I didn’t even learn to shift until I was thirteen. It was painful, and Grandmother said it would likely always be difficult for me because my mother was foolish enough to get involved with a non-shifter.
When I was sixteen, I found my shape: a small house cat. In general cats had always been my favorite animal, and now I understood why. Against typical shifter logic, however, it was easier for me to take a small cat form than a large cat form.
My last shift, I was met by a terrifying pain. It felt as if my insides were exploding until I was left in a ball on the floor, clutching my stomach in pain. Even my first shift had not been as painful as that. Something was wrong.
My mother had disappeared when I was a baby, and Grandmother had died two years ago, so I had no one to turn to. I wracked my brain for some bit of wisdom that might tell me what was wrong with me. I was afraid to try to shift, and I certainly couldn’t go to a doctor.
Then I remembered Grandmother’s stories. When my mother was pregnant with me she had trouble shifting. I couldn’t shift with her, so the smaller the form she took the less room there was for me and the more painful it was for her to shift.
It couldn’t be… But I had no other possible explanation.
I tried to shift into a tiger. It was still more difficult than usual, but not as painful as shifting to house cat form.
I didn’t even know I’d called the midwife until I heard the voice on her machine. I rambled into her voicemail.
“Hi, Ms. Bujeau. I’m sorry to bother you – it’s not like I can get pregnant anyway, so I don’t know why I’m calling, but it’s the only thing that even remotely makes sense – not that any of this makes sense… I’m sure I won’t really need your services, but I could at least use somebody to talk to about this and I don’t know who else to call…”
Life as a shifter had taught me, like so many in this town, not to trust doctors or the medical field, but I’d heard that this woman was different. She was more artist than scientist, and didn’t care half so much about what piece of paper she could pin on her wall as she did about taking care of the women who came to her. At least she could be trusted, even if she couldn’t help me.
I paced from living room to kitchen and back, and stalked to my bedroom to examine myself again in the full-length mirror as I waited for the midwife to return my call. This couldn’t be happening.
I jumped and then laughed at the sound of my phone ringing. Before it could ring a second time I answered it. “Hello?”
“Hello. This is Eula Bujeau. I got a voice mail message from this number about an hour ago and am returning the call.”
I laughed tensely. I was such a mess I hadn’t even told Eula my name or phone number when I left her a message.
“Let’s try some introductions. Nice and easy. I’m Eula. Can I ask your name, hon?”
Despite, or perhaps because of the calmness in Eula’s voice, I burst into tears.
“It’s going to be all right, let it all out… We’ll get you taken care of, mama…” Eula crooned softly.
“‘Mama’?” I nearly howled and began sobbing harder. If only she knew. “I’m… not… a… mama…” I barely managed to get the words out between sobs. I heard her saying something about me mishearing – did I imagine it? Sucking in a deep breath I tried to stop myself from crying.
When I calmed down enough to tell Ms.– Eula my name and where I lived, she arranged to meet me in half an hour at my home.
Normally, I wouldn’t meet people in my home unless I knew them well, but as emotional as I was, I would be lucky to find the concentration or desire to dress before Eula arrived, never mind even entertaining the thought of leaving my house.
I pulled on a camisole and lounge pants just before I heard a knock at the door. “Come in.” I called as I grabbed a sweatshirt from the bed. I didn’t really want it; clothes were such a hassle, but I figured I would seem lunatic enough without being seen nude.
By the time I’d walked down the hallway from my bedroom Eula had found my kitchen and was putting a tea kettle on the stove. She looked up when she heard me. “Sit down, dear. We’ll talk when this is finished brewing.”
I should have been the one kindly offering invitations to her, but I had no energy to argue. I plopped into the kitchen chair and waited for her to join me with two steaming mugs of a strange smelling tea.
“Now…” Eula sat down across from me, “tell me your story.”
Eula listened patiently as I let the whole story come spilling out – what I knew of my parents, the things Grandmother had taught me, what I heard about my mother’s pregnancy, what I experienced the last time I tried to shift, and how I couldn’t possibly really be pregnant because half-breeds can never have children.
Eula smiled and patted my hand. “Midwives rarely say ‘can’t’ and I don’t see any reason to start now.”
I looked up. Everybody who had ever mattered in my life had told me I couldn’t have kids, and here I was sitting across from a midwife, with out-of-state credentials, who inexplicably ended up in this town, and she was telling me I could be pregnant.
The home pregnancy test Eula offered me confirmed that what I’d always believed to be impossible was obviously very possible.
During the coming months Eula kept tabs on how my pregnancy was progressing. Due to the pain it caused me, and the stress it most likely put on the baby, we determined it would be best if I avoided shifting while pregnant. It felt unnatural for me to keep my human form for such a long stretch of time. Occasionally shifting to a tiger or other large cat seemed tolerable for both of us, but, not wanting to put my baby at risk, I even tried to avoid that.
At my six month check up Eula assured me my baby was healthy and the pregnancy was going well, but a month and a half later things got more complicated. I wasn’t even thinking about shifting when I felt an exploding pain inside me. I wanted to shift to try to escape, but I was certain that would make it worse. I was sure something was wrong with my baby and called Eula in a panic.
Within twenty minutes Eula was sitting across from me in my kitchen again. This time I had tea ready when she arrived but my stomach rebelled when I tried to drink it. I resisted the urge to strip naked as I explained what was going on.
Much like the first time I tried to shift while pregnant, it felt as though my insides were on fire. I could still feel my baby moving inside me, but something felt very wrong, and the way she was moving felt strange and foreign to my body. My only thought was to protect my baby.
“May I?” Eula held a hand out towards my belly, questioning if she could touch me.
I nodded, taking her hand and drawing it towards where I felt the most movement inside me.
As she examined my belly, Eula spoke calmly “When is the last time you tried to shift?”
“Not for weeks. I haven’t even thought about it for days.”
Eula nodded. “But now you have a strong urge to shift?”
I nodded, watching Eula’s hands move gently but firmly over my stomach.
“Is there a particular animal you feel the need to shift to?”
“A… tiger.” The urge was strong and unusually distinct.
“I think you should try shifting to a tiger then.” Eula’s suggestion came as a surprise.
“Will my baby be okay?”
“I can’t promise how things will turn out, especially when dealing with unfamiliar biology, but it seems this discomfort occurs when you take one form and your baby takes another. It appears your baby may have shifted without you.”
Eula had barely finished her sentence before I was stripping out of my clothes, exhaling my human form, and with a single deep breath taking on the form of the giant cat my baby had apparently chosen for the two of us. I let out a sigh of relief as our bodies fell into sync with each other.
Now what? I wondered, as I looked at Eula, no longer knowing how to communicate with her, but feeling much better.
“You seem calmer and less agitated now. Are you more comfortable?” Eula was apparently good at reading body signals, even those of the cat variety.
I moved my head up and down in a clumsy feline impression of a human nod.
“I think I better call Agda. She’s the very best, and the most trust-worthy veterinarian Gap could ask for. Looks like I’m gonna need her expertise on this one after all.” Eula winked at me and scratched my ears as she took her phone out of her bag.