Then You’re Doing it Wrong
Nearly 31 weeks pregnant with two babies determined to punch and kick their way out, I find myself perched precariously on an ant covered log in a saturated pasture, sick baby goat sprawled weakly across my lap. After three weeks (yes, really) of nearly non-stop rain, the sun broke briefly, just long enough to steam and simmer the rain-battered cow patties, the branches of trees stooping with moisture. Heavy pregnant, barely able to stand up without help, surrounded by the stink of rain rot and spring, in humidity hovering above 200% – I attempt to triage a goat.
It’s in these moments of deep ridiculousness that the same thought tugs quietly somewhere at the edges of my consciousness: “I’d rather be in an office.”
And at that moment I really did want the sterile confines of an 8-5 job, where the dirtiest part of the day is the walk from the parking garage to the office building, side stepping puddles in adorable leather shoes. I wallowed momentarily in that shallow pool of regret and uncertainty before heaving myself upright, adjusting the kid draped in my arms, un-suctioning my boots firmly planted in the mud/shit/water mixture that now constitutes the entirety of our farm, and walked towards the house. It’s been one of those seasons.
Actually, the season has been relatively kind to me, considering the potential for disaster. All four pregnant does kidded before the monsoons started and despite a large number of multiple births (One set of triplets and TWO sets of quadruplets!), absolutely none needed assistance. In fact, the last goat due this spring was Pearlsnaps, the girl who infamously required a late night intervention last year from my farmer-hero-friend, Fran. From Pearl, I expected the very worst, that we would end this season with a bang, but instead, she delivered four girls quietly in a stand of trees in the woods where I found them freshly born, bewildered, perfect. Hey Universe! I owe you one.
However, since then, things have moved downhill ever so slightly in a very par-for-the-course sort of way that is to be expected when you combine the third trimester of a twin pregnancy with torrential rain, spring parasites in a goat herd, unwieldy/nearly carnivorous bottle babies, and now what appears to be the side effect of a bad disbudding job – the task I abhor most on this farm. The knowledge that I may be the cause of a baby’s pain, trauma, eventual death? It is more than I want to bear right now. It is more than I signed up for, maybe. Maybe not.
Last night we discovered that one of Pearl’s babies was showing signs of brain swelling, a potential side effect of disbudding, and in my attempts to counteract the swelling I hydrated the frail body then injected her with a cortisone shot to reduce swelling, the sort of tougher shot that must go in the muscle. The kind that stings. After three solid weeks of rain, I have learned to steel myself against the increasing barn funk, the constant need to lay fresh bedding, clean bowls with extra care, to resist the urge to scream when tiny goats use mud and feces covered hooves to bounce off my body in the excitement of receiving a bottle, to crouch over 44 crap-encrusted hooves for manicures. But the wailing cries from an already sick baby, whose illness I caused, it was too much. Enough to break my tired, sleepless body. So I fell over her inside the pasture, let my herd of overly friendly goats tug at my hair and clothes, let my knees sink into inches of mud and muck, and I sobbed. And I sobbed. Until Jeremy pulled me away – from the herd, from the barn, out into the drizzle that is constant. Into the rain that wreaks havoc but also washes some things clean. And he told me to breathe steady. Reminded me that this is a piece of the life we’ve chosen. Feeling the hard parts less intensely means I’d be doing it wrong.
So that’s what I muttered today the moment after I wished for my old office, white walls, fluorescent lights, the click of keyboards. Smeared with undefined brown muck, splattered in souring milk, bathed in my own sweat – I spit out those words that tasted like bile in my mouth. Any other way and I’d be doing it wrong – said half-heartedly, at first. Then again, a mantra among the livestock, anointed with dirt and sweat, shutting my eyes against the breeze that was blowing the next storm up towards the farm – the baby shivered. I’m not doing it wrong, I shouted it this time. And the tiny lump in my arms turned up towards me, let out a raspy bleat, a nearly inaudible war cry. I started sobbing again, not like yesterday, not in the body-shuddering way that is useless. Just a little and just enough to remember that if I didn’t cry in those moments, didn’t sink into the primal reality of the situation, didn’t care so much and so big that it feels like my heart might burst – then I’d be doing it wrong. Because that is the persistent truth: If you live this life and love it this hard, then it will sometimes hurt you deeply. And it should. Any other way, and you might just be doing it wrong.