Windy, our 1 year old Saanen goat, is the first mammal that we’ve ever gotten pregnant on purpose. (Well, besides me, of course.) In fact, she’s the first animal I’ve ever owned that has even been capable of becoming pregnant. Even my pet rabbits have been spayed and neutered. Most of the people in the pet world today (the world that I come from) are very pro spay/neuter- especially here in New England. In recent years, we’ve done such a great job of promoting sterilization in the northeast that it’s almost impossible to find a mixed breed puppy that has not been imported from another part of the country. Go us! The problem of overpopulation and unwanted pet litters is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
But the problem that lurks on the other side of that achievement is one that never occurred to me until recently. About 5 years ago, to be exact- the time when my husband and I decided to start a family. I had no direct experience with anyone or anything that had been pregnant or had given birth. Nada. Sure, I knew people that had babies, but I wasn’t close enough to them to hear the nitty gritty details of how it felt to have another living being inside of you, or what actually happened in the months leading up to labor and delivery. I had a lot of research to do.
Fortunately, we have the internet these days. Or perhaps that’s unfortunate, depending on where you choose to look for information on said internet. (Note to self- do not follow links to birthing videos or read horror stories of labors lasting longer than 36 hours while you are in your third trimester. It’s too late to turn back and it isn’t a helpful way to stay positive about your impending future.)
Needless to say, I learned a lot about pregnancy in a short time. But reading about the gestation period, measuring the growth of my waistline and comparing the current size of my growing baby to common fruits and vegetables just wasn’t the same as having witnessed an actual pregnancy before. People didn’t used to be so isolated from the natural way of things in the past. The way it used to be included numerous pregnancies surrounding each family, even if it was the animals in the barn doing most of the birthing.
Animals can teach us so much about the way of life. Yet in recent decades, we have changed our relationship with our animals to such a degree that our experience has become more about control than reflection or learning.
It is frowned upon to leave your pets intact. Veterinarians, trainers and rescue workers alike spout the many good reasons to alter your animals at an appropriate age. For years I have done the same, (and I will continue to do so, but with the word pet clearly annunciated.) There are too many uneducated owners and not enough responsible homes to start hailing the praises of leaving the family dog or cat unaltered. (For more information on spay/neuter risks and benefits take a look at this article by the Veterinary Information Network: http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=27205) But…
There is something to be said for witnessing the miracle of life in person before you go through it yourself, or with a loved one. And I don’t just mean watching a chicken hatch from an egg (although that’s pretty cool too). In mammals, the entire process of gestation, fetal growth, labor/delivery and finally nursing and nurturing a newborn is amazingly in-depth. Being mammals ourselves, there is a lot to be learned from other mammals that experience a similar reproductive cycle. And if there is a purpose for encouraging an animal pregnancy (like to produce more high quality animals , and/or to produce milk) then it is not irresponsible to do so. In fact, it can give us a glimpse into a part of life that we have grown unaccustomed to seeing, and therefore are uncomfortable with. Knowledge and experience are at the basis of building a comfort zone. No one should have to go through a pregnancy without having some knowledge and experience of what it entails. Goats and sheep and pigs and cows may not seem to have a lot in common with us humans in this area. But I beg to differ.
I have watched Windy closely over these past 4 months as her belly has grown along with her adolescent body. She has filled out, gotten taller (and certainly wider) and the lanky legs that she toppled in on are now solid and square beneath her. She holds her head a little higher and moves a little slower as she learns to find her new center of balance. Since she is shaped more like a swollen tick than an elegant deer these days, you might imagine that she isn’t quite as agile as she once was. But surprisingly, she manages to jump around just fine. (She moves much more naturally than I did at that stage of my pregnancy.)
I know the day that she conceived and I know the day that she is due. I have a mental calendar that checks off weeks and months as May 29th (the day that we expect her to deliver) approaches. We still have a lot to learn about livestock and this will be our first live birth experience here at home. (Luckily we have some great support from friends that do have experience, in case we run into any problems!) I don’t know if Windy has any idea what her body is going through at the moment, or what the inevitable end to this experience will be. But I do know that nature will take its’ course and instinct will kick in when she needs it most. That’s more than I can say for most people’s experience in modern day hospitals.
For now I am soaking up the calm before the storm. I am spending time watching her grow and feeling her belly. Each night as I feed her her grain and ready her for a place in the milking stand, I revel in the stolen glimpses I get of her baby bump undulating in the dim light of the barn. Each time I feel the kid kick or shift suddenly, I remember how it felt to have my own baby adjusting inside of me. It was scary and uncomfortable and amazingly wonderful. I am so very grateful that I am able to relive those feelings by sharing our animals’ experience first-hand. I only wish I could have learned from her earlier or was somehow able to give her a glimpse into what was to come. But experience builds strength, and strength builds character. Our hope is to experience this together for many more years. By then, our character should be unshakeable.