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Archive for the ‘Death of a Child’ Category

(See prior post for the introduction to this continuation.)

In our previous house, an off-grid, passive solar house that I designed and built, we were blessed to live across the rocky dirt road from a Tibetan Buddhist community. Their gold-gilt stupa framed our view of the Truchus Mountains to the south. We are not Buddhist, but we sure loved having Buddhist neighbors. Our closest neighbors, and dearest friends, were both ordained Buddhist lamas. They were also old hippies who cussed and farted and complained liked the best of us. No halos there! We loved them fiercely and still do.

A view we will always miss.

A view we will always miss.

One of the biggest points of contention between us was the fact that they would kill nothing – not even flies in their house. Yet they ate meat. I would tell them that was hypocritical! How could they eat the flesh of an animal someone else killed when they believed they should never kill another sentient being? Apparently it had to do with karma, and they wanted their karma to be clean. So I would razz them and say, “But it’s OK for someone else to taint their karma so that you can keep yours clean while eating a fat steak? Sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me.” We would always laugh and slap each other lovingly on the back afterwards, and in time we just stopped having that conversation. I respected their beliefs, even if they weren’t always my own.

This couple also worked in an assisted living facility. They cared for the old folks there, changed their diapers, sponged their atrophied limbs, and gave them emotional support. Sometimes they helped them die, just holding their hand until their spirit passed from their tired, shriveled bodies. And when the health of their old dog began to fail, they were perfectly prepared to midwife Kunga’s spirit into the next world too. I said, “Aren’t you going to have him put down?” But they refused, saying that everyone deserves the respect and patience of their loved ones to die on their own time line, when they are good and ready. And so they changed the pad under Kunga’s body and washed the poop from his fur – for months. And final Kunga was ready to pass on. On his own schedule.

When our time came and each of our 3 ailing dogs in turn became crippled with old age and cancer, we spoke to our vet at each visit. When will we know? She said, “They will tell you when it’s time. You will know.” And she came to our house each time and sat on the floor with us, holding the empty syringe, and our fragile hearts, as our canine children left us one by one. Were we wrong to take their time of death into our own hands? Was it for their comfort, or our own? They were suffering certainly. But perhaps they had the right to walk their own paths – the right to suffer their own pain. Perhaps that was their way of preparing for leaving this world. But it was breaking MY heart to watch. Selfish? I don’t know.

A friend sent me part of an interview with Susun Weed where she talks about killing her goats. Here is the link to the full interview, and here are some poignant excerpts:

Can you describe how you slaughter your goats?

 I would never slaughter anything.  I am a woman. I give birth. I give death. I am Kali, dancing through birth, life and death. I do not slaughter, kill, murder, or take life. I give the gift of death.

The giving of death is a sacred rite. We are very serious about it. We never threaten death for misbehavior. We set the date for giving death and tell the animal when it will be. We invite the soul or spirit of the goat to get ready to go; pack your bags!

 (Susan then explains the ritual she has adapted for the process of “giving” death, and finishes with a story….)

It’s not easy. At the opening talking stick with the thirty women in my German apprentice group, all but one of them complained: “Why are you asking us do this terrible thing of giving death?” The last woman said: “I have come to this apprenticeship because I want to learn to give death. I keep a herd of sheep and I can’t stand it anymore to have to hire a man with a gun to slaughter them.” When the day came, three weeks later, to give death to the rabbits we had tended, verbal battles ensued because so many women wanted to be She-who-holds-the-knife. They understood the value of what I asked.

I believe that death is a peaceful process – the act of the soul actually leaving our physical bodies. I believe it can be a true gift to be free of our cumbersome earthly existences and the pain and suffering of life on this plane. And so much of what Susun expresses resonates with me. But I struggle with the vocabulary of “giving” death. Since I have also made sure my goat had an enjoyable life, who am I to say he wants my “gift”? Who am I to chose the date for him?

Yes I am a mother, and for all practical purposes, Bucky’s mother. I bottle fed him from 10 days old forward, weened him, and have fed and watered him twice daily since (or seen to it that he was). I have insisted he is healthy, happy, has plenty of exercise, shelter, respect, and even affection. So as his mother, I do feel I have more than the average right to take away his life too. Is that the Goddess Kali speaking through me? The Creator and the Destroyer? The Birther and the Burier?

