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  • Reyna Bradford

Finale (Written 5/29/21)

Something was wrong.


I stood there in the middle of her pen, one elbow propped on the fence, anxiously plucking at the towel I had slung across the top rail. Behind me, Mogen made mommy sounds, the kind of conversational goat chatter that new moms offer their new babies. Except there were no new babies.


My towels had gone unused, my stomach was in knots, and hours had gone by since this whole process had begun.


Mogen (rhymes with Logan) -- a strapping, red-roan yearling -- had gone into labor around noon. As soon as I found her holed up in the corner of the barn, I closed the gate, grabbed an armful of towels, and heaved a sincere sigh of relief. At last. In fact, the last. The last doe to pop the last kids of the year. Thank goodness.


It had been a long haul with some definite ups and downs. I was emotionally wrung out and physically exhausted. And the fact that we were already late into May (when my kids have traditionally arrived by early April) was yet another downer. I was ready to be done with this birth and baby thing.


So I squared my shoulders, gave myself a mental pep talk, and told Mogen to get the show on the road.


And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more.


At first it looked like all systems were go. Labor seemed to be progressing normally. As a yearling, it was Mogen's first time, and often that means things take a bit longer. No reason to worry.


Still, by about quarter till 3, I was worried. No babies born, and contractions had stopped. After laboring hard for a few minutes, all she had done was to push out a bunch of water. Not right. Not good.


I gritted my teeth as she paced around the pen in a methodical, clockwise circle, occasionally pausing to maternally lick the floor, the fence, my pants, or whatever else took her fancy. After all the grunting and straining, and after voiding all that fluid, there should have at least been baby, front feet visible. And there should definitely have been contractions. And there was nothing.


How long was too long? In the eight years that I've raised dairy goats, I had never seen anything weird like this. A feeling of dull dread was seeping into my consciousness. I was pretty sure what needed to come next, and I was not excited about it.


I went to the house, scrubbed my hands and arms, and snatched the petroleum jelly from the medicine drawer. Back to the barn, snapping a short tether to Mogen's collar, prying open the little, rectangular container of jelly. And with a sinking sensation, liberally smearing its contents all over my right arm and hand. Then, I got down on my knees behind the reluctant mama, and went to work.


As soon as I reached in, she began to push. Drawing on everything I had ever learned from studious readings of James Herriot, I felt my way forward between her rapid contractions. In up to my forearm, I found the first kid waiting for me, one front leg and its small head stretched out as they should be, but with the other foreleg tucked way back underneath the baby's belly. Not too tricky, but carefully, carefully, as I untucked and straightened that leg, caught hold of both slippery ankles, and pulled that kid into the world with Mogen pushing for all she was worth.


Baby no. 1 scooped up, rubbed down, and confirmed as a little girl. She was holding her head up, looking around, and starting to talk as newborn goats are supposed to do.


But over in the other pen, Mogen had once again quit pushing. We were back to square 1.


This time, I had to reach in up to my elbow before finding the second kid. And this time, things weren't going to be so easy.


The front legs were there, stretched forward in the classic diving position. But beyond that, all I could brush my fingers against was broad, elusive chest. The kid was coming with its head pulled back. Not to one side, but straight back, positioned almost between the shoulder blades. And there was no way in creation it was going to be born in that position.


I latched onto the slimy front feet and hauled the kid toward me. Mogen screamed. My sense of dread was giving ground to an overpowering and desperate determination. That kid had to come out. Period, and end of discussion. Mogen was totally incapable of doing it on her own. It was up to me to pull the head forward and bring this baby into the world.

Dead or alive I didn't know, but it was coming out.


I reached, just barely felt the tiny muzzle, and slalomed in the slippery, hot blackness. Another world, it seemed. The muzzle moved away from me. Mogen was really straining.


I don't know how many times I tried and failed, and tried again. The minutes blurred. Streaming with sweat, my teeth tight, I wrestled this desperate, fragile battle. But finally, I locked my fingers into the baby's mouth, got a grip on the lower jaw, and pulled. Mogen shrieked and panted, flailing frantically on the floor in front of me. I pulled, steadily, slowly, and the head came forward. Then shifting my grip to those slick front feet, I latched on and leaned back. Mogen gave a last push, and the new baby slid into my lap, lifeless and unresponsive.


I snatched her up and fled with her into the milk room, where her sister was trying to stand on the towels spread across the floor. This baby, though, hung flaccid in my hands. Wet, dead weight. I smacked her hard on both sides as we blundered out of the pen, around the front of the barn, through the door of the milk room. She had to start breathing. No response.


I dropped her on the waiting towel, jerked another towel off the stack, and went to work rubbing.


Her nose and mouth, her face, her ribsy sides, and solid, bony back. Then flip her over and do it again. Please don't let me have lost this baby.


Please. Live, sweet girl, live. Life is hard, but it's good and it's beautiful, and it is so worth it.


And flip her over and keep trying, keep rubbing.


When she began to cough and sneeze and shake her head, I could hardly understand. She was alive. Another towel and some more major elbow grease, and she was lifting her head and peering around her at this harsh, new world into which she had been so violently welcomed. And from there, we went indoors to the nursery pen and the heat lamp, and it was one step forward, and then another. She ate. She stood. She made it through the night, learned to walk, and eagerly demanded food. She was alive.


Wassail and Java were born on May 21. Their progress has been slower than most newborns, but steady. Java, the second-born, has only today begun to run and jump, something that kids normally do on day four or five. So it's been an uphill journey, but she continues to climb, and that's all I care about. And for her part, mama Mogen is totally fine, and the heaviest milk producer of all four yearlings.


What is so extra special about this miracle baby is a back story that happened last October. That was when I sold Lava, a black-and-white doe kid from the previous spring, who I had almost decided to keep, but who ended up being purchased instead. I hated to let her go, since one of my goals has been to add more flashy color to my herd, and Lava's coloring was very distinctive. So when I chose to part with her, I asked God to give me an even better black-and-white doe kid in the spring of 2021, which I could keep and add to the program.


There have indeed been black-and-white kids born this year, but they have all been boys, which of course, I can't use in a dairy herd. Mogen is a brown doe, and Cognac, the sire, is a brown buck. Brown kids were all I expected. So when my mom told me that Java was black-and-white, I did a double take. Then I remembered Lava. And when I realized that her name had been Lava, and then realized that I had unwittingly named this new baby Java. . . well, enough said. The last kid of the year. A black-and-white beauty. My miracle baby.


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