Sunday, 30 September 2012

The birth

When A was about three and hardly there at all, we would make many trips to children's farms. Far better than soft play even on a rainy day. 

We would laugh at the chickens funny hair-do's, I would lift the kids up high to reach the shire horse's whiskery nose, we would hold our noses when visiting the pigs and then go and cuddle the calves - who would lick our salty hands and pull at our clothes, much to our amusement.

One trip to Middle Farm on a cold day, just as it was beginning to get dark, I spotted a cow walking around with the tiny hooves of a calf poking out of her, being born. We watched her quietly and privately so she could get on with her job, blowing, sweating, walking around, lying down and standing up again. In between contractions she rested and when a surge came she made a lowing noise, the calf inching its way into the world. A was fascinated and I very excited to see a calf being born. The farm was near closing time and I willed her to give birth before we left, but knowing full well she would birth when she was ready. The farmer came along and looked at his watch, realising the time said to us bystanders;

"If she hasn't had it in 20 minutes, I'll pull the calf out!"

She was up against the clock now. Her contractions were coming fast and she was making more noise as she slowly and beautifully birthed her baby. Next to me, a woman commented.

"Why doesn't he help her? She is in so much pain! Why doesn't the farmer just pull the calf out?" the woman was quite distressed.

"She is birthing so well by herself, " I said quietly so as not to disturb her "She doesn't look like she needs any help."

" I am a Doctor, " the woman replied, "we would never leave a woman like this, it is so cruel!"

And sure enough the farmer reappeared with ropes, which he tied to the calf's legs and pulled with all his might, the cow roaring and bellowing at the intervention. The calf was born and the mother soon licked her offspring and encouraged him to his feet while the placenta was allowed to follow naturally later.

Why am I telling you this? Because A reminded me of this today, how she remembered the details of her first biology lesson. It reminded me of how sorry I felt for this cow and how it is not only animals that are treated like this in labour, but women too.

We need to take back birth and leave the Doctor's out of it.


  1. Actually there is a lot of evidence that after a certain amount of time, leaving an animal like a cow or sheep to give birth without help, leads to a high level of foetal/ maternal death.
    By helping this cow give birth, the farmer probably saved at least one life.
    Production animal breeding has resulted in a high level of mother/foetus size mismatches, it's not as straight forward as it is with humans.

  2. Thank you very much for explaining, I remember the farmer did say it was a big male calf. I have no idea how long she was in labour though. I think what I was getting at was how we clock watch with human mothers and have huge rates of intervention, when sometimes it could have been avoided. Of course we are very lucky to have medical intervention available in this country when needed but assisted birth and caesarean rates are soaring without improving maternal and neonatal outcomes.