I spent this morning standing in my driveway, whispering a mantra. “Be a good mother. Be a good mother. Be a good mother.”
I was not talking to myself. I was talking to our bunny, Bun Buns. She just gave birth to what appears to be three, snuggly, raw skinned, pink blobs. This is her third set of babies. None have survived.
I have been making excuses for her. The first time, I didn’t even know we had babies until one (dead) was dragged outside of the wooden box and left exposed under the water bottle.
Days prior, my daughter had told me she thought something was inside the box, and whispered excitedly, “Maybe it is babies!”
I explained that was impossible. We had two male bunnies, or so I thought. I was mortified to learn differently. We discovered several other babies in the wooden nesting box, all dead, and, disgustingly enough, half eaten. But it looked as if they had survived a few days. I chalked their demise up to the fact that I didn’t supply proper bedding materials and I hadn’t removed the male. I heard somewhere that the male will kill a litter if left confined with them. Jealousy, I guess. The gnawed edges of the sadly discarded baby confirmed this theory.
I apologized to my daughter for not responding to her early speculation, and began to watch the bunnies more carefully. I was pretty sure that if our rabbits procreated once, it was only a matter of time until they would do so again. Next time, I planned to be ready.
I bought nesting materials and was careful to cover the cage to protect it from the elements, but several weeks later, I discovered babies again, already cold and still. We had been laying concrete for a hot tub, and the cage had been moved that very day. The nesting box appeared to be wedged against the side of the cage, prohibiting entry. I insisted that the reason the babies were dead was the mother couldn’t get inside to care for her brood, but my husband shook his head and said he was pretty sure she could have gotten in if she wanted to. I eyed the male with accusation, but couldn’t prove anything.
We removed the dead babies, cleaned out the cage and refilled it with fresh shavings. I did not tell my daughter about the litter. She would have been inconsolable, and because I could protect her from the disappointment, I did.
After that, I started watching the cage carefully. I moved the rabbits to the front of our cabin so that each time I came or went, I could do a spot check.
This morning, I left to take my daughter to school and the cage was litter-less. When I returned, three babies were inside the nesting box, snuggled deep into the pile of shavings and clumps of shed fur. I instantly removed the male to a second cage, thrilled to see the babies alive burrowed deep into the warm nesting box. Now, all things were in order for success, or so I thought. But, Bun Buns wouldn’t go inside to care for the newborns. I waited patiently, but it appeared she had no intention of going into that box.
She had blood on her nose and the back of her tail, and I noted some bloody fur in the box too. It made me think of giving birth to my own children. It is a painful thing, childbirth, but it is filled with so much joy the pain doesn’t matter. It occurred to me that Bun Buns probably didn’t feel “joy”, and as such, giving birth is probably an uncomfortable nuisance. She might even associate pain and discomfort to the nesting box, which further convinces her to steer clear of it. Still, instinct does prevail, or so it is supposed to, so I spent the morning watching, waiting for her to change her mind, hop inside and begin feeding her offspring.
I sat on the gravel of the driveway with a cup of coffee for over an hour. The babies are cute, curling over each other as they seek warmth and nourishment. Guests are coming to visit tomorrow and I have so much to do it was hard to justify my compelling desire to sit and observe. But, I did, and I feel as if that hour will be my most productive of the day, because it encompassed everything I value in life right now – taking time to witness life, observe and relish it. Unfortunately, the longer I sat, the more disappointed I grew.
Bun Buns never went back into the nesting box. I actually shoved her inside once, but she promptly jumped out as if I was trying to hurt her. Perhaps being saddled with three needy babies feels like a punishment to her. Nevertheless, I prayed she would take responsibility this time.
This is why I began the mantra, “Be a good mother. Be a good mother.”
Don’t get me wrong. I really rather not be responsible for three more bunnies. There is the hassle of a larger cage, and separating the males and the females all so we don’t get overrun with bunnies overnight. Yet still, I desperately want them to survive. These are my daughter’s pets and I want her to experience the wonder of life. I want her to learn about responsibility and decision-making – those poignant lessons that are learned from this sort of memorable childhood experience.
She will come home from school in a few hours and I am evidently aware that this afternoon will begin with delight, but might end in heartbreak. These bunnies will no doubt survive a day or so, but not much longer if Bun Buns doesn’t return to the nest. I could just avoid mentioning the babies to my daughter, who will probably pass the cage without a glance. Then, I can wait until tomorrow to see what happens. But, I won’t. I’ve decided not to sweep the truth away a second time.
I can’t protect my daughter from the harsh realities of nature. I can only explain possible problems, and help her to understand those things that are beyond our control. I can console her if the beloved baby bunnies die, and hopefully, she will learn something from that as well. Together, we will have to discuss what to do with a pet that seems enable to follow through on her motherhood responsibilities. Letting a rabbit conceive time and again, when we know the outcome is bleak, would be unfair, no matter how desperately my daughter longs for little bunnies to care for.
With luck, the babies will survive. Bun Buns will suddenly have a change of heart or instinct will override her belligerence and she will return to the nest. Then, we can watch our pink blobs grow hair and long ears, watch their eyes open and give them names like Fluffy, Thumper, or Snowball.
I guess there is a lesson to be learned no matter what happens. In the meantime, I will continue to whisper my mantra in hopes that it will influence the outcome for the best.
“Be a good mother. Be a good mother. Be a good mother.”
Looking at Bun Buns leisurely sitting outside the nesting box, I have doubts the mantra is working. I am compelled to yell. “Be a good mother! I will if you will.”
But, the truth is, I will, even if she won’t. I hope our new bunnies survive, but I am prepared to tenderly wipe away my daughter’s tears if they don’t. That is what being a good mother is all about after all, facing the difficult tasks of parenting, the awkward or uncomfortable things, even when you dread it.
I do not need a mantra to remember it.