Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Duties As Princess Tamara's Midwife

When we upgraded our home from one acre near Mittagong to five acres in the Camden area, we took stock of our livestock. The grand total was now two horses, two sheep, two dogs and four cats so we decided to venture into farming in a bigger way. When Graeme came into a small inheritance we decided to blow the lot on a small flock of Angora goats.

First, to see if we actually liked goats, we bought ourselves an Angora wether who I named Pan. Pan arrived and stayed on his best behaviour just long enough to convince us that Angora goat farming would be easy, so we decided to go ahead and purchase breeding stock. With the price of Angoras going through the roof at that time all we could afford were three purebred does all in kid and an Appendix A doe kid that the breeders threw in free because it needed bottle raising and they didn’t want the bother. So Crispina, Violet, Crispina’s grown daughter Princess Tamara and Special Lady, the bottle baby, came to live on the five acres with us.

All three adult does were due to kid any day now so I delved into all I could find on goat breeding lore. I was soon to discover that these books were sadly lacking in essential advice on the care of an anxious doe in labour. All such learned texts recommended leaving the doe to it when her labour pains started and almost promised that on going out two hours later I’d see one or two sweet little kids all cleaned up and frisking around a very attentive mother. Well, Crispina and Violet had both read the same text books I had and their confinements went without a hitch or any involvement from me. Both got on with the business of giving birth with barely a murmur and the first thing I knew about it was that they presented themselves at dinner time accompanied by their cute little kids. Both does had twins and our Angora goat empire was beginning to look good. A few days later it was Princess Tamara’s turn to kid.

Tamara was a maiden doe, meaning that it was her first venture into giving birth, so I expected her to take the proceedings a little less matter of factly than the older and more experienced Crispina and Violet. She heralded the event with strident bleats from her labour room, a shed bedded down with fresh straw, and she kept on bleating pitifully until I went to investigate. Tamara lay on the straw complaining bitterly about her labour pains and bringing down curses on the head of the buck who had caused her all this grief. Having produced two babies of my own by that time, I immediately empathised with Tamara, almost feeling each labour pain with her. I assured her that every thing was going to be all right, quoted the more reassuring passages of the text books and turned to go back to the house. To use the text books’ technical jargon, I was “letting her get on with it”.

I'd left the labour ward and was half way back to the house when it seemed to me that the bleating was following me. I turned around and there was a very pregnant Tamara trying to climb over the fence to join me on my trek back to the house. Tamara clearly thought that if she was forced to have a home birth, she’d have it in said home with me standing by, boiling water and pacing the floor. I’m sure she intended to find the most comfortable bed in the house on which to produce her offspring and then demand room service at every opportunity. If I had anything to say (and boy, did I have a say!) this plan wouldn’t get off the ground. So with every intention of heading her off, I returned to Tamara’s yard, persuaded her to get down from the fence and return to her warm, comfy shed. Tamara was only too pleased to follow me – all she really wanted, she kept saying, was company during these trying times, and she settled herself in the straw once again.

Tamara continued to complain loudly when each labour pain gripped her, but she was content to lie there in the straw. Now was my chance to leave her to the job of producing the kids and sneak back to the house. Still talking to Tamara in reassuring tones I backed out of the shed very quietly and headed home once more – only to find that by the time I'd closed the goat yard gate Tamara was again trying to climb the fence and race me to the house. In the end my only option was to stay there with her, hold her hoof and massage her back with each labour pain. As a show of solidarity I joined her in her tirade against the unknown buck who did this to her. Finally the kids were born. A beautiful pair of does. All this bother had been worth it both in Tamara’s eyes and mine. I congratulated Tamara on a job well done, grabbed a handful of straw, and helped her clean them up.

I finally managed to get back to the house after a short celebration with the new mother, and girl-to-girl chat about labour, birth and the best way to raise a family as a single parent. What I didn’t know was that Princess Tamara wasn’t named Princess for nothing. There was no way that she intended to be a single parent and in the absence of the much-maligned buck living up to his parental responsibilities she needed to find just the right person to offer her support and experience in the art of raising kids. Tamara cast her eyes around the paddock in search of the likeliest candidate. Her mother, Crispina was busy with her own kids, Violet had never been known to offer a helping hoof to a new mother, Lady was far too young and inexperienced in the responsibilities of motherhood and you couldn’t possibly expect the bachelor Pan to understand the needs of motherhood. There was only one choice. Princess Tamara turned her thoughts to the one person who had supported her through her trials and the next thing I knew I was saddled with the job of co-parent.

My duties almost solely consisted of finding the kids. Each morning Tamara and her little family headed out to the paddock after spending the night in the shed. Her first port of call was always to tuck the kids out of sight behind a bush or rock and remind them to not to make a peep, before she moved off in search of a tasty morsel of grass. She then spent an hour or two chatting with her mum and the other three goats, munched on the odd blade of grass or branch of a tree and generally enjoyed her social engagements. As the hours passed by, Tamara would begin to feel that something was missing. By this time walking with a very full udder had become difficult and Tamara knew she needed to feed the kids. She’d raise her head, glance around the paddock and see no sign of them. Tamara had forgotten where she had put them and rather than mount a search for them herself, she’d head for the fence between the paddock and the house to summon her human servant. She then began to climb the fence - much more efficiently now that she had regained her pre-baby figure, although the full udder did present its own problems. She then bellowed at the top of her lungs for me to come and help find her offspring. My duties as mid-wife were no longer needed, but those of nanny (no pun intended here) were definitely required.

At first I tried suggesting that they were Tamara’s kids and she could just go out there and find them herself. This met with a blank stare from Tamara and renewed efforts to get on my side of the fence to better persuade me to my duties as protector of the little princesses. Having no other choice, I’d climb through the fence, usually getting tangled in the barbed wire, tearing my clothes and muttering threats of overthrowing a certain goat monarchy, and begin searching the yard. Tamara, happy in the knowledge that I was on the case, returned to her busy social engagements and, with her worries now offloaded to the servant, left me to it. Once I found the kids and returned them to their mum, Princess Tamara acknowledged my efforts with a regal nod of her head, fed the kids and wandered off in the general direction of the other goats. It was only after I returned to the house that she’d park them under another bush or behind a different rock ready for me to conduct another bush to rock search of the paddock next feed time.

Thus I whiled away the early weeks of Tamara’s ante natal. I was relieved when they grew old enough to follow their mum and join in frisky games with the other four kids. Tamara still called for my assistance if anything went wrong with her or her kids. If she came back and found the feed dish empty, or lost sight of the other mothers, her first port of call was the fence and her first action was to lodge a complaint and get me on the job to restore harmony to her life.

Princess Tamara lived to the ripe old age of seven and produced twin does each year. Each year we followed the same routine, sitting with her and massaging her back during her labour while helping her utter slanderous comments about the latest buck to get her into this situation, and once the kids were born, finding them for her half a dozen times per day and generally keeping myself available, ready to minister to her comfort whenever the need arose.

I had job security - my role as her private mid-wife cum nanny was permanent.