Giving birth to a child is the most potent thing I have ever experienced. I could feel the raw power of all women before me surging in every contraction, every push, in the fiery burn and tearing of flesh – my flesh – as each of my children entered this world. One dead. One alive. And was my son’s death a “gift” I gave him? Bad question for a mom who has lost a child at birth, unless you want to see all the anger of every woman who has lost a child before me channeled through my trembling body. I know some believe that souls have contracts with each other, and destinies can be decided long before we inhabit our bodies. But the thought that my soul would have agreed to lose my first born is a hard one for me to swallow. Maybe. I am not saying it’s impossible. But my current incarnation does not have a memory of signing those divine papers.

And what about Bucky? Did our souls make a contract too? Did he choose me to be his human mommy, like my human children did? Was his death by my hand on Saturday, January 26th, 2013 his pre-ordained soul choice?

I never thought the harvesting of a goat could bring forth so much emotion and deliberation in myself and my readers. I thought it would be a pretty simple thing when I led 10 day old Bucky into his new home behind his cousin and aunt, and dutifully warmed his 4 daily bottles of auntie milk. After all, he was so obnoxious, and so goofy looking with his horrid conformation and overbite. But as a young adult, he’s become quite sweet. I think I will even miss him.

Getting a goaty kiss from a week old Buckbeak, AKA: Bucky.

Getting a goaty kiss from a week old Buckbeak, AKA: Bucky.

So it seems the extra week I have given back to myself is for a reason. It gives me time to fully look into all my resistance and dread, my extreme discomfort, delve into the process of death itself, prepare Bucky (for I do, now, intend to tell him), learn to shoot the gun which I have never fired (that will be tomorrow), ground myself, center myself, and put forth my intention. With the help of friends’ (and strangers) comments, questions and listening ears, I am feeling calmer each day as the count down continues. The processing helps me tremendously. And with this additional time for introspection, I have learned where my stubbornness is coming from.

Why do I really feel I have to do this? Be the one to pull the trigger or draw the knife? It is a rite of passage of course. As was giving birth…. giving life. And like Kali, I too, can take life away, to give that life to feed my family and myself. Because when the nanny berries hit the fan, I want to know I have the guts. I want to know I can provide. I want to know I can care for my brood, my herd, my child and husband. That I have what it might take. For that is what Mother means to me. THE Mother. The Giver. The Taker.

AND….. the Nurturer.

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She did it! My wee Nugget, my Isla Elizabeth, the light of my heart and life, my sweet pea of 3yrs and 8 months, made it through a full 6 hr day at our local Waldorf school, without any tears and no calls to Mama from the teacher!

Heading to the car for her first day at school!

Heading to the car for her first day at school!

I can not, however, say the same for Mommy. Yes, I shed quite a few tears, and thought of her constantly, and had butterflies in my stomach as I sped north to pick her up at 2:45….. but at least I did not call the teacher. I almost did. I reached for the phone several times. But each time I breathed deeply and set it back down… and distracted myself – just like I told her to do if she missed me.

We tried the last school year – 8 consecutive tries which stretched into Oct of ’11. But she just could not stay alone, and I could no longer spend the days with her at school. If she wasn’t ready, then she wasn’t ready. There was no need to force it. We said we would talk about it again after Christmas… but she wasn’t ready then either. We said we would talk about it this past August… but she still wasn’t ready. But after 4 weeks in Reno, NV in November, spending every day with Papa riding bikes and playing with other children at the nearby playground, she was READY. She REALLY wanted time with other kids. And most of her friends were in school, which meant they had no time for playdates.

We were in Reno for my Lyme treatment. I thought I could get through this latest relapse on my own, without the help of my usual, trusted clinic. But I just could not get back on my feet at any level of functionality that would work for me. 50% of the norm is not acceptable, especially when you consider what the “norm” looks like for someone with Chronic Lyme. So we packed up the family and left the farm for an entire 5  1/2 weeks. We split up the drive west with a stop in Zion National Park, and the drive back east with a visit with the Grands. And while I read in a reclining chair with an IV dripping salvation slowly into my veins, received multiple daily injections, colonics, lymphatic drainage treatments, chiropractic appointments, and a series of tests that seemed to have no end, Randy became Mr. Mom – full time. Because I was not even available at night, due to the reaction to the treatment. I’ll spare you the treatment details as they were not fun, but the result was Isla and Randy developed a strong father-daughter bond and she became a pro on her balance bike! Nothing like a bit of pavement and bike paths to really open up the world to a kid and her dad.

