I haven’t had much experience with birthing anything other than puppies, kittens and the occasional grandchild. All have been exquisitely miraculous. I’ve watched lambs, colts, calves and goatlings (for lack of a better word) in pastures and marveled that creatures that big can come out of an even bigger life form and within moments be on their feet and looking for milk. At least that’s the rumor. So when I was introduced to Vivian, a beautiful milk cow with soft brown eyes and her year old son, Gunther, I was smitten. Vivian and Gunther are neighbors to an airbnb my kids run and every chance I got, I petted, fed, joked and had deep conversations with them. When I found out Vivian was pregnant I was elated. Finally, with any luck, I would have the opportunity to see an actual calf be born. And not just any calf! I watched, waited and prayed for that cow for what seemed like 35 months. I drove the owner crazy inquiring about Vivian’s progress until she promised she would call me day or night the moment the cow went into labor.
This morning I got that call. I dropped everything and made the trek to be by Vivian’s side. She looked like a double-wide with an enormous uddered beachball between her back legs.
Oh Vivian, I crooned, this is it! Soon you will be out of your misery and you’ll have a beautiful new baby! I stroked her nose and whispered words of encouragement. The cow was restless and intermittently paced and lay down in the tall grass. When the contractions came, the muscles of her enormous body would grow taught and she would stretch her neck up to the sky as if in prayer and I added my own to hers. Then her ears would twitch and her body would heave.
Hour after hour passed without any sign of the birth. Her breathing became labored and she began to moan. It grew obvious to me that something was wrong and I contacted the owner for the 700th time.
“Did you moan when you were in labor?” She asked. I had to acknowledge that I probably did.
Finally the owners became concerned as well. They called the vet, who’s receptionist didn’t seem to grasp the urgency and an hour or so passed without any word back. I was getting hysterical. I could see my friend, Vivian slipping away. I know it was cowardly, but I couldn’t bear to see any more. Somehow I knew that baby wasn’t coming out alive and I doubted Vivian would either. I got into my car and the owners promised to keep me updated. I sobbed all the way home. The news I got wasn’t good. They had to take unnatural measures to pull the baby out but it had drowned in amniotic fluid. I waited by my phone to hear if Vivian would pull through. Finally the vet arrived and luckily, he was able to save her. Still, the loss was overwhelming.
Farming is not for the faint-hearted. I guess it’s the same for any profession. For every living thing, there are no guarantees. There are always risks. We do our best and we deal with whatever comes. Then we move forward and onward, hoping for the best.
I’m grateful this City Girl got to spend the day in a pasture with her favorite cow, listening to a symphony of birds in the trees and watching wispy white clouds in a cerulean sky. I was reminded once again that only a heartbeat divides life from death. And that’s the only game in town.