by Ruth, aka Momma Frizzle
We entered the barn to a solemn birth scene. There was an edge of sorrow to what should have been happy proceedings.
After months of waiting, my farmer friend Heather phoned yesterday afternoon to say her ewe Charlotte was in labor. The kids and I raced across two counties to get there. We were too late for the actual birth, but not for another surprise. We arrived to discover Charlotte had two lambs — twins!
My twins were ecstatic. “See, knowing us has worn off on you,” I called, walking over to where everyone was already watching the new mother bond with her babies. Clean straw. Bloody umbilical cords. Bleating ewe. Wobbly lambs. We cheered when they figured out how to suckle.
The barn felt alive and calm, but something else too — sad. My friend Heather was covered in grey dust. Weary. Her husband was quiet, leaning his chin down on his arms. At first, I thought the delivery had been hard, but they said things went smoothly and quickly.
There was something though. An unexpected tragedy had served as prologue.
A death, right before birth.
Less than an hour before, another baby animal was curled in the hay of the birthing stable. A small goat, named Chance, because his small size and rejection by his mother made survival chancy at best. But Heather couldn’t let that be his fate. So she’d wrapped the kid in blankets, moved him into her bedroom, and bottle fed him like a newborn every three hours.
Chance survived — actually thrived — and recently had moved into the barnyard with the other goats and sheep and a calf. A large calf named Brigetta, who this afternoon wandered into the stable and accidentally stepped on Chance as he lay taking a nap — breaking his back.
When Heather heard the bleating, she thought Charlotte had finally gone into labor. Running outside, she encountered a death scene instead. Her favorite kid writhing in pain. Dying. So a grave was dug out in the pasture under beautiful oak tree, and Chance ended.
A half-hour later, Charlotte was in labor. Giving birth in the same stall where Chance had just died. And unexpectedly she had twins. Double blessings.
The long-awaited births coming on the heels of unexpected death proved jarring to my dear friends. They were still wrapping their brains around the emotions and events of the past hour when we arrived. That I should share this day with Heather reminds me of how deep our friendship is. We have walked this path of loss and blessing before. Most of that story is her’s to tell, but the afternoon had a familiar twinge.
Personally, I have experienced this same duality — not in one day perhaps — but definitely in life. I’ve lost one baby. A miscarriage. Very early. But wrenching enough to reorder my outlook and create a tender asterisk to my official kid count. I have six children.* Then, a little while later, two babies arrived instead of one — our first set of twins. A double measure of grace, when I was just hoping for no more loss.
These thoughts flitted through my mind as I stood close to Heather and watched her ewe begin motherhood. As the lambs suckled, another truth materialized before my eyes. A poem my mother shared with me at the birth of my first child. One that I have passed along to other mommies just starting their journeys.
Like so many times before, I am comforted by this word picture. I am a ewe with young ones, under the care of a Shepherd who loves them even more than I do. He will tend his flock and gently lead us through loss and blessing. On some days, like yesterday, even a dumb sheep like me won’t be able to miss the truth of those words.
*Six children alive and with me. Plus, one who died and lives in heaven with the Good Shepherd instead.