One afternoon when I returned from the clinic, Isla rushed into my arms. “Mama! I played with a great big black girl today on the slides!” I chuckled and said, “Do you mean the girl was bigger than you and had dark skin?” This translation was confirmed and I was entertained for some time with each and every detail of their time together. Living in a town where there are few Afro-Americans, I was tickled at her excitement and experience. And each day there was a new story of her adventures with new kids – different ages, different genders and different ethnic backgrounds – many not even sharing a common language with my daughter.

One evening I was sitting in bed with a book, feeling like I had been run over by a mack truck, when she quietly walked in and climbed into bed with me. “I wish I could make your Lyme go away Mama,” she said softly. “Can I read next to you?” I nodded with a smile and brushed away my tears. She pulled out her book and started to look through the pages next to me. The uncharacteristic stillness caused me to glance down at my little clone, and I noticed she was staring into space, deep in thought over some dilemma, the same scowl of concentration on her face I so often wear on my own. “Mama?” she said. “I think I need a bruthah. Could you find a little boy without any parents to be my bruthah?”

This request is a bit more poignant than it might seem as she had had a brother who had died at birth. And it wasn’t the first time she has requested a sibling. With me at 50 and Randy… ah, snipped, we won’t be producing any siblings the “natural” way. But what it made me realize, was that she was lonely. As an only child, staying at home with mommy most days, she was craving playmates.

As we drove homeward across the hundreds of miles of basin and range, Randy and I had a lot of time to talk (when we weren’t listening to Charlotte’s Wed or Little House on the Prairie). We discussed getting back into foster care again – Isla was old enough now. And we discussed updating our homestudy for adoption – because you never know when a baby might miraculously fall from the sky into your waiting arms, right? We could never afford the normal adoption-through-an-agency route. We have learned over the years between the loss of Isla’s older brother and her own arrival, adoption is for rich folk… which we are not. But a private adoption….. we might be able to handle. Or an adoption through foster care.

It’s much more complicated than I make it sound, but the bottom line was… it was time. Time to try school again. And I had decided a year and a half ago that there was only one school I felt I could trust with the care of my darling child – Waldorf. We first discovered the Taos Waldorf School when we cared for a 10 yr old foster child who was in 3rd grade there. I fell in love with the school immediately. And over 4 yrs later, I still cry when I go there. I don’t know what it is – the safety? The nurturing environment? The animals, gardens, greenhouse, apiary and orchards? The teachers exuding love? The simple environment based in Nature? The smell of fresh baked bread and simmering soup? I want to regress and become a child and feed “Cookies and Cream”, the enormous angora rabbit, or milk the nubian goats, or pet the ducks and chickens, or walk to the “magic grove” and climb into the massive arms of the old cottonwood tree, like climbing back into my mother’s lap.

But there were two obstacles: money, and an available spot. I waited patiently until school was back in session from the holidays before calling to inquire. And I was greatly relieved to learn that there WAS a space available for the Tues/Thurs attendance I hoped for. Wew! One down….

Next was money – being a private school with no funding to speak of, the only way we could afford it was if I could find work. Ah, that would be… PAYING work. And that is no easy task when you have a VERY limited number of specific hours in which you are available to work. Thankfully, the Universe seemed determined to support this monumental change in our family’s lives. A dear friend was loosing her nanny, right at the same time Isla was beginning school. She needed someone to care for her 1 yr old so she could continue her own career, telecommuting from home. And her hours were flexible, and enough. Good thing I adore her wee lassie as I have not been paid that little is a very, very long time. Even my own 17 yr old babysitter chastised me and said I should not take less than $15/hr. “But dear, I pay YOU 10 an hour.” “Yes, but I am 17 and you are 50, MacLaren – with a child!” But this is all a mute point as I am not interested in starting up my old business designing houses (for $45/hr), nor would I be able to with so few hours available. The important thing is when all is said and done, I come out about $2 ahead per month. Or something like that. It sits uncomfortably in my gut, but I can deal.

And so, Isla had her first day at school last week, with mama of course – a re-introductory visit day. But yesterday, she stayed the full day, WITHOUT me! I was beaming with pride from ear to ear! I played with her after school in the frigid playground, and treated her to a decaf chai at her favorite cafe. She spewed a non-stop string of stories from her day, stopping only to guzzle her well earned beverage. Her whole demeanor seemed to have shifted. She was cooperative and polite with me, thanking me over and over for taking her to school. I could not stop smiling. She seemed so different – so grown up.

