Having now experienced a handful of lamb births, I felt just cocky enough to head out to the latest with camera in hand. Join me? Note: if you’re squeamish about raw, real things like the birthing process….then toughen up – this is good stuff!
It’s Gloria this time. One look at her posture on the far end of the pasture (what alliteration!) tells us immediately that she’s deep in the throes of labor. Shown here, she’s about to push, after which she returns to her feet to walk around, browse for greens to nibble, call out some chatty baas.
I had spied her from the house, looking out the window in their general direction as I’m now in the habit of doing. She had separated herself from the rest of the flock, and when I headed out for a closer look at her tail end, I could see the front hooves and tip of a nose that had emerged. Now, Rookie Midwives, (which I most definitely still am) you might think this “crowning” would mean that lamb is going to come sliding out in the very next push, you might get really excited and hold your breath and try not to blink in fear of missing it all. Nope. Not this time, not last time either, in the case of Garnet. Those creamy white hoof tips and that eerily-purple nose will be all that we’re looking at for the next 45 minutes or so. In the meantime, however, we pause and wonder if maybe we should give the momma some space and head back into the house for some time-killing busy-work. Yes, let’s.
When we come out, 20 or so minutes later, we find that the head is much further out – good progress, Momma! I think this is when we realize that taking some photos is in order, because how many people have witnessed this? Too few, I decide, as I snap away.
The pattern for Gloria remains the same – lay down, push, gain a teeny bit of ground as the head emerges a bit more, stand up, lose a bit of that ground. We decide to get closer, circle her for a better look.
As we snap pictures, we vacillate between pure awe and self-satisfaction for capturing these moments on film and a nagging, ever-growing realization of our profound ignorance – how long can a baby of any kind remain in that half-in, half-out limbo? Still attached to the umbilical cord, breathing shouldn’t be necessary yet, even though the nose is emerged, but look how purple everything is! Scary. But Garnet’s little guy hung out in that very position for a while too, before I got worried and yanked him out. He was fine, of course, and I admonished myself for not letting the momma do her work, which she was clearly capable of. But this time – was it the same? I carefully poked at the very still face.”Hey you – are you ok?” Nothing. I see the tongue hanging out the side of the mouth in that classic cartoon portrayal of death and that was it. Oh shit. Have I just photographed a stillborn lamb? Have we waited too long to intercede? We race now to the doctor’s bag – yes, come with me and help me push this damn goat out of the way. We pull on the shoulder-length gloves and lube up.
Gently, now we will pull. Wait for her contractions; she’ll start pushing again soon. There’s plenty to grab on to now, and just a little tug is necessary to pull the little one out.
We wait with held breaths, waiting for a sign that the little one is alive. And it moves! It wearily shakes its head as if waking up from a long dream. Momma Gloria snaps into gear and begins the lengthy clean-up. Lick, lick, lick. Lambs, we see, are born with a slick coating that Momma instinctively begins cleaning off. The little one opens its eyes and the very first thing is sees is a fuzzy haze of our ape-like staring and the mix of relief and awe on our faces. We let out that breath now, resume our normal breathing patterns.
Each moment finds the little one waking up, gaining strength. Now it begins to lift its head.
And in the very next moment, it begins to lift itself up on its legs. So shaky. Again and again it tries this, and within about five minutes of being born, it’s up on four legs. It’s hard for us to gauge the time, though, suspended as we are in the sublime witness of new life.
Slowly, we emerge from this captivating trance and regain a bit more composure. What kind of lamb do we have here? we wonder and carefully take a peek at its undercarriage. A girl. Ah, sweet ewe. Carefully now, we pick up the now-quite-frisky little one and slowly, slowly, lead Momma into the Sheep Hotel, where the covers have been turned down, the heat is on, and a warm meal awaits. Slowly, we make our way up there, remembering how that very same journey in the spring was a stressful and awkward transition, because we moved too quickly and Momma lost sight of her lamb.
Is there another waiting to be born, we wonder? Peeking back behind Gloria we see the trail of what looks to be the placenta. The red fluid-filled sacs that are slowly emerging now usually signal the end of lambing, so we surmise (correctly) that the little ewe had no roommates in the womb. We help dry her off a bit with the mountain of clean, dry towels tucked into the doctor’s bag and wait eagerly to witness her nursing. She does – gawky at first, trying every little protrusion of wool and skin till she finds the one that fits her mouth perfectly and releases pure warmth into her belly. And we truly relax now. Our work is done, all is well. Everyone is safe and warm and healthy and gaining strength. It’s a good day to start off the week.