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Sunday, March 2, 2014

To all the little lambs: four legs or two.

I went out to the barn the other night and there was Gracie, my favourite sheep, in the midst of birthing. Her lamb’s head had been born, and she was sitting on it. She kept throwing her weight around in discomfort. Flopping from one side to another, I was afraid she would snap the little one’s neck. His head was already quite swollen. When I put a finger in his mouth, though, he sucked. The reflex was strong.
Gracie is quite tame. In fact she thinks she is a dog; not a sheep. She loves people, and she trusts us. I stroked her nose, told her I was going to help, and she baaa’ed in protest. Then very slowly, I helped the lamb bring one high-heeled shoe out alongside his neck. His tongue lolled out, and his eyes rolled back. He was exhausted. I slowly eased the shoulder out. I felt Gracie react to the change in pressure and she moaned, just as a human would. I stopped for a minute to let her catch her breath. Then, grasping the slick wet leg and wriggling fingers in to find the other foot, I pulled steady as hard as I could, careful not to dislocate the limb from the socket. There was no sliding; he was thick, sturdy and had to be pulled every inch of the way. When I finally lay the new lamb down beside his mother so she could lick him clean, he stretched out over half her length in size.
Twenty-five years ago this week I became a mother for the first time. I was an oblivious twenty-year-old, in big glasses and frizzy hair, reading fashion magazines and waiting for my IV oxytocin to kick in. I don’t go into labour: I have to be induced.
I got out of bed, paced up and down the hall, took a shower, did some squats, and waited. The woman in the next room started hollering and my doctor stuck his head in to ask her to please be quiet as she was “scaring the Hell out of the little one” (me). But she wasn’t. I was just excited. The pains started and I decided it just felt like a really hard workout at the gym. Over which I had absolutely no control.
Once things got rolling, it only took a short time for my daughter to be born. I had forgotten at home my “focal point” item to stare at during breathing exercises, so I fixated on a colourful juicebox of Hawaiian Punch instead. When the nurse tried to move it, I hissed. She put it back, where I could stare at it. And half a dozen pushes later, my baby was born. Just over 8 pounds, she had dark olive skin and hair and I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. She didn’t cry. She just opened her eyes wide, looked around the birthing room, and yawned. The doctor didn’t make it in time to deliver her; she was caught by the nurse who was on duty at the time at the Grace Hospital – who also happened to be a seasoned midwife from Scotland with over 200 births in her experience.
“Oh, this one’s an old soul,” she cooed. “Look at her. She has been here before.”
During feedings, the nurse wheeled a large metal cart with about four shelves of babies on it, down the hall, room to room where they were distributed to their mothers. I listened carefully as the cart came down the hall. Although the crying woke me it didn’t bother me – probably because my baby wasn’t crying. The nurse brought her in to me, laughing. The hot little loaf of bread – just a face emerging from a tightly wrapped blanket roll – had her eyes open wide and she was making fish “o’s” with her mouth. She knew exactly what was coming – milk – and she was probably wondering what all the other babies were screaming about.
That first time she looked at me and really saw me, she had a little smile in her eyes. I saw that little mischevious smile many times over the years, and love seeing it now, twenty-five years later.
Milena has grown into a confident, caring young woman, comfortable in her own skin. That’s all we can hope for in our little lambs, be they four-legged or two.

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