In the Company of Intimate Strangers
April 17, 2015
I can’t breathe.
My pounding heart is an overheating engine, an impossible melon, a knocking at the door I am suddenly too weak to answer. There is a tightening in my throat and my legs feel filled with poison.
I am alone in the barn, but acutely aware of over 100 intimate strangers scattered across the world leaning towards their computer screens, watching a scene unfold just inches from where I sit.
Since we installed a live barn camera at the start of kidding season, it has developed quite a following, and so I know as I sink out of view against the stall wall, in that same moment, dozens of others young and old are also holding their breath.
A group of retired farmers in a nursing home up north are likely huddled in wheel chairs in the common room remembering what it feels like to be in a barn, an elementary school classroom is watching instead of going out to recess, (their teacher came later in the summer to get her photo taken with Stella’s kids, so she could show her students), a father stationed on a ship near Korea is watching the goat kids he will pick up when he returns from deployment (it’s already past midnight there as he squints at his keyboard in his dark bunk), a student who gets "goat time" as a reward for focusing in the classroom is watching in an empty computer lab, and the weight of all their eager expectations is finally catching up with me, expanding my heart with their love and attention. What if something goes wrong?
I sink against the plywood of the stall, feeling defeated, weak – concentrate on breathing, take deep breaths in and out and whisper repeated pleas to my heart to work with me. “It’s OK, it’s OK, It’s OK.”
Stella peers over the stall divider, even in labor, she senses I am having trouble breathing. In my light headed state I imagine she is smiling, “I feel you sister, but no worries, we’ve got this,” she grins before focusing again on the job at hand.
I always love the moments before a goat goes into hard labor. The mother seems to have infinite stores of focus and calm. She often stares straight ahead, head slightly bowed and breathes into the space ahead with resolve. Watching her, I am able to sip in some oxygen, and I move to my knees to get a better view just as she lays down to push.
Her sister one stall over already has three kids (just a day old) and when I stand I see a chain of sisterhood forming, Greta reaches her head over the plywood of her kidding area to watch with warm eyes as her sister works to bring a doeling into the world.
Moo the barn cat walks the tight rope of stall wall between the two, then stops with tail curled beneath her to watch her newest goats arrive.
The magic takes over.
My first panic attack (hopefully the last) loosens its grip, steps away in awe to watch, there is no room for a hammering heart in this church. I am free again, savoring the breath as it enters my lungs with intoxicating sweetness just in time. Stella stands, yells out and pushes as I enter the stall, lean forward in time to catch a lovely brown doeling and lay her on the grain bag for her dam to lick clean.
There is no time to think, no time to let fear wedge itself in again to the channels of my heart. Two more tiny does are born in seconds, both golden, like morning sun creeping into a dark barn, like warmth creeping into a heart to replace fear I hadn’t even known was hiding in dark corners. And as I look at them all lined up, sisters calling out to life, I sink into the wood chips, wipe blood on my jeans, more thankful than ever to be alive, and in the company of so many intimate strangers sharing this incomparable wonder. How lucky to have so many moments on the farm that take my breath away.