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A Loss

It's taken me nearly two weeks to write about this.  It affected me maybe more than I even wanted to admit to myself.  After all, nature is like this.  It was just one of those things.  It was nobody's fault, and there was no way to prevent it.

But still...

It hurts.

Just over two years ago, we bought two miniature goats with the hope of starting a miniature dairy for the family.  I dreamed of homemade yogurt and goat cheese, and lots and lots of handmade goat's milk soap.

A year ago we brought home our buck.  Five months ago we bred our Nigerian dwarf doe, Hazel.  And we watched and we waited.

We watched her get fatter and fatter.  Her belly swelling until she looked like a little barrel with legs.

Look at that big belly!
And we became excited, not only for our soap and cheese, but for the little kid (or kids) that would be joining the homestead.  The children and I made bets on if it would be a buckling or a doeling.  We wondered what color it would be.  Or if it would be twins.

I was eager to share with my kids the miracle of birth.  We talked about what to expect, and I even had them watch videos of actual goat births, so that they would be prepared and not scared of what they would see.  I anticipated an exciting, miraculous event, one that would be a wonderful memory for them.

On the evening of April 2nd, Hazel started showing signs of mild contractions.  Kaylin and I sat up until midnight that night, until we were certain the baby wasn't immediately on it's way.  But I slept with a baby monitor on, so that I could hear what was going on in the goat pen during the night.

She was still having mild contractions the next day, and I was so nervous about leaving her and missing the entire event that Kaylin and I stayed at home instead of going to Jonathan's high school baseball game.  (Instead, I missed Jon playing a great game.  She didn't give birth that day.)

That didn't keep me from checking on her every hour, morning and night.  I watched her like a hawk, poured over all the information I could find on goat labor, and told the kids "the baby is on it's way!"  But by Wednesday there was still no change, and I was thinking maybe I had jumped the gun.  From her due date she might still be a week or so from giving birth.

That night, at about 11:00, I went out to do a quick check on her before heading off to bed.  She called to me as I walked into the pen.  And she had lost her mucus plug.  The baby was on it's way!

I ran in and woke the kids.  Jon decided to stay in bed, with a promise I would get him as soon as something exciting started to happen.  Kaylin opted to come out and sit with me.  We gathered up blankets and beanies, hot tea, lanterns and chairs, and hunkered down in the pen to wait.

Labor is hard work.
Waiting for labor to progress tedious, especially when you're impatient and cold and tired.  At 1:00 am, after Hazel headed into the goat house and fell asleep, we knew we still had a few more hours to go.  Kaylin decided to go back to bed.  I had my cell and promised to call as soon as things started to get going.

But I sat out there with Hazel, watching, waiting.  I slept a bit, curled up on a lawn chair and wrapped in a blanket.  There was no moon and it was super dark.  I hoped she would hold off until daybreak, when we had a bit more light to see by.

And she did.  At 6:13 I woke to her emerging from the goat house.  She immediately lay down in a bit of fresh straw we had strewn for her earlier and I could see she was in active labor.  I grabbed for my cell phone and in my excitement it was hard to dial the home number.  Kaylin answered the phone and I said, "It's time!"  The kids ran out two minutes later, and we waited to welcome the baby into the world.

Things were progressing normally, perfectly, exactly how all the books and videos said it would.  I don't know why a sense of doom overcame me.  But it did, even before I knew something was wrong.  She began to push about 9:00, and instead of little baby goat hooves emerging, it was something different.

My cellphone battery was dead.  I ran to the house to call the vet.  Jonathan grabbed the crate to transport her.  Kaylin came running to the house to tell me to come back to the goat pen, quick.

By the time I got back to Hazel's side, I could see the placenta.  With my fingertips I reached just inside and could feel the baby there.  Maybe, I thought, there was still a chance.  I called the kids over, who at this point were standing outside the gate.  I pulled the baby out.  The kid, umbilical cord, and placenta were all twisted together in a hot mess.

I grabbed paper towels and rubbed and rubbed at the baby, trying to revive it.  It was a buckling, I noticed, as I was still trying to get it to move, to breathe, to give me some indication it was OK.
Hazel is a good mama.

But it wasn't.

We were devastated, the kids and I.  What was supposed to be a wonderful experience turned into a life lesson of a different sort.  We gave the kid to Hazel.  She cleaned him and talked to him.  It took her several hours before she finally accepted he was gone.

Kaylin named him Daybreak.  We buried him under the fig tree next to the goat pen, so that he would still be near his mama.  And we tried to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that these things happen.  That it was a fluke thing.  Hazel has had healthy babies before, and God willing she will again.

It was a shattering experience for our first breeding.  We are heartbroken.  I feel guilty.  Was it something I did?  Something I didn't do?  And I feel horrible for the kids.  This was not the memory I was hoping to create.

Two weeks have passed and it's still shocking.  Hazel is doing well, though, a blessing in the midst of it all.  And we've been milking her, just as we had hoped to do.  She's actually doing much better than I anticipated.

Saying goodbye to Daybreak.
Prior to this, she had never, ever let us touch her udder (so much so that I wondered how on Earth we would ever milk her).  But the afternoon after the birth, after I had cleaned her, she let Kaylin and I milk her completely and has stood quietly since.  Kaylin says we're now her surrogate babies.  And maybe we are.

Will we breed her again?  I don't know.  Maybe.  But for right now, we're trying to come to terms with the juxtaposition of the excitement of finally having our mini goat dairy underway with the sting of the loss of the buckling that made it possible.

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