Our Nubian doe, Skittles, did so well with her very first kidding two years ago that I just assumed the second kidding would be even easier. After all, her first labor only lasted about 5 hours and she seemed to push her two mini-Nubian babies out almost effortlessly. I figured the second time around would be a breeze. But this time we had bred her to a full-sized Nubian and she was big as a house in the weeks leading up to her due date. I couldn’t imagine how she could get any fatter and she seemed to have trouble just walking from her paddock to the nearby pasture during those last few weeks. Then there were all the false starts in the days before the birth. I thought for sure she was in labor at least 3 or 4 times, but each time she’d show signs of labor for an hour or so, and then everything would stop. I lost a lot of sleep checking on her in the night, sitting with her while she apparently labored, and then going back to bed two hours later when nothing was happening. I even bought a new baby monitor (the one I used when my own babies were small had long ago been sold at a garage sale), so that I could listen from the comfort and warmth of my own bed.
Two days after her official due date of May 27th, with the girls out of school for the summer and both having friends sleeping over, it looked like she might finally be ready. I checked on her as the girls were getting ready for bed and she was once again doing the labor dance: paw at the ground, lay down, circle around, get up, change sides, and do it all again. I was sure this was it so with the girls in their pajamas and the camera at the ready, we settled in on blankets covering hay bales and watched and waited. It was fun and exciting for the first hour or so, but eventually everyone got too sleepy and decided to go to bed, with the promise from me that I’d come get them when the babies were arriving. Again, I checked in on her during the night, but nothing.
I went to bed and had vivid dreams about Skittles and her labor. At one point I clearly dreamed that when I checked on her in the morning, a baby was just coming out and I had to run up to the house to get the girls. As often happens in dreams, my legs felt like they were mired in quick sand and I couldn’t get up to the house to alert the others. When I finally managed to tell them and got back to the barn, the babies were already there. To say I had a restless night of sleep that night would be an understatement, but of course, Skittles wasn’t having it much easier.
Around 5:00 am the next morning, when I got up to go feed the horses, I glanced in Skittles’ stall assuming I’d see her there snoozing (it was all very quiet). Much to my surprise, she was crouching low and I could see the amniotic sac beginning to emerge – just like in my dream! Fortunately my legs seemed to be working just fine, as were my lungs, and I ran to the house and hollered for everyone to come quick. Back to the barn in a flash, I got there just in time to see the first little kid slither out onto the straw-lined floor of the birthing stall. It was a tiny little black doeling, with long powdered-doughnut ears – adorable! Everyone was there by now marveling at the little cutie, and I figured the next one would be here any minute. But again, she proved me wrong and we waited and waited for another 45 minutes with no progress. I started to get concerned and decided to call my goat advisor, Melanie. When she answered the phone I said, “Skittles had her first kid but it’s been almost an hour and she hasn’t...oh never mind, here it comes!” And with a big push, out came a big, beautiful brown baby boy. He seemed half again as big as the first one, and I thought no wonder she was so fat and uncomfortable. We waited again for what seemed like forever, and Skittles still seemed restless and uncomfortable. About an hour later, just as Melanie arrived, she started straining again and Melanie went in to help her out. A baby emerged in the breech position. It was still and lifeless and a check for its heartbeat and breathing revealed it was stillborn. I feared that the girls would be upset and that Skittles might be, too, so I quickly removed the little brown doeling from the stall and placed in a towel in the tack room.
Luckily everyone was so thrilled with the two healthy little kids that the sadness of the stillborn was drowned out by the joy and excitement of the new arrivals. Megan named the kids Starburst and Hershey in the candy-name tradition and we spent the rest of the morning cooing and cuddling them, taking pictures, and admiring their silky long ears. Eventually the girls’ friends went home and it was just the three of us as my husband, Brian, was out of town. Believe it or not, he was actually on a trip with his mother and brothers to bury the ashes of his father who had died the previous fall. And back here at the farm, we were preparing for a burial of our own.
I dug a hole deep enough to ensure that the coyotes and raccoons wouldn’t dig up the body, and then went to fetch the little doeling that I had earlier placed in a small cardboard box. I asked the girls if they would like to see her body before we buried her, and much to my surprise they said they would. We tenderly unwrapped the towel and carefully viewed the perfectly formed little body, marveling at how sweet and peaceful she looked. We decided we should name her and I suggested Baby Ruth, since she would always stay a baby.
We each gathered a bouquet of flowers from the yard, and after placing the box in the deep hole and covering it with dirt, we set the flowers on the grave, held hands and sang Amazing Grace as a light misting rain began to fall. It was such a tender moment and one filled more with gratitude than sorrow.
Later that evening, after Megan milked Skittles, she came to me and asked if I thought it was o.k. if she poured a little of the milk on Baby Ruth’s grave so she could have some of her mother’s first milk. I was touched with the gesture, and together in the darkness, we accomplished the task with silent reverence. It felt good and right and brought closure to a day that was one I was sure my children would hold in their hearts forever.
Life Lesson: Life is fragile – Live each day with gratitude
P.S. Skittles had her third set of kids just 2 days ago – a perfect strapping boy and an adorable spotted girl. And it went flawlessly and effortlessly. Welcome Twix and Almond Joy!