And Randy brought her home a beautiful pink rose and big hugs of congratulations. It is so hard to believe that she really did it! And tomorrow is day 2 and she can barely wait. Sigh…

I can’t deny it anymore. It’s true! Our bonnie wee lassie is growing up!

Isla's congratulatory tostada dinner complete with a pink rose from Papa!

Isla’s congratulatory tostada dinner complete with a pink rose from Papa!

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I never liked her much, but it seemed like a good… learning opportunity for my almost 3 yr old. I am speaking of my chicken, Gertie. She died last night. It was not particularly tragic, but there was great need for verbal and emotional processing. From Isla anyway. And perhaps from me too. The “Part One” of this story can be read here.

We found her this morning, as I expected, stiff and quite dead where we had left her. Although the “Part One” tells the touching tale of Dot, the caring Americana, who “stood” by Gertie’s death bed, supporting her physically and emotionally through her transition – the rest of the story was slightly less… touching.

Last night I loaded Isla into the back on my back, covered her and me against the wet spring snowstorm, and sloshed out into the dark to “put the chickens to bed”. Of course, the goats now get first priority, especially as Bucky is still being bottle fed. But after the goats were tucked in, we headed to the coop to shut the girls and Little Willie up. And, of course, check on the “almost dead Gertie”. I expected another tender scene of flock devotion for the failing Queen. Instead we found Gertie at the bottom of the coop ramp laying the snow and mud, struggling on her side. Ouch. She was bleeding heavily from her comb. I could only imagine one of the other chickens, perhaps the “next in line”, pecking aggressively at her head as she lay helpless and dying on the floor of the coop. And perhaps Gertie struggled to escape, ending in a tumble out the door and down the ramp. It made us very sad.

We raised the hatch on the “chicken condo”, the screwed on coop addition for our expanding flock, and took a look within. Perfect! Only Rosie, sweet Rosie Livingston Seagull Chicken. She was our first chicken and Gertie was our second. They were fast buds for an entire summer of camping in our yard. Rosie would not harm her. I picked up Gertie tenderly and laid her on the fresh, dry, wood shavings inside the condo, and even turned on the heat lamp. Her legs were already growing stiff. Rosie stood, shifted, and nestled back into the shavings beside her dying, old friend. I believed Gertie would be able to pass into the spirit world safely beside Rosie. I HAD to believe, or I would not sleep. Isla witnessed it all over my shoulder by the light of my headlamp – the Biggest Lesson of all – Life and Death and the harshness of Nature. Farm life never glosses over uncomfortable realities. Farm life never says “Oh it’s OK, they’ll just be happy up in Heaven watching over us.” Life and Death is never… “OK”, it just… IS.

And as we lay in the dark warmth of our down comforter, the processing began. Isla is a BIG verbal processor. We talked and talked about Gertie and her spirit and how her spirit would leave her body behind. We discussed how she would not need her body anymore, and that her spirit would go to the spirit world and be free of her physical body and unencumbered. I told her I felt certain that she would be dead in the morning. We discussed the act of burial. And Isla made the obvious comparison to her own dead brother, Rowan. “Will Gertie’s spirit be with Rowan’s spirit Mama?” “That’s hard to say Sweetie. It’s possible. Chicken spirits and little boy spirits may not go to the same places. Would you like for Gertie and Rowan to be together?” She thought long and hard on that question, but the answer never came. She had finally, gratefully, fallen asleep.

With 6″ of fresh, wet, heavy, spring snow this morning, I thought I would wait until after nap for Gertie’s ceremony. I re-dressed my groggy, cranky toddler at 4:30 PM and we headed out the door in our muck boots for afternoon farm chores. Goats first, then scraps and scratch to the chickens, and collection of eggs (only 4 today instead of the usually 7-8). Then with shovel in hand, I hefted Old Dead Gertie by her legs, and we headed out of our gate and across the trail to the vacant lot to the east. I chose a nice spot next to the acequia and stamped the shovel into the clay. It was a mud fest. The clumps of wet snow had soaked into the earth creating a slick bog that a mud wrestler would envy. I dug and dug, determined to keep the coyotes away from her grave. Isla watched, talked about Gertie, and squished her boots into the mud. I laid our old Matriarch in her grave and explained the process of saying a little something and then sprinkling her body with dirt. After I had my go at a chicken epithet, Isla took the podium: “Gertie, you were a good chicken. I love you.”

