Blood and Goo

I’ve never given birth, and I’ve never actually seen a human birth.

But I’ve seen a large number of babies come into this world.

When you grow up surrounded by animals, that just happens. It’s not a gross thing, it’s just life.

But, despite being “just life”, it has never lost its wonder for me.


My Mom got into raising mini horses when I was in my early teens. There’s a certain amount of concern with horses giving birth. Horse farms usually have cameras in the stall, or someone out with the mare on “foal watch”, waiting for the baby to drop just in case there are issues.

My parents weren’t so big on sleeping in the barn, but of course, for me, that was loads of fun. And, being homeschooled, I could sleep the next day if I didn’t sleep well at night (horses are notorious for giving birth between about 2am and 4am).

Usually, the horses didn’t need help, but I’d be in the stall with them anyway. They new me, and were happy to have the extra love. One mare, Cherokee, was desperate for belly rubs when she was about to give birth. She’d practically climb into my lap, and I’d scratch her tummy until my hands cramped up.

One night, it really paid off that I was out there. Cherokee was showing all the signs of imminent birth, so I took my sleeping bag out to the barn, and settled down to wait. In the middle of the night, her water broke, and I watched to see the hooves coming out. With mini horses, birth is normally fast. Their water breaks, they push a couple of times, and baby comes out like it’s on a water slide.

This time was different. Cherokee pushed a few times, laid down, stood up, wandered around the stall, laid back down. She was getting upset, and there was only one hoof coming out. Usually, hooves come out staggered, which helps the shoulders slide through the birthing canal.

image via canberra equine hospital

But with this one, I saw only one hoof coming out. It had been long enough that the foal should have been on the ground, and there was no progress being made.

I went running inside, yelling for my parents to come and help. I didn’t have my own cell phone at the time, but after this birth, I borrowed Mom’s cell phone when I stayed out with a pregnant mare.

Mom came out, and she and I tried to figure out what was wrong. She reached inside Cherokee, grabbing the foot that wasn’t coming, and started to pull, while I pulled on the leg which was sticking out of the mare. With each contraction, we put steady pressure on the foal, trying to get it into the correct position.

The tiny legs were still wrapped in placenta, and hard to grip. We were kneeling in the blood and fluids of birthing, but didn’t really care. It wasn’t the important thing at the moment.

After a few tense minutes of this, the foal slid out the way she was originally supposed to. She laid still for a while, breathing and definitely alive, but exhausted. Cherokee laid down too, catching a bit of a rest as well. She’d had quite the night.

Then there was the concern that the little filly wouldn’t stand and nurse on her own. Foals have to be on their feet soon after birth to get colostrum from their Mom, and get the important nutrients and antibodies it gives. If the foal refuses to stand on its own, intervention may be needed.

Mom headed in to bed after a little while, and I stayed out in the stall to be sure that the filly stood and nursed. The goo of birth slowly dried on my pants, but more soaked in as the filly laid against my leg, drying herself off accidentally. I halfway dozed in the stall between attempts to help the baby stand and nurse.

Foals are adorable when they first try to stand. Those long skinny legs have been all tangled up inside the mare, and suddenly, they have to stretch out and hold up a body that isn’t so well balanced. Face plants are common. But when this little one started to try to stand, I knew she’d be ok.

It didn’t take her too long to stand on her own, and by that time, Cherokee was on her feet as well. I stayed with them until the baby finished nursing and laid back down to sleep, then crawled into my sleeping bag to get a few hours.

I could have gone back into the house at that point, knowing that everyone was out of the woods, but I enjoyed listening to the crunch of the straw as Cherokee moved around, keeping her baby safe, and the little noises of the rest of the herd as they came up to peer over the fence at the new baby. It’s peaceful.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t have any experience with human birth. But animal birth, I’m very familiar with. And that peacefulness when all is said and done is one of the most beautiful things. Even when the birth is a little traumatic, the scary part is forgotten quickly, and the focus is on the baby, and everyone calms down quickly. Animals seem to know what the important parts are, and what to not stress over.

A nap with Spangler (the filly in this story) when she was a few weeks old.

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