I sat up in bed. I had just gotten the baby down for the night, which in our house is an event often accompanied by silent fist pumps. So the fact that husband Joe was yelling for me from outside the bedroom window at 9:30 p.m. meant he must be drunk, or something was… not wrong, exactly, because he sounded excited. His voice was an entire register above where it usually is, like a teenage boy’s when it cracks.
It sounded familiar, that voice. I’d heard it once before. When? The memory came to me as I swung out of bed.
I’d been lying in this very spot a year and a half earlier when Joe had squealed in that pitch, so unlike his regular sotto voce: “I see her face!” Those four words had etched themselves into my gray matter, because they meant that that the hardest thing I’d ever done was finally, mercifully, done.
That was what that voice meant this time, too: A baby had just been born.
Joe banged through the screen door giggling and clutching to his jacket a wet, grass-covered, squeaking calf. No – two! Twins.
What a night for it. We were having one of those freak springtime temperature plunges. The precipitation alternated between a cold rain and something that came down slowly but couldn’t quite be called snow.
Joe had pulled into the driveway and, hearing a shrill squeaking, followed the sound to a spot 30 feet from the barn door. There in the wet grass, he found the second and third babies to be born on our farm.
We toweled them off and they fluffed right up, becoming excruciatingly cute. One was all black, a girl. (On a farm, you’re always hoping for girls, since they’re the ones that provide milk and progeny.) And the other, black with a white forelock and a white horseshoe shape on his back, looked just like his handsome dad. A boy.
Tempting as it was to have a full-on photo shoot, the one thing I was sure of was that they needed to get back to their mom. Headlamps on our heads, goat babies on Joe’s chest and human baby on my chest, we trudged through the rain to the barn. On the way out of the house I grabbed our two goat books. I’d been meaning to re-read the chapters on kidding. No time like the present.
But where was Rebeca? She wasn’t in the stall with the others. Of all our goats, she’s the most skittish, and she had plenty of reason to be spooked. She’d never given birth before and didn’t have a doula to explain it all; her babies had just been taken away; and now people were coming with lights on their heads.
I stayed with the babies, emptying a couple bags of paper shreddings into the stall where we had put them. Meanwhile, Joe went to look for Rebeca with a loaf of bread under his arm. He found her outside, near where she’d given birth. One bit of bread at a time, so slowly she hardly realized she was moving forward, he enticed her into the barn. But just when she had set foot into the stall with her babies, she bolted.
While Joe coaxed her back, I did some frantic reading by the light of my headlamp. I’d heard of mama goats rejecting their young. I paged through the kidding section; there was an emergency recipe for making your own colostrum substitute. We had all the ingredients, amazingly, even cod liver oil, but there’s nothing like the real stuff. Only a mother’s thick colostrum contains all the nutrients and antibodies that kids need to thrive. That much I knew.
Here she was again, following Joe’s trail of bread crumbs, afterbirth hanging from her backside. This was the moment of truth. Exhausted from labor and scared by all this activity, would she freak out? Turn tail? I wouldn’t blame her.
This time, she saw her babies in the stall and rushed over to the corner where they were huddled. I gasped: it looked like she was stomping one! Infanticide! But no, she was pulling the paper shreddings away with her hoof, so that they could… yep, the white-forelocked boy pulled himself up on wobbly legs. He almost looked like a baby monkey, his legs were so long compared to his body.
Rebeca licked the other calf, and she, too, rose and started making suckling noises. She was nowhere near the teat – but hey, it was a good sign. I repositioned the baby girl closer to the udder, where she started nibbling Rebeca’s leg hair. She’d get there eventually. Joe smiled at me. I squeezed his wet arm. We settled in to watch.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite now living on a farm upstate and writing about the rural life.
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