same privilege. Marble visited us occasionally. She was a garage cat, and we fully expected her to have her kittens there. We were, therefore, somewhat surprised one noon when, in answer to Terry’s “Mommy, come quick!” we ran to find Marble in the back closet licking two wet kittens. As we watched, fascinated, Marble let out a “Mrrrow,” and a third kitten came into the world. There were questions from all sides which I tried to answer as they came.

Why are the kittens wet? They are wet because they were surrounded by a bag of water when they were in their mother.

Does it hurt to have babies? Marble doesn’t seem to be complaining much. Sometimes it hurts to have babies but women don’t have any more trouble than Marble if they just relax and aren’t afraid. Doctors have ways to help a mother have a baby if she needs help.

What is that? That is the afterbirth, which is the name for the tissue that surrounds the kitten and helped nourish it before it was born. It’s of no more use now and cats have a instinct to eat it.

What is an instinct? An instinct is something animals have so they know what to do without being taught. For example cats also have an instinct to carry their babies by the back of the neck.

I am sure that much of what I told the children that day has been “forgotten” — but not completely forgotten. In the past we have discussed the reproduction of guppies and other tropical fish. Our children have observed, commented upon, and questioned me about my various pregnancies. All this information is there, in the backs of their minds, to be added to in the future. It is our hope that by truthfully answering their questions as they come up (and there should be ample opportunity for them to come up), the children will, in time, be satisfactorily informed. That new information will seem to be something they have really always known, in a vague sort of way, rather than a startling revelation.

Teaching children the facts of life by the observation of animals has been objected to in some quarters on the grounds that the approach is not “spiritual” enough. However, when a child lives close to nature, animals naturally play a part in his sex education, and it does not seem reasonable to refuse to answer questions about animals on the grounds that he does not yet know all about humans or how holy Matrimony is.

Moreover, I think it will be granted that the mating and reproduction of animals is just as God intended it to be — in sad contrast to that of some humans. Many parents find the mating of animals much easier to discuss with their children than that of humans. The child can make for himself the generalization that includes mankind.

From animals, children can gain a biological basis upon which parents can build more knowledge. When discussing the similarity between man and animals, it is necessary also to point out the differences.

A few days ago I overheard the children talking. “I’d like to see how cats get married,” said one. The time was not right for a little speech about cats and marriage, but I began composing one.

It is never too early to stress the permanence of the marriage bond, for children at a very tender age acquire the notion that spouses are disposable. As they grow older, the unnaturalness of abuses of sex, such as masturbation and contraception, are easily demonstrated by pointing out that when one engages in these practices he does things that even an animal would not do. He thereby makes himself less than an animal. Contrariwise, a human being shows he is more than an animal when he sees sex as a gift from God to be used in accordance with His divine plan.

City children, if they are permitted a pet at all, must usually be content with an animal that is either not allowed to mate or has been rendered surgically sterile. Many women do not discuss their impending motherhood with their children, and few of them deliver their babies at home. It is small wonder that children get the idea that animals come from pet shops and babies from hospitals. An animal in the house (or better yet, a pair of animals) can do much to set them straight.

Cats require neither licenses nor inoculations, cages nor special food. They are easily acquired, easily kept, clean and quiet. As I write this, Pepper is lying on the living room floor, nursing Pinky’s grandchildren. The birth and feeding of kittens is “old hat” to our children, but it has a continuing fascination and has served as a springboard for imparting a good deal of information.

Does anyone want a pretty little kitty with enormous potentialities as a reproducer and educator?

(Published in MARRIAGE magazine, April 1959)