On Birth and Other Inconveniences of Life’
©Ken Harris, 2007
Puppies, guppies and other wildlife young were not occasions for great comment in our family. Someone was always whelping, calving, littering or otherwise inconveniencing themselves. Doesn’t everyone hatch chicks in their ovens?
Occasionally, however, some truly spectacular births occurr. One such was the birth of our neighbor’s calf. We were living in Auburn then. Our neighbors, the Van Landinghams, didn’t know much about cows or calves, but that didn’t keep them from having a pregnant white face cow. This poor cow had been trying to have a calf all day, but things just weren’t working out for her.
My wife, Joanne, was teaching math at a local high school at the time. I mention this to explain her inappropriate apparel. I was working for Intercoast Life Insurance as an underwriter and working on my teaching credential at the University of California, Davis. I had arrived home from school fairly early, but even so Joanne had arrived before me. As I drove up the hill to the house I could see her trying to help this cow through her hard birth, assisted by our neighbors.
Joanne was still wearing hose and heels because she didn’t even go up to the house to change into her grubbies, but just leaped headlong into the situation.
She was dressed for school, except for her blouse. She had removed that garment and wadded up in her hands to use it to get a better grip on the calf as she pulled. The calf had presented its front legs properly. This was not a breech birth situation. The calf was simply too large.
Some readers may not have had the opportunity to assist at a mammal’s birth. On the other hand, some female readers may have given birth to your own mammal, but hopefully not in the middle of a cow pasture surrounded by well meaning but ineffective amateurs
I drove on by the impromptu delivery room and changed my clothes. By the time I returned to the scene of the action, the blouse had been discarded in favor of a length of baling wire looped around the calf’s front feet. The blouse, too slimy to put back on, just lay heaped in the grass. Joanne tugged at the calf, and then I tugged at the calf, and then we tugged at the calf. But it was hopeless, and eventually even we saw that. The calf was stuck like a pig in a stove pipe.
We decided to call the vet. An ungenerous observer might say we should have called the vet in the beginning. But that would be – ungenerous. We always try to solve our problems by ourselves before we call in people with knowledge and tools. It’s our family, it’s a tradition.
As Barbara Van Landingham called Virgil Traynor, the newest veterinarian in town whom we called Virgil the Vet, her 12-year-old daughter, Julie came out with a jug of wine and some glasses. I don’t know about the cow, but the rest of us definitely needed a restorative.
Eventually Virgil the Vet arrived. He set up a pully arrangement attached to a frame connecting the good mother earth to the buttocks of the good mother cow. Then he attached a line to the calf’s front feet and, without benefit of clergy or contraction, began to crank away. The calf came out. A bull calf. A long, thin bull calf. I thought it was a wonder both mother and son survived the birthing process.
The cow bonded with her calf and began cleaning her up. But she was still having massive contractions. Finally, with a hearty shudder, she expelled a blob about the size of a basketball.
“What’s that?” Joanne asked.
“Uterus,” replied Virgil the Vet.
“What will we do?”
“Clean it off.” With that, Virgil began plucking blood clots off the uterus.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” contributed Paula, the older Van Landingham girl.
“Go somewhere else to be sick,” replied Paula’s unsympathetic mother, Barbara. “Don’t do it here.”
In short order, Virgil cleaned off the uterus, and was ready to place it back inside the cow. This was more easily said than done, for the cow was still shuddering and contracting. Moreover, the uterus, while it had shrunk a little, was still a formidably sized organ. Virgil didn’t want to spend time waiting for the cow to stop contracting and the uterus to shrink, which would surely have happened eventually. Instead, he and Joanne together put their hearts and hands into the reinsertion project. There followed a curious game of push-of-war (the opposite of tug-of-war).
At last the uterus was inside the cow where it belonged. At least, it was inside the cow. Who could say where inside the cow it actually was. Virgil rummaged through his shiny, new doctor’s bag. “Darn, I don’t have a needle or any thread. Oh, well, keep an eye on her and if the uterus falls out, give me a call.” As he was leaving, he added, “Call me tomorrow. I’m going out tonight.”
We left the cow tending her calf, who by this time had pulled himself together somewhat and looked a little more like a real calf than one from an alternative universe.
The next morning the cow was found grazing in her pasture, both calf and uterus following dutifully behind her. Another call made, and Virgil the Vet returned, this time with a needle and thread. This time the uterus, now the size of a small apple, went in easily.
Virgil charged the Van Landinghams for two calls. He also said that the cow would never have another calf, a reasonable enough assertion on the face of it. But in subsequent years, the cow had several more calves
What was I doing while all this tugging and pushing of generative organs was going on? Well, someone had to make notes.