Sunday, August 01, 2004

Suckling not Suffering

My friend Cat and I worked together on a sheep farm one summer during college. She was visiting this evening after not having seen each other in over ten years, so I pulled out my old photo album from our days together on the farm. As we flipped through pages of photos, one image jumped out at me.

I was sitting on the grass with a small lamb, holding a bottle of milk to his mouth, my other hand gently cupping his chin. If you have never seen a lamb live, you'll just have to believe me; they are incredibly adorable creatures. They are like walking stuffed animals, following their mothers in pairs or alone. Their soft fuzzy furr much brighter white than their mother's. They have long fuzzy tails and little parts on either side of their head where their horns will grow in. And they make the sweetest sounds. Instead of calling out "Baaahh" like their mothers, they call out a higher pitched, child-like "Maaahh."

This lamb's mother, however, had rejected him after birth. Several hours had passed before we'd found him laying down out in the pasture. Lambs must be fed within the first few hours after being born. Without his mother's milk to sustain him, he was barely holding onto life.

I cradled the lamb over my right thigh and talked sweetly to him, trying to encourage him to suckle from the bottle. He made a few half-hearted attempts to reach out for sustenance. But then he stopped. We had found him too late. He died in my arms.

We stopped to pause at the photo and recalled the events around it. Cat smiled sweetly and said, "That was your first experience caring for a life as it left this world."

I've often thought that my time on the sheep farm opened me to considering working in a medical profession. (We also gave injections and attended to wounds). But it wasn't until Cat said that that I realized how deeply those experiences had changed me.

Comforting that lamb as he struggled between staying in this world and leaving it left me with a sweet sorrow. I was mournful that I had not been able to save him. But despite being rejected by his mother, I hoped that the lamb was able to leave this world feeling cared for and surrounded in love.

1 comment:

Jennynyc said...

Have you seen Weeping Camel (current movie)? I haven't but it looks good. Apparently it has a very moving scene in which a camel gives birth and rejects her young. I had two friends at Antioch who worked at that farm as a co-op, Laurie and Demari. It sounded quite challenging.