Gracefully Letting Go
The barn was crowded with visitors (mostly kids on April vacation) when we heard Elsie wail. She had been in her kidding stall since the night before showing signs of early labor, but there is no mistaking the sound of a goat who is ready to give birth. Both Lila and Tess knew immediately what was happening, grabbed the kidding supplies and entered the stall to watch and be ready in case their favorite doe needed any help.
As Elsie began to push, children quietly stepped onto a bench by the stall, their faces peering over, mouths open, and as Lila held her finger to her lips, they grew instantly quiet, hardly breathing as they hovered shoulder to shoulder above the scene unfolding.
After over a hundred births, our intuition has been sharpened and we trust it when it says something is not quite right. Elsie was pushing, but there was not any progress. I saw the girls look at each other and at the tiny faces filled with hope and a fair amount of fear. Then they looked back at Elsie and agreed on a handful of silent decisions without uttering a word. I’m so emotionally connected to each goat, so invested in the outcome of each birth, that it is often hard to let someone else take over, but there was no denying an intimate chemistry had filled the space like helium and like the children, I held my breath, eager to see what would happen next.
Tess, grabbed a glove. Lila set her hand on Elsie’s back, whispered to her softly. They both had forgotten that there was another person in the world beyond the stall. The moment felt ancient and fragile. Tess reached her hand into the goat, bit her lip and closed her eyes to better see what she was feeling, eased something downward and out as Elsie let out a guttural yell, then both girls turned their bodies like dancers to block the next minute of action. No one could quite make out the what was unfolding as Lila and Tess broke free the first kid from the placenta, rubbed it vigorously with their hands, and after realizing it was a stillborn, wrapped it gently in a towel. While they were turned, Elsie, thankful to have the path clear pushed hard and onto the wood chips fell a wiggling doeling. She looked exactly like her mother. Lila let Elsie lick her, then held her up to the children, smiled through her tears and said “Look, a newborn goat.” While the children looked in awe at the new arrival, Tess made eye contact, passed the towel to me, said, “Can you take care of this?” and turned back to Elsie just in time to see a third goat delivered. Two twins who were watching, forgot to be quiet and yelled, “Twins, like us!” And we all laughed and smiled in relief. With so much life and love filling the space, the little minds had chosen the best bits to process for now. Maybe if they had seen the stillborn goat at all, they would choose a time later to bring the other part of the story to the light. Perhaps they would see, in a way adults have to work harder at, that life is always a potent mixture of joy and sorrow, birth and loss, possibility and disappointment and that we are most human when we can accept both side of the equation with grace. The mothers nodded their heads, wiped their faces, hovered a few moments longer in the dark of the barn to watch the kids as they wobbled onto new legs and instinctively moved towards their mother’s udder for milk. Then they picked up their own kids in their arms and carried them into the spring sun to pet the goats in the pasture.
On this occasion in the barn I was struck again by how much we can learn from our children about grace. In a few months, one of my girls will be married and living in Texas, the other off at college, and the house will be empty for the first time. Lately the keys jingling in their pockets sound like the last words of a song hanging in the air when a ride ends too soon, and someone else is driving and shuts off the radio, gets out while you're still waiting in silence in the passenger seat for more. But time is a stubborn old man and so seldom willing to give way to our requests for a few more seconds on the clock. And maybe it is in the loss of letting go that I can savor fully how much of a gift my girls have been and envision all the unimagined joys that lie ahead if I have the courage to wrap up what has been lost in a tender package, pass it off and walk forward into the light of all that is to come.