Within the space of a couple of hours yesterday, I cradled an unresponsive newborn lamb in my arms, witnessed another take its first breaths on the pasture, and then helped deliver a third, whose left leg was stuck. What a day.
To my surprise, it was Garnet who delivered first. We returned home from an obligatory foray into town to find a cold and unresponsive lamb laying on the ground. I sprang into action, trying everything I could to warm her, hoping that her lack of noticeable breathing was a function of her hypothermia. I kept at it until I was certain that she was gone, which was probably far, far longer than needed. It was a heartbreaking start to my new post as midwife, but a harsh reminder that it’s not all rainbows and spring cliches. I don’t believe the little one ever took a breath. What a shame – she was an otherwise perfect, big ewe.
But there was no time to dwell on the sadness. My apprentice midwife, a 5-yr-old prodigy, came running in to tell me that Sylvia had just had a lamb. I went barreling out, paranoid now, and vigorously helped her dry the lamb for a moment or two before guiding them both into a draft-free enclosure. Sylvia was an ace first-time mother, doing all the right things. Like any babies, lambs are born rather wet and a good ewe mother spends the first several minutes carefully cleaning off the newborn. Those are the critical moments – lambs are surprisingly resilient to cold temperature, but only after they’ve dried off and filled their bellies with warm milk. And then came the triumph known by mothers of multiples everywhere – in the middle of tending to her newborn lamb, she began laboring again. Carefully, carefully she jockeyed around, trying to adjust her position to ease the second little one out, ever careful not to lay on the first. I stepped in to see what was happening, still paranoid and a bit shaken by the rough start so far. A head! A lamb head had emerged! And was stuck. Sylvia lay down, but the head emerged no further. What happens to a partially-emerged lamb when the mama sits down? I was asking myself OHNOIT’SSTUCK! And I sprang into action. No time for the fancy shoulder-length gloves, no time for the mildly-disinfectant lube, no time for a breath. I carefully reached inside, felt the one leg positioned right where it should be, and then the other….where was it? Will sort that out later. I grabbed the lamb by the armpits as best as I could and gently tugged. And tugged again. And tugged again. And out slid a beautiful ram lamb, alert and taking breaths and perfect. There’s no doubt now that there actually was ample time for gloves, for lube, though it wasn’t needed, but clear-headed hindsight is a spiteful nag.
Sylvia is the proud mother of twins – a beautiful ewe and ram. I’m so proud of her – she is such a fantastic mother, which sounds so patronizing and ridiculous for me to say. She likely knows so much better than I what she’s doing; I’m just a pesky fly buzzing around her, forcing the babes onto her swollen teats and hovering about like nervous grandmother. But they know what they’re doing – all three. And they’re doing it beautifully.
My heart goes out to Garnet, who I think sees me as the horrible thing that stole her baby. She’s been calling out for her all night long and it breaks my heart. Poor Garnet. I wish it would have turned out differently for you.