Pearl was acting funny yesterday morning. She seemed to be “off her feed” as farm-y people call it, a very literal way to say she wasn’t eating. I watched her dip her face into the food a few times, fake a bite and then let grain sort of dribble out of her mouth before she wandered slowly into the woods. This behavior combined with the fact that her udder had doubled in size the day before made me certain that something was brewing. Jeremy’s mother had already planned a visit in the morning and just as she drove up, I led Pearl from the woods and into the kidding pen. Just in case. With the luck I’ve been having lately, however, I knew there was a good chance nothing would happen and I had been duped again. As always, time would tell.
We sat in the pen with Pearl for over an hour talking. Cheryl perched on the edge of a hay bale, I sat on the ground, leaning against the barn. Chickens crowed, dogs barked, the cow mooed. We talked about public school accountability since we both work in education and care about these sorts of things. It was a welcome distraction from the elephant in the room, which was actually just the little goat lying on her side next to me. By yesterday morning I no longer had the emotional capital necessary for any more drama and was hoping desperately things would go according to all the pictures from my numerous goat books.
Pearl started pushing at 11:45 and by 12:15, one little baby was born – a girl – Bee. She delivered without any help from us and immediately started acting maternal, something that completely shocked me as I always suspected Pearl would abandon her babies. She only barely tolerates me and has never had any use or concern for other goats. For five months I’ve been preparing myself for taking care of Pearl’s rejected babies. Her behavior was, therefore, completely unexpected. After cleaning Bee and helping her stand, it was clear there was another one coming and Pearl laid back down, acting much more strained this time. After a few minutes of inspecting her nether regions we both agreed that what seemed to be emerging was not, in fact, the little hoof and nose that we were expecting. Was that an ear? The side of a head? Please don’t be a tail, I whispered audibly enough that Cheryl responded, “Surely not, that must be an ear.” With one more push, a tail, bottom and two tucked up legs were clearly visible. Pearl jumped to her feet and let out a terrible scream. She started walking away from us, a baby goat’s bottom hanging from her backside. Next to a c-section situation, breech was up there on my list of Top Five Worst Case Scenarios, and I literally heard ringing sounds blare in my head. Without much thought or memory of advice, I grabbed latex gloves and reached in with both hands, sweeping my fingers in to find the legs that were tucked up. I hooked them with a finger and pulled back gently. They easily fell straight out just as Pearl fell back on her side. “Pull it!” Cheryl urged from behind. Pull it? How hard? Would that kill Pearl? Would that kill the baby? Could I just go please take a nap? Who needs a drink?
I suddenly remembered vividly a passage read in a book. Breech babies often have lungs filled with fluid and a greater chance of death if they’re not pulled immediately. That gave me enough courage to grab and pull without further consideration. An enormous baby boy came out and lay still, even after I cleaned his face, nose and mouth. Grabbing his hind legs, I stood up and gently hung him upside down, swinging him side to side, nowhere confident enough to spin in a circle (I’ve seen pictures. It’s very acrobatic). Within seconds he started to cough and wake up. He was breathing. I handed him over to Pearl and she took care of the rest.
We sat in the barn with them for much longer. An hour? 3 hours? I don’t remember. At some point we stumbled inside for iced tea and snacks. By the time Cheryl went home it was already time for evening chores, followed by a quick shower to clean off the afterbirth, smack my face a few times, put on some mascara, blow dry my hair. I had dinner plans. I’d be damned if I was going to miss out on a glass of wine and gossip because of the baby goats. Before driving away, I stopped by the pen one more time to make sure Pearl still understood she was a mother and had not reverted back to her old goat-hating-self. She called out softly to me and stood up, the placenta I’d been waiting to see fell out with a loud and gory, “plop.” Then (do you have a weak stomach?) she began to eat it. I sighed. Heavily. I was wearing a silk tunic, non-farm jeans, nice boots. For the first time in almost a week, I had on lipstick. Sparkly earrings. I needed one night to be clean and well-fed, and the only thing now standing between me and a tiramisu was a pile of placenta. Despite the lack of gloves I stomped into the pasture, through two gates, into the pen, reached down, grabbed the pile, tossed it into a paper bag, disposed of the bag, walked inside, cleaned my hands, applied one more coat of lipstick, brushed my hair, got in the car. I went to dinner. I thought about the goats the entire time. Upon returning, I changed back into farm clothes and sat in the barn with the babies for a full hour before going to bed. I slept very well last night.
I hear from some of you sometimes, but I know there’s even more of you reading. For some, this blog may be little more than easy voyeurism, a keyhole perspective into the strange lives some of us lead. I accept that – I encourage it. Welcome! For others, these stories are a little like unraveling small mysteries – at least that’s how it was for me way back when I started poking around the blogosphere out of morbid curiosity or wanderlust or however you want to frame it. I read those stories looking for a little courage, searching for someone else who looked just like me, who had figured it all out, who had all of the answers and possibly downloadable instructions for how to get from the desk job to the pasture. I’d pay for a set of construction plans to build that life – was it out there in someone else’s story?
The truth is, actually, no, it’s not. If you’re here looking for instructions, I do not have them for you. I hope you come here because you like the stories or the pictures. I hope you come here because you’re curious or weighing your own options, dipping a toe in or diving. I don’t have any answers but can offer more encouragement then could fill the interwebs and can give one piece of advice with absolute certainty: No matter where you are now or where you aim to be, if you’re starting with a chicken or a tomato plant, if you’re shooting for what seems attainable or what feels impossible – be brave. Understand there are no maps for where you’re headed, and go ahead anyway.