We sprinkled our handfuls of dirt over her rust colored feathers, the red clay nearly the same color as her body. Then I began a chant, dredged up from my short stint with Paganism, and as we stomped down the dirt we droned along… “We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return, like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean.” On and on we chanted and stomped as the newest snow flurry blew in around us from the north. And we continued to sing as we slopped back along the edge of the acequia, kept upright by the shared shovel. Green blades of grass poked up through the remaining clumps of snow, lining the path homeward. Our boots were 5 lbs each by the time we reached the coop again, pausing briefly to grab up the egg basket. These signs of rebirth, these cycles of life, were not lost on me…. spring snow, green grass poking through, eggs, and Easter less than a week away. Life and death are forever inseparable. Our compost pile rots all winter to give us fresh wormy dirt for our spring beds. Gertie will go back to the earth and the same red wigglers that once fed her, will feed on her, leading her slowly and steadily back to the Grand Mother of us all.

We sighed, leaned the shovel against the porch post, kicked off our boots and went back inside.

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Her long, ash-gray ears felt like velvet to the pads of my fingers. I could not stop stroking them, or tracing a line along the jet black ridge of her spine, surrounded on both sides by a sea of dark chocolate. She was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen, so small, so vulnerable, so perfect…. and she had been so close to death just a few hours before.

Here Fiona is 3 or 4 hrs old. Amazing that such a tiny creature can elicit such fierce, unconditional love from so many.

Hazelnut gave birth earlier than expected, in the wee hours of dawn amidst a driving blizzard. While she labored through the storm, both inside and out, I had one of my worst nights of insomnia on record. Up for 5 straight hours, I thought incessantly and obsessively about baby goats and goats being born. I can only imagine I was in some sort of spiritual link with my future goat. When Chris, Hazelnut’s human papa, bundled again the snow and tromped off to the barn to check on the three expectant caprine mothers, it was already too late for the little buckling. Hazelnut had been pushed away from the heat lamp by the herd matriarch, and the buckling had froze while his sister was being born. This tragic news gave me more insight into my “labor bond” with Hazelnut. I too, had lost my son at birth. Fiona, as I named her, was on Death’s door. But Death did not have the firm grip on her that took her brother. The Pieper family acted fast, stoking the wood stove and dragging out the radiant heat lamp. Someone milked Hazelnut and the warm colostrum was dribbled down Fiona’s throat with a dropper, as she was still too weak to swallow. When Isla and I arrived, and I held the tiny doeling in my lap, she was still shivering from her frigid entry into our harsh world. But 3 hrs later, when we said a reluctant farewell, she was already struggling to stand…

and I was hopelessly in love.

The morning of Fiona's birth

Elana Pieper nursing Fiona back to life

Isla and I get our chance... and that was that. We were hooked.

Gwendolyn Pieper lets Hazelnut have some time with her down-wrapped baby.

We returned to the Pieper’s farm the following day. After a nice visit with the family, and Hazelnut, who would soon be OUR herd matriarch, we packed up a mason jar of colostrum, and a clean beer bottle with rubber nipple. And with Fiona in my lap, and Isla in her car seat, I drove slowly home. The wee lassies slept soundly for the 30 minute drive. We made our doeling a comfy bed in the corner of the kitchen and nursed her every couple of hours. We held her as much as we possibly could – attachment parenting will always be my choice with a human baby, and when needed, with an animal one too. That night I snuggled our furry newborn daughter in bed beside me, getting up 3 times in the night to bottle feed and let her pee. Not much sleep was had for me, but I didn’t really care. All my newborn/second child mothering urges were being exquisitely fulfilled with this big act of love between me and a 5 lb. lump of fur, warmth and trust. I was in groggy heaven.

Fiona checking out the goat on our rug while sporting an old pair of Isla's pull ups.

Isla introduces each of her many friends to her new caprine sibling.

"And you and Hazelnut will come live with us as soon the your house is finished! We'll be sisters!"

After returning Fiona to Hazelnut and the Piepers, Isla and I each gave a heavy sigh and trudged back to the car. It was wonderful to see mama and baby bonding the way Nature intended and that sight gave me joy… but also a strange pang of jealousy. I have so badly wanted a second child, and Fiona is already satiating so much of that primal, and sometimes painful desire. And Isla is already accepting her as the little sibling she has been asking for, human or not. But the hardest thing was the unexpected separation over the following days as I immediately came down with a nasty cold and could not come visit the goats again for 4 long days. After the intimate bond created from sleeping with Fiona, this was pure torture for me. It gave me some insight into how Hazelnut must feel being separated from her baby! BOTH her babies!

