Before I start I must share, I do realize "animal midwife" isn't a real term. I guess if a veterinarian is who you call when an animal needs extra help birthing her young, I am calling the person who is "with cow" (or ewe) during a spontaneous, normal birth an Animal Midwife. This Animal Midwife is a former childbirth student of mine (currently pregnant with her third baby -- so it's been a while!). After she read my first baby's birth story, she reached out to me to share her thoughts. The following is our conversation...
Animal Midwife: I loved your blog post! I shared it since I have so many friends and family expecting their first babies. I just had two friends a week apart go in for inductions and both (one not even 12 hours later), were rushed in for c-sections. I almost hurt for them knowing what they missed out on and the trauma physically and emotionally they might feel.
Me: I know what you mean. I was lucky I didn't end up with a cesarean birth.
AM: That's how I feel! If I hadn't had the midwives, that would have been my case! Luckily, I made some good choices and knew I wanted a midwife versus an OB. I think it's mostly because I grew up with livestock. I was telling my mom the other day, if I ran out and gave Pitocin (oxytocin) every time I thought a ewe or cow was done and ready to just get it over with, the lamb or calf would die nearly every time, and possibly the momma. Babies come when they are ready!
Me: Do you have Pitocin that you can use for your animals?
AM: Yep, it's called oxytocin, but it's the same thing. I have used it to treat a retained placenta. If I were to give it even a few days early there's a good chance the lambs or calf wouldn't be in the right position causing major problems! We would never break our livestocks' water either. My friend was being induced and they broke her water resulting in a cord prolapse and an emergency c-section. I just wish she would have waited, but they told her 2 weeks ago the baby was already 9lbs, and at birth he was 8.6.
Me: Lots of comparisons! So have you ever given Pitocin for a stalled or long labor? And how often in general will you lose a ewe/cow, or lamb/calf?
AM: Baby lambs would die almost every time [with Pitocin]. I've never had to give anything to help a long or stalled labor and I've delivered 100s of lambs over the last 15 years. I've also only ever lost one ewe in labor and that was from having what's called ring womb; she wouldn't dilate, but the lamb was gone already, more than likely from being in a bad position. It's extremely risky to induce any animal and it is almost never done. If I ever do have a problem, which is rare, it's usually easily fixed by changing the position of the lamb, which is easier than humans since critters come feet and head first. [With lambs] even 2-3 days before they deliver, they don't have mature lungs. They also are not in position until they are completely ready to deliver, mostly because they are typically multiples. Calves are a little hardier, but even then, it's not worth the risk to mess with nature!
Me: Why are we so different? What makes it okay for us to do all those things to women?
AM: I don't understand at all, other than like anything, it's driven by money. It's a business -- I know you know that!
Me: I have for many years thought about writing a book called "A Mammal's Guide to Birth," to compare us to other mammals -- what they need, how they birth, and how it relates to us, etc.
AM: It would be fascinating! I feel like the only reason I wasn't led down the complete wrong path when delivering my first was the midwives I had, but also my background. I've seen so many births, I just knew what to expect; even though we're slightly different, in the long run we're all mammals!
Since our initial conversation, Boss, the bull calf, was born. He is expected to be over 100 pounds in weight. I got this follow-up information on his birth:
AM: Bess' due date was 2/4 and she delivered 2/10, which I expected. We know the due date exactly since we use hormones to cycle them and artificial insemination to specific bulls. If I had induced her 6 days ago because it was her due date, there's a good chance it could have resulted in Boss being in the wrong position, with potentially deadly effects to him or to his mom, if we couldn't get him turned around or c-sectioned out.
Me: What can you say about bonding?
AM: Take a calf from a cow and see what happens! Some cattle are deadly protective of their babies, even from humans. All of our cows are very tame and know and trust us. As it was, my mom stayed out of the pasture until I needed her because Bess is most comfortable with just me there. She's bonded to me and shows it the most when she's in labor. She constantly licks me, talks to me -- if I walk away, she follows me. She's not the norm, that's for sure! She was a bottle-baby since her mother got sick after delivery.
Me: So you weren't just her midwife, you were also her doula!
What an amazing education for me! If you liked this, check out these links:
Safer Birth in a Barn? A midwife shares he experience watching a foaling at a horse farm
Going Backwards: The Concept of Pasmo Ina May explores the idea of a labor that not only stalls, but reverses -- like we see in other mammals
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)