Birth on the Farm

This week I watched my goats give birth to their first kids. 

They were my first farm births.  I grew up far removed from my animal products: milk, eggs, and meat came in cartons.  When my husband and I got married, we talked about how wonderful it would be to live more naturally and produce more of our own food.  For years and years it was just a dream. 

Two years ago we were able to buy two acres in Oklahoma, complete with a fenced pasture and a stable.  And now that the dream was falling into my hands I realized I had no idea how to care for farm animals. They were a big investment and responsibility– what if we messed up?

Chickens came first, and I remember how nervous I was the first few days with them: when should we lock them up at night and what would happen if we didn’t let them out right away in the morning?  Were we giving them enough food?  What should we do when it rained? 

Well, the chickens survived just fine and we figured things out.  And we love our chickens. 

Then came the goats and again, once I got over the initial worries of whether or not we were inadvertently going to kill them I was completely delighted by how much fun they were. 

This week it was time for our goats to give birth for the first time.  I didn’t think I would see it happen.  I figured they would do it in the middle of the night.  But one evening recently, while I was working in the garden, my son came up to me and said, “Mom, I think Annabelle’s in labor.” 

Well, labor is something I do know about.  I have done it five times without drugs.  I went to go check on Annabelle.  She was laying down and she had been methodically pawing the ground. 

I thought to myself, “I know that pain management technique!” I remembered rubbing my hands against things to provide a distracting sensation to take my focus off the contractions. 

I immediately felt this female kinship with her.  I had been through this and I knew how it felt.  It all came back to me quite clearly.  I wanted to help her.  I wanted to be a goat doula. I wanted to rub her back and find her pressure points and make things easier for her. 

But I knew what she really wanted was to be left alone.  So I just sat there and watched.  Though I must admit that sometimes I whispered encouragement to her: “You’re doing great, Annabelle.  You’re going to be a mommy soon.” Annabelle herself didn’t make a sound.  She seemed very calm and relaxed through the whole thing, even though I could tell she was in pain. 

The birth happened smoothly.  It was beautiful.  One thing that surprised me was that as soon as the little nose presented I could see it twitching and wiggling, even though the baby was still covered by the amniotic sac. 

Her pushing stage was just like a human’s: two or three pushes and then a rest.  Once the front shoulders were out, the rest of the kid came quickly.  And then I got to watch as Mom discovered her first baby and began licking it dry and clean. Oh, how well I remembered!

I know that this experience is very commonplace for farmers (and indeed most people who have ever lived throughout history) and after I’ve been through it a few times with my farm animals I won’t get nearly so worked up over it.  But I hope I’ll never forget this first time when I saw it through fresh eyes. 

The thing that struck me the most was the firsthand realization of how natural a process birth is.  Our bodies know what to do.  If we can stay calm and relaxed, most of the time things will be just fine.  There are definitely exceptions both with goats and with humans, and at that point a skilled birth attendant will save lives.  But for the most part we need to stay relaxed and trust the beautiful, natural process of birth. 

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