But today Fiona is a week old and sleeping safely in the barn with her animal mama. She is running, jumping and playing – still wobbly but so very much more sure hoofed! Her recovery has been a miracle in my eyes. And this morning’s sunrise brought her 2 new cousins born into the herd from her half sister, Wren. The role call is not yet over either. Mamacita is expecting certainly triplets, and possibly quadruplets! We hope to bring home one of the bucklings as well.

Last night we helped celebrate Chris Pieper’s 45th birthday and I ate an excellent home cooked meal with little Fiona in my arms. I shared her with the other guests too… reluctantly. Many wanted to hold the little fuzzy nugget and kiss her knobbly head, on the snow white patch, just between her little horn buds. With all the preparation for the coming weekend work party to finish the goat shed and fence, I do not know when my next visit to the girls will be and that leaves me with a certain anxiousness in my gut. But I also need to remember my human daughter. She loves the goats too, but doesn’t fancy the competition for Mama’s love and focus. Tonight she insisted on pulling out her old baby bottle and having me feed her. “I’m a little goat, Mama, and my name is Fiona. I can’t hold my bottle. YOU have to feed me. Make sure I stretch my neck out nice and long, OK?” This is more humorous than one might think as Isla would NEVER take a bottle in all her infancy! She was solely breast fed!

My token "breaking ground" photo taken just before the storm, and Fiona, arrived.

10 stock panels for the pen - 50" high by 16' long.

Returning home with cedar posts for both pole barn and pen.

The two Randy's trying to look tough next to their first sunk posts. Unfortunately the post hole auger failed to work.

I have wanted goats for decades and felt a strange, comfortable and curious bond with them. Randy and I have always been interested in gardening, but as our food supply has become less and less safe and predictable, we have turned more toward a deep desire for some level of homesteading. Nowadays, it is the only true way to know what you are ingesting. When I was pregnant with Isla, we discussed what my “job” would be once she was born. We both heartily agreed that we did not want for me to take on a paying job, just to afford to pay someone else to raise our child! I had closed the doors on my sustainable house design business a year or so prior and had welcomed the ease of drafting land survey plats for my friend and his thriving survey business. It was such a stress relief to leave my work at the office (someone else’s office) and not stay awake at night working out a design challenge for a demanding client. But CAD work would not be compatible with raising a newborn in a Waldorf inspired home. So it was decided. I would be the stay-at-home mommy and manage a little farm… an urban homestead… basically the life I had dreamed of for many, many years. Not only would I nurture the mind of my long awaited daughter, but I would nurture the bodies of my partner, my child, and myself. It was the ultimate mothering job. Really? Me? I could do this?

We bought a house on a little piece of land at the outskirts of town and found a tenant for our existing home. We were tired of the isolation and barren lands of our mesa living and were ready for community. It wasn’t much – 1.7 acres. But it had a well which was HUGE for us, having live in a our owner-built, off-grid, strawbale house for years. There, we collected rainwater or hauled it from a spring. The closest aquifer was 1300′ straight down and no one in the neighborhood could even consider drilling! A well sounded like pure decadence to us leather-skinned mesa rats.

We moved into our new home in Oct of ’09, little Isla at 5 months old, strapped to my body as we unpacked boxes. We talked and planned through the winter, ordered seeds and researched bees and chickens. Randy took on the majority of the garden, and me the animals and insects. By the end of the first year we had a flock of 12 chickens (2 of which were laying), 1 bee hive, 8 fruit trees planted, and a good sized garden with fencing. But no goats. By the end of the 2nd year we were pulling in our second honey harvest, had expanded the garden, built raised beds and added drip irrigation. The orchard had a total of 18 trees – all on drip, and the chicken flock had been increased to 15 by natural means of broody birds (tallied after the loss of 3 laying hens and 4 peeps to a predator, and the 3 mean roosters we’d relegated to the freezer). But no goats.

