Ask me in a week
I’ve stopped and started this sentence at least five times for more than a week. Do I relay this story with humor? Do I give facts and advice? Do I keep out the gory bits? No matter how I spin this one – it weighs heavy.
Jolene never really did, actually, go into labor. The last time I wrote I was in a deep layer of worry that made me belligerent and fidgety to those around me. I had read too much, maybe, about worst case scenarios – was positive she’d be one – and was anxious to get on with it already. From the time I last wrote until the following Tuesday – a span of five days – Jolene’s behavior declined steadily. It started with a faint moaning she let out with every breath. Then a slow walking that deteriorated to limping. I attributed the pathetic behavior to being uncomfortable carrying triplets (or, lord help us, quads?!) and didn’t allow myself to worry it was something more serious since she never lost her appetite and was perfectly alert for the duration. Her vitals were normal but her physical appearance was just total crap. I was convinced she’d started labor at least three times a day for five days. On Sunday the babies moved so vigorously I expected a tiny hoof to punch straight through her belly and start tap dancing on the ground at any moment. She rolled her eyes and wheezed, looked back towards her belly and moaned. Shifted her weight. Struggled to stand, fell in a heap instead. I ruled out toxemia because she still walked, wasn’t lethargic and had that sneaky appetite that kept fooling me into the belief that all was probably ok. I chalked my worry up to my historically hysterical personality and waited. I waited until Tuesday morning.
After showering and getting ready for a day in the office, I went outside to check the animals and found Jolene was nearly paralyzed in her hind legs. They were useless as jello and dragged behind her in a way that caused my already nervous stomach to quiver with a sick, cold feeling. Something was horribly awry and, although she still was hungry and alert, I knew the situation had gone out of my hands sometime in the night. I ran inside and used Google to find the number of the clinic I always planned to call for an emergency. Just as I started a conversation with a vet, the phone turned off. I called back. It turned off again two sentences into the call. It never turned on again. I frantically emailed my mother. Please, I wrote, would you call the vet, would you tell them what’s happening, would you make them fix her?? I banged my fingers down into the keys as I typed, so angry at this turn of events and the broken phone and all of my poorly formed decisions that led to this moment standing in the kitchen, begging for help, only half ready for a day in the office that suddenly seemed so small and stupid in comparison to the little goat who lay moaning and wheezing in the pasture. I told my boss I wasn’t coming in, that my goat was sick. I knew how that explanation would be received, and I boldly did not give a damn. Others might polish their degrees, hone their job titles at shmoozy conferences, shake hands with certain folks just to say they did. Well, I’ve got my goats. It takes an emergency for some truths to crystallize. In that moment, sitting in a heap on the kitchen floor, broken phone thrown at the wall, laptop perched in my lap, dirty kleenex strewn at my feet, it was tangibly evident what matters most to me.
The vet arrived with her assistant and the three of us tromped out to the pasture where Jolene cried softly and watched us warily. The poor girl was poked and prodded, tested for paralysis. She was propped up – fell over. After a five minute exam, the vet stood back and peeled off her latex gloves, wiped her brow. “You’ve got two choices,” she said carefully, “we give her a few energy boosters and wait. She won’t deliver without major assistance and, no offense, but I don’t think you can do it alone. Or we take her in right now and get these babies out. Honestly – I doubt she’ll survive this without a c-section.”
Without thinking – I laughed. Because, honestly, a goat c-section sounds ridiculous. Also, considering the breadth and depth of reading I’d done on the subject of goat birth, surgery was never an option. But as it turns out, this is a fairly routine and relatively affordable procedure that can be done with minimal risk. I asked approximately seven questions pertaining to after care, survival rates, nursing ability. Then I told the vet to take her and do the surgery today. We agreed it was best. After running inside to grab an old blanket, we hoisted her into a sling and carried her out of the pasture slowly, stopping to rest three times before we lifted her into the truck. Jolene, the Nubian princess, perched regally throughout the ordeal, one slender leg dangled from the front of the blanket, her delicate face turning to survey the situation. A caprine Cleopatra tolerating her fate. Willy trotted backwards in front of us, crying out in a shrill voice I’ve never heard before. He licked her face before we pushed him away from the gate. I swallowed a sob. It was all perfectly dramatic and textbook worst case scenario. The truck drove away just as my mother drove up. I cried for 15 minutes. Then we waited.
The vet called at 5pm to announce that Jolene had lived. One of her babies had not. The other two little boys were doing fine. We could bring them all home the next day. She noted that the problem was likely due to a most unusual development of the babies. All triplets apparently develop predictably: one baby grows in one side of the uterus and the other two share the other side. My poor Jolene grew all three in one side causing the uterus to stretch and overcompensate in a way that would have made normal birth impossible and likely caused the terrible pressure and paralysis at the end. The vet had never seen, heard, or read about this situation. Of course – the scientific anomaly happened to my animal. Of course. There are, obviously, many questions to ask and much research to conduct before we breed her again – if that time ever comes.
Right now, our farm has baby goats again and their voices sound like tiny bells ringing out from the forest. Despite their small, weak start, they have grown in one week and are showing signs of two distinct personalities with a strong penchant for head butting and log jumping. It’s a completely different situation from the back porch bottle-feeding experience of last spring, and watching them run through the trees after the big goats is absolute, pure joy. They care very little about me, since I’m not food, and that will make it easier to part with them when that time comes (DON’T WORRY JEREMY – they’re not staying).
Well, they’re not both staying. Little Sergio here has already claimed a tiny corner of my heart.
Pearlsnaps is due this week and showing steady signs of kidding, although she hasn’t slowed down one bit, a stark contrast to Jolene’s rapid decline at the end. This means, I hope (I hope), things will be more normal for her. Less worst case. There’s a lot more to say probably about the entire experience, but I’m not ready to get all poetic and introspective about it just yet. On the day that Jolene finally showed signs of recovery and was able to stand on her own so that the babies could nurse normally – just on that day – I lost my precious little dog LuLu, who has been a constant companion for 14 years. There’s a lot more to say about that, too. With both Jeremy and my mother now out of the country for over a week, I’m out here alone, eyeing Pearl with suspicion, drinking some wine, pacing the porches, looking at Lu’s grave just out the kitchen window, realizing that I am scarred already from this place. There’s not much middle ground in the country, or in loving these things so fiercely, like I do. But it hasn’t scared me yet. Some people jump from planes to test their guts and gain a little buzz from the reminder that they are, in fact, alive. I prefer this version of measuring my own piss and vinegar. I guess I’ve got more in there then I realized. I guess I’m still happier now than I’ve ever been before.
This is not for the faint of heart. This week I watched a vet chop a placenta in half and toss it on the ground, the other piece still protruding from the goat. I administered numerous shots, drenched a goat repeatedly, washed babies, washed bottoms, and washed my hands (a lot). Almost everyone else I know slept peacefully on those cold nights I sat with a goat’s head in my lap, counting stars at 3am, praying to whatever listens that this too would pass. Yesterday I read this quote in the new homesteader magazine, From Scratch: “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” – Meister Eckhart. Then I whispered, sign me up for beginning again and again and again.