I am embarrassed. I came down rather hard on this subject. Living so closely with so many cats, and observing them very closely, I guess I get pretty involved with their personal and private lives. Perhaps it is guilt for all the years I actually believed the research and the scientific interpretations of their behavior. Until very recently, a vet or animal researcher who ascribed analytical thinking or human-like emotions to so-called lower-animals was considered nuts. As a result, I totally mishandled all my pets. At the same time, it was popular to ascibe all human behavior to environmental influences rather than instincts or interitance (the extent of genetic influences, except when breeding for physical characteristics, was not yet suspected). All though my lifetime, these opinions have raged. It all seems a little silly now. Many behavioral patterns can now be identified in humans by a specific gene, and many neuroses and emotionally-linked physical and behavioral problems can be traced to environmental influences as well. But twin studies have, I hope, once and for all settled the stupid argument of EITHER evironment OR inheritance.
Perhaps we are finally entering the age of the golden mean, which recognizes the influence of BOTH environment and genetics -- at least in our handling of humans. There is still a lot of nonsense about "animals" being driven mainly by "instinct" -- which is another way of saying that they are hardwired along rigid patterns of behavior and can only be "modified" by various kinds of behavioral training incorporating rewards and punishments in appropriate doses.
-- conveniently forgetting that humans also belong to the animal kingdom, and are now being found to have a fair amount of hardwiring, as well, and there is an entire school of behavioral psychology to cure the emotionally deviant (autistics, among other misunderstood people) humans.
With such large numbers of animals actually in-house, I have finally learned a truth about them. They are as individual and prone to joy and sadness and both temporary and apparently permanent neuroses as any bunch of humans I have ever known. There are male cats who habitually rush around trying to murder newborn kittens, who pick vicious fights with other cats -- not just because they have an over-abundance of testosterone, but simply because they seem to hate all of their own kind. And then there are full tomcats who develop passions for one or several females and stick close to them both in and out of season, and who never pick fights with any other cat, only reluctantly (like the western cowboy heros of old) defend themselves and their particular females.
The emotional attachments, alienation, sensitivity, callousness, irrational hatreds and fears, timidity, love, loyalty, and self-centeredness often transcends what we might expect from the basic hardwiring of the typical cat.
In short, they are often disturbed or pleased by many of the same kinds of things the human animals are, and while some can manage a lot of trauma and come out pretty balanced, there are others who take their bad experiences and never quite recover from them.
Add to this that they live in an autistic world among humans, as we do when we enter into their world. We don't speak the same language. We learn very basic sounds and behaviors, learn to identify certain kinds of body language (often, sadly, misinterpreted by one or both sides). The interface between us is fraught with misunderstanding, misconcneptions, historical myths, flawed scientific research, and unrealistic expectations. The same bundle of problems that, to one degree or another, bedevil well-meaning people when they decide to foster children who have problems or who are certifiably emotionally disturbed. We essentially foster, and hope to adopt, animals that we can't really communicate with directly. This means lots and lots of effort and observation, if we are going to do a good job of it, and it means always approaching any situation as if it has been "given" that all parties have the best of intentions, instead of anticipating that some of our pets are somehow wicked, sly, stupid, or willful.
Most people don't recognize that any animal, human or other, responds to trauma and to its opposites -- love, security, certainty -- in much the same way, moderated only by their life-experience and to certain genetic imperatives. In psychology, the experts are always talking about the "self" and the "other." It is really the same thing And our inability to recognize the importance of the combination of genetics and personal history in any relationship is why the Irish and the English, the Israelis and Arabs, the Serbs and the Albanians, can't reconcile differences. And why cats and dogs, and humans and dogs, and humans and cats often just choose to live within a single household in an atmosphere where everyone agrees to ignore the other except during certain mutually accepted activities.
Sasha has had a great deal of trauma, and she reacts by alternately loving and rejecting her kititens and alternately submitting to love and petting and then suddenly clawing or fighting. She is therefore disfunctional -- one hopes temporarily. She requires careful therapeutic care. She requires more one-on-one care than a less emotionally damaged cat, but she is caught within a normal household, where family members have active and interactive lives, and don't really have the time or patience to spend with her -- especially when there are other dependent animals in need as well (-- the kittens). In my own household, I live alone, my work is at home, so I am rarely gone, and I can take off from my work whenever I am needed to resolve a dispute or soothe sudden bursts of fear or temper. Every day I manage to spend twenty or more minutes with each animal separately, or sometimes with several at a time -- quality time that they can depend upon. In normal households, this is impossible. It is like the mother who has a number of relatives of various ages living in her house, as well as her husband and 14 children from the newborn twins to the kids in high school. If the mother also has an outside job and her quality mothering time is reduced to one or two hours a day, if that, lots of things slip through the emotional slats.
My urging you to find a home for the kittens is based on this kind of scenario. You are probably still in school, the rest of your family doesn't seem all that keen to try to deal with a neurotic cat -- and let's face it, it isn't a picnic to be scratched -- and Sasha has to deal, in her state of mind and physical hurts, with two demanding kids that want to nurse. The situation requires some rearrangement so everyone can have their quality togetherness and also their quality repose. With Sasha in so fragile an emotional state, it would be best if her rapidly growing kids could be cared for elsewhere -- good for them as well as for her. If that is impossible, then you have to rethink how to reorganize the household and your own time to give Sasha the emotional security and care she needs and still give the quality of love and cuddling to the kittens. When you achieve a breakthrough with such a pet -- much as when you see someone regain their health because of your time and attention -- the emotional reward is huge. But sometimes it takes a while to get to the good part.
So all of that is at the root of my flying off the emotional precipice. Like I say, I reread what I wrote and I think perhaps I was so worried for your Sasha, that I forgot about the people involved. If I offended, Michelle, I apologize.
I really wish you and yours the patience to see this rough patch through to a happy conclusion.
And dear Lotsocats -- I have not heard of using St. John's Wort for cats, but I should think that a powder mixed with a nice, strong-smelling canned cat food would have the same effect as liquid. What kind of dosage were you thinking? Any healthfood store has the capsules...
Do cats respond to valerian drops? So many things (example -- aspirin) that people take are just plain bad for cats... Personally, when my cats are miserable, I put a basket near the bed and sing to them like I would a fretful child. Or, if they are agreeable, take them up on my lap (being careful not to restraint them or pester them with a lot of petting), and talk silly nonsence to them off an on in baby-talk tones. Unless they are being totally berzerk, this seems to be good. Mostly, when they fly off the handle or start crying for attention, they just need some tender-loving singling out in a quiet place. Several of my cats calm down if I am watching National Geographic -- they love to watch monkeys, in particular, and similar types of animals. Other cats get agitated and nervous -- especially if the animals on the TV suddenly charge the camera as if they are going to leap out into the room...
Each cat responds to different kinds of things when they need soothing...
If Michelle can find what Sasha responds to, then she will have a way of soothing her fear and uncertainty.