But THIS year….. oh my! I am getting my goats I am! No more buying local, raw, goat and cow milk to keep kefir, yogurt and cheese in my family’s bellies. We’ll raise the buckling for meat, right along side Fiona. She’ll have a playmate during her kid months, and we will know our dinner was loved, cared for, raised organically in comfortable, healthy conditions, and was killed with reverence and respect. After shelving my dream for years, I am mere weeks away! Soon I’ll be milking Hazelnut, steps away from my back porch, and drinking her milk, warm and fresh, mild and creamy, as only a Nubian’s is.

And when I lead Hazelnut, Fiona, and her buckling cousin into their new pen and shed, I think I will finally be able to call myself a mother AND a true urban homesteader! Damn it is going to feel good!!!

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It’s that time of year again: The sun sets earlier, there is a wee nip of fall in the air, the divine smell of roasting chilies is everywhere, I am beginning to get sick of fresh veggies, and a deep melancholy is winding it’s way to the surface of my heart. Why does it surprise me year after year? I am happily busy with farm chores, family trips, visitors, daily life… and then my feet start to drag and I find myself turning inward. Yes, it’s that time of year again… time to light the candle, time to remember difficult memories. 6 yrs ago today, on August 28th, 2005, our son Rowan was born… and died. Or perhaps I should rephrase: He died and was born.

Rowan Cecil Scott Roch was 20 inches long and weighed 7 lbs 11 oz. He had wavy ginger hair. He looked like his namesake – his great grandmother Cecil. His eyes never gazed into mine and his lungs never knew the shock of the first inhalation of our atmosphere. He was beautiful, perfect, and dead.

Our last prenatal appointment was on a Tues and he was very active with a strong heartbeat, ready to take on birth and life. My due date was 4 days later – on a Saturday – and like clockwork, my contractions began in earnest, exactly on time. Birth bag was packed, car seat strapped in awaiting his little body, and we drove to the birth center, nervous and very, very excited to meet our son after a natural water birth. But the midwife could find no heartbeat. I didn’t worry for a second. Truly. It was all too right. My pregnancy had been picture-perfect, I had taken my pre-natals and fish oil, done my pre-natal yoga, meditated and talked to our son, had (reluctantly) one ultrasound at 25 wks, taken long walks while describing to our baby the beauties of the stark, windswept mesa we lived on. I had faith and I had trust… back then. The hospital nurse ran the ultrasound wand over my bursting belly again and again in silence. The midwives were silent. Randy was silent. The entire world seemed to hold it’s breath. “I am sorry Ms. Scott. There is no heartbeat. Your baby is dead.”

Time screeched to a halt. No one moved. I heard the blood rushing in my ears, pounding along with my racing heart, beating fiercely enough for both of us. Disbelief. Anger. But not grief – not yet. I slammed the door on my grief and my eyes remained dry. Some other part of my personality pulled out my “take charge” hat and slapped it firmly on my head, pushing back the panic, the collapse, the puddle on the floor I so badly wanted to be. “Are you sure?” Was that really my voice? I sounded so far away… so not like myself… so harsh… so stern. “Yes.” the nurse confirmed. “I am so very sorry.” I cleared my throat. “Well,” I said in the distant stranger’s voice, “I guess I don’t need a natural birth anymore as that was for my baby. Let’s get this over with then. I want an epidural and a C-section. Let’s do it.” Christ! Who WAS this woman talking? How could she be so cold and calculated?

It was 30 minutes before the anesthesiologist came to the room. My contractions continued. I told Randy to call my support person, Joanne, and tell her she didn’t need to come. I was all steel, teeth clenched. The anesthesiologist returned again after an additional 30 minutes to inform me he could not give me any form of anesthesia due to the types of supplements I had been taking. There was a chance my blood would not clot and I could bleed internally. Too risky. Joanne burst in, face stained with tears, and marched to my bed. “Not coming my ass! Fuck that!” Some how I found the ability to laugh – only she could have gotten away with that maneuver. My labor lasted 12 hrs, my heart numb and my body wracked with pain. My sole job was to keep my shit together and push away the stinkin’ elephant in the room: You are going through all this pain and suffering for nothing! Your baby is DEAD.

