Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
My goat Avi is in labor. I sit in the goat shed with her, just being present to calm her, and letting her know that she has calm company. I am reminded of birthing and babies and birth assistants. I am a goat midwife. I watch Avi’s body ripple with another contraction and remember the flow of sensation as those muscle contractions take over the body and pull the baby downward.
Her contractions are far apart at the beginning, causing a slight arch of her back down to her tailbone. She paws at the ground, making a nest—paw here, over there, sit, stand, fidget uncomfortably. The nesting activity is a sign of labor with my goats. It reminds me of pregnant women vacuuming energetically before labor. For me, it was baking lasagna. For Avi, it is hay in just the right nest shape. We all have something.
Avi’s early contractions just cause a pause and a stretch, an arch of the back. It’s later that they become more frequent and cause her to “go inward” and focus. She does not call out, she does not stress, she is relaxed and rolling with it.
I rolled through contractions, too, following nature’s pull with relaxed muscles. Be still, go inward, relax the whole body so the contractions will flow without tension or fear. I see the same pattern in the distant gaze of my goat’s eyes, her relaxed head and neck leaning gently against the wall of her shed, through the long minute of contraction. Then she is free to move around slowly until the next one comes to her. She looks up at me, as I observe quietly. She seems reassured by my presence.
I did this, too. I walked and stayed active until the work became more inward and focused. I swayed my hips and danced my dance gently, or rested quietly, until the next contraction flowed through my body, bringing my baby to me, through me.
Avi had experienced birth before, but she had never been a mother before her birthing at our farm, House in the Woods Farm. At her previous home she was a business goat in milking production, where goats don’t raise kids. Kids are scooped up and raised together in a nursery by the farmers. Mothers are milked and kids are bottle fed, perhaps even with the mother’s milk. That’s how business dairies often operate and I understand the reasons that system works well for a dairy. But for the purposes of a farmstead with one milking goat in the herd of two, I didn’t think I needed to follow the same procedures. And if I could get out of bottle-feeding kids in the middle of the night for the first few weeks, I was going to consider my options.
When contractions get more serious, she makes low guttural sounds. I remember making low sounds that relax and seem to help. Deep inside sounds. Avi is working deeply now, her sounds are low, her eyes are in a faraway zone. I remember that zone. It is a deep relaxation with an intensely inward focus toward an intensely inward goal. Avi and I each experienced the same intensity in our own settings.
With awe and gratitude, my family and some supportive friends witnessed the birth of Avi’s kid. I had studied my goat birthing facts and tips and problem positions from Fiasco Farm’s informative website and prayed for a normal birth. I packed a birthing kit with all the essential tools — paper towels, puppy pads, iodine, scissors, molasses for later. The kid was born with its umbilical cord intact. My friend and I looked at each other - I had intended to put the kid in front of the mamma goat to get washed, and here she was, stuck in the back until I did something. Eventually we would cut the cord with those sterilized scissors from the birth bag, but for now, she had bleacher seating in the back of the goat.
Avi didn’t look back, seemingly unaware of the kid behind her. She had no reason to look for a kid, she had never seen one after this process of birthing before. Could she learn to be a good mother at this point? Would she respond to a kid? How can I trigger that response?
A local shepherd had once told me she helped a sheep adopt an orphan lamb by introducing its amniotic fluid to the adoptive mother. I pet the kid’s slimy back and put my hand in front of Avi. She smelled my hand and immediately began licking it like crazy. I guided her face toward the baby, while she licked and licked my hand. Then she licked and licked the baby, washing the amniotic fluid off the kid. The fluid triggered her mothering instinct. She licked the baby clean. She tried to lick my hair. When my sons got into her reach, she licked their ears. That first hour, she was going to lick any baby within tongue-shot.
Avi had twins that day, and as it turns out, is a patient and giving mother goat. Inspiring to witness her process, attend to her birth, and to help draw out the mother in the goat. The birth of Avi’s first kid brought out the mother in her, just as the births of my sons brought out the mother in me.
To learn more about natural childbirth, consider birthing in the Bradley Way.
To learn more about natural goat care, consider Fiasco Farm’s informative website.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News and blog.houseinthewoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to www.HouseInTheWoods.com.