Serena’s Seven

It started Sunday late afternoon, at least as best as our research told us. Our little girl was pregnant and starting her labour. Twenty-four hours later, or at least no more than 24 hours later, she was giving birth to her first litter. We expect it to be her only litter, too.

The exact start time of Serena’s labour is mostly a guess, but the evidence points to Sunday April 1, 2007 at approximately 5:30 PM. We, Mrs. Rattitude and I, decided she should have her babies at “home”. We watched her all that evening. We did everything we could to keep her settled and calm. We made sure she had safe areas to choose from for her nest.

After a few hours of watching and waiting it appeared our little girl may have been having her own little April Fool’s joke on us. We were fairly certain she had started labour, but there was virtually no evidence to support that. Back to Google. We found more information that supported our thinking. She was at the end stages of her pregnancy and should start giving birth within 24 hours.

Given that this was our first rat litter as well as Serena’s, we were excited, and nervous, and worried, and … it was quite a tumultuous event. We set up a birthing home on the bed with several nesting sites as well as lots of nesting materials (mostly tissues and shredded paper towels with a few “pot holder” pillows). We left her at free range on the bed for the night.

The free range over-night bed sharing is something I’ve done several times with our rats. Mrs. Rattitude sacrifices her side of the bed; and, it usually leads to virtually no sleep for myself, but I can live with a lost night of sleep to keep watch over one of our little ones. We usually only resort to this arrangement when leaving a rat in their normal habitat doesn’t seem best, this was one of those times.

Serena was fine for the most part. All of our rats live in our bedroom and there was some commotion coming from the boys habitat for a good part of the evening. There was a minor mishap with Inky, he ended up on the floor. I quickly scooped him up, gave him the once over and put him back into the boys habitat, that was around 3:00AM in the morning. I think this may have startled Serena.

She appeared to wake up and start wandering around and behaving much like she normally does during playtime. This went on for a couple of hours. I was drifting in and out of a light sleep when I felt a springing sensation off the bed. I was immediately wide awake. The bedside light was tuned on in an instant. Serena had jumped?!

I found her in less than a minute. She was trying to find her way back up to the girls habitat. She probably would have made it if left to her own devices. Mrs. Rattitude must have heard my search and came to see what was going on. We checked the entire bed for more evidence of the birthing process. We could find nothing to indicate she was in the process of giving birth and decided to let her go back to the girls habitat. Mrs. Rattitude and myself had to go to work on Monday morning.

Serena was fine through the rest of the morning as far as we knew. She was doing well but still no births at lunchtime when I came home from work to check on her. After work I went shopping for more rat food supplies. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a precooked roast chicken for dinner and as an additional high protein food for Serena. When I arrived home I immediately checked on Serena, she was in the middle of giving birth.

Serena was in the lower levels of the cage in the girls habitat. I couldn’t have placed her in a better spot. I really couldn’t see much of what was going on. I caught just a brief glimpse of her with what I imagine was some part of the afterbirth. I could hear tiny little squeaks and chirrups coming from somewhere further inside so I grabbed the nearby flashlight. Careful not to shine the light into Serena’s eyes or bring the light too quickly to bare on the scene I was fortunate to see a little “pinky” before Serena covered it and herself up with some of the nesting materials in the cage. I sat in the room and listened as the squeaks and squeals continued and thought good thoughts. We closed the door to the cage and left Serena and her babies to some privacy and security. Sammy, Serena’s sister, was content to stay in the upper level of the habitat, we were just making sure.

All our research said it was best to leave the new mother be as she was most likely much more capable of taking care of her new litter than what a big clumsy human would be. We also wanted to check, just in case, if there were any concerns that needed to be addressed.

Mrs. Rattitude and I had read a great deal of information on several sites over the last week or so. There are several scenarios that we just did not want to witness. We were not as fortunate as some accounts.

We removed the cage where Serena and her babies were from the girls habitat. We placed the cage on the bed and carefully removed the upper wire section. Mrs. Rattitude then carefully started removing the loose nesting materials to find Serena and her babies. We wanted to at least make a head count.

The following details may be more graphic than some people may want to read … please proceed with this warning in mind, or click on the “Skip Details” link to bypass them.

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As Mrs. Rattitude started to remove the usual nesting materials (an old shirt, tissues, paper towels, fleece pieces, etc.) we found the first one. There was a fully formed rat kitten, dark pink, not moving … stillborn? Next was a head and the upper torso, only. Then, another little pink lifeless body. I went to get some scissors so Mrs. Rattitude could carefully cut away the shirt materials. We could still hear little squeaks so we knew there were live ones in the nest. When I came back Mrs. Rattitude was just discovering two more stillborn(?) babies. Then we found a pink squirming baby rat. I was feeling devastated at the losses and this baby gave me hope. We found another, then another. Then we found a baby fully formed but it’s stomach was missing, bent backwards, showing it’s spine and ribs. A most disturbing scene I will not soon forget. Serena was getting quite agitated as we were carefully searching for more live births. We were still hearing more little squeaks and squeals coming from somewhere in the nest. We found two more little pink squirming babies, both slightly smaller than the first three. We saw that at least two, perhaps three of the babies had “milk bands” indicating they had nursed recently and that gave us more hope for their survival.

We re-arranged the living quarters of the girls to use an aquarium for Serena and her babies. This just wasn’t working, Serena seemed extremely stressed and we were worried she would not tend to her newborns. I quickly went to clean the cage that Serena gave birth in and found another very disturbing sight. What I thought was just simply a large loose stool stuck to the bottom of the cage turned out to be a very small head with perhaps a shoulder, only, grey in colour … Serena’s last baby, number twelve.

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Serena’s Seven. Three not meant for this world. Four did not survive their birth. We did not know them. We will miss them. We commend them to the Rainbow Bridge. May their souls live in peace.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the surviving five

© 2007 – 2008, Mr.Rattitude. All rights reserved.