On the morning after my due date, with an unbelievable rush of pain, Rowan’s body sloshed out into the waiting hands of our loving midwife. I was cynically aware the doctor had let her catch – after all, there was no liability issue with an already dead baby. I closed my eyes in utter relief and drifted into a dark silence, so akin to the world he had just come from. After what seemed like eternity, there was a nudge against my arm, bringing me back to my exquisite pain. I opened my eyes upon Randy’s tear-stained face. In his arms was a little blanketed bundle. How could this be happening? Why were those long, strong limbs so still and white? Where was the newborn mewling? The thrashing, pink fists? I noticed then I was seeing the scene from above my body, void of emotion, watching the exhausted midwives, Joanne beside me, the nurse a discrete distant away, and Randy’s shoulders shaking in unchecked grief. I reached out instinctively for my son, cradled him tenderly, and set about examining every inch of his body with stoic remove. His tiny fingernails were stained with meconium. There was a crimson drop of blood resting just inside one nostril. His lips were the color of ripe cherries. His skin was white, waterlogged, wrinkled and blistered. I realized with a clinical eye that he had been dead for a few days and the lack of circulation had caused this. His wet hair was plastered against his head in light auburn waves. He was so very limp and heavy; It was hard to contain his drooping, flaccid appendages. My heart wrapped around him like a steel band of fierce protection. Laying on my side, both my body and soul in tremendous pain, I cuddled him tightly in my arms refusing to let go…. for a long time. The warmth he had borrowed from my womb slowly faded and his stiffening body became cold against me.

We were left alone to say our hello and goodbye to this tiny dream before us. I pushed away thoughts of our waiting home, so perfectly ready for him…. drawers filled with freshly laundered clothes, off-road stroller, baby packs and slings, stacks of cloth diapers and wool covers, everything organic, books, toys, and stuffed animals ready to greet him. We un-swaddled him together and bathed his blistered skin carefully – it was very fragile and tore so easily. He was as white as a porcelain doll. With characteristic practicality, I left him undiapered and undressed, merely re-swaddled in the blanket from the hospital. I knew his wrinkled body would first pass by the pathologist’s scalpel before burning to ashes in the crematorium. Why waste the organic cotton diapers and onsie, the wee matching hat and booties, still zipped tightly in my birth bag? We spent 4 hrs with our baby’s body, trying to remember every detail, every dimple, every lock of hair. We took dozens of pictures. We kissed his cold toes and fingers, his little nose so like my own. But I never had the courage to open his eyes. And then, against every bone in my body, we laid him on the bed, turned our backs, and walked slowly down the long corridor to our unexpected, new life and our waiting grief.

The midwives let us rest on a birth bed in their nurturing birth center. It had been over 24 hrs since we had slept and we had just survived the most difficult experience of our lives. Randy and I laid thankfully under the homemade quilt, wrapped in each other arms, our bodies completely empty and totally spent. And as the late summer rain began to fall outside the open windows, my heart released it’s iron control and the floodgates opened. I cried my first tears. And then I sobbed a river of grief for which there was no end.

And 6 yrs later I still cry. In fact, there is a pile of wadded tissues beside me as I type. Certainly the pain has subsided… changed. But it never leaves. It makes it more difficult that a cause was never found. Both Rowan and I underwent a battery of tests after his death, but nothing was uncovered – the mystery remains. Perhaps a wrapped cord? A clot in the cord? We will never know. People who have never lost a child make the assumption that a subsequent child will “make it all better”. They think the score card is settled, our grief erased, a baby for a baby. And, as parents who have lost a child know well, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead we feel the the absence of Isla’s big brother even more. There was suppose to be two! They should be growing up together, playing side by side, adventuring, loving, learning, experiencing life as siblings. When I first put Isla to my breast, her unfocused gray eyes searching my face, certainly I felt a great joy and a profound love. But I also remembered the feverish pain of my hot, swollen breasts, leaking colostrum that my son would never taste. At each developmental step Isla reaches, I realize more fully what we have missed with Rowan. I still have dreams about finding a little boy with red hair, adopting a little boy, rescuing a little boy. These dreams seem to increase around his birthday and around the holidays – the times for family celebration and togetherness, the times when I feel the hole in my heart the most.

It was a huge step in my healing process to purge our lives of all the baby things that Isla could no longer use. Even though Randy had a vasectomy several months after Isla’s birth, I still clung to the fantasy that I would miraculously get pregnant again, or our foster/adoption counselor would make that long awaited call to us. I believe I have fully accepted, finally, that Isla will be an only child, and even feel contentment in that acceptance. At the ripe age of 49, I am truly happy to be done with the newborn combat zone. But then Rowan’s birthday sneaks up on me and I find my mind full of fantasies of little red-headed boys once more.

It’s that time of year again.

And we miss you so much my son.

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