It sounds so pleasant and innocuous when one describes giving birth as a “miracle,” but from what I can gather, from the point of view of the mother it’s more along the lines of “yeah, it’s a miracle all right—it’s a miracle that I survived this hell and thank god it’s over.” Full disclosure to readers: I have never given birth. Despite my own “nulliparity” (from the Latin, “nullus”=none + “parere”=bear children), birth has been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because my best friend, Perrin, is about to pop out her first child any day now (shameless plug: not just any child, but my very own goddaughter).
Hyena mamas carry their young around in their bellies for 110 days before sending them out into the world. I know what all you mamas are thinking—“wimps! I carried my child around for two and a half times that long!” Well, that may be true, but you should know that elephant mamas have you beat; their pregnancies last 22 months. Maybe you need to read that one more time to really let it sink in: that’s right, in the time it takes an elephant mama to make ONE baby, you could have made TWO. Betcha feel like kind of a slacker now, don’t you?
Anyway, I digress (what else is new). The point of this story is that I saw my very first live birth the other day. It was a topi mama, and she was just standing in the middle of a field. At first it looked like she was pooping, but upon closer inspection we saw that she was actually about to give birth to a calf. I took video of the birth itself, which I can't post here unfortunately, so thanks to Andy for the first photo.
It was pretty amazing, mostly because of how quickly it happened. Her entire labor lasted less than two minutes…the calf just slid right on out like it was popping out of the bottom of a water slide. It was covered in amniotic fluid and was very endearingly confused. Interestingly, though, the mama topi seemed equally confused. She had a look that said, “I don’t know what just happened, but I REALLY didn’t like it. By the way, did anyone notice that some crazy alien just popped out of my butt??” In fact, after the birth was over, she wandered away from her newborn calf and stood with some other mamas that had more well-established calves (i.e. at least a day or two old—see last photo) and just stared in the direction of her calf, stopping occasionally to graze. We had to agree with her that those clean, fuzzy calves looked a lot cuter and a lot more inviting than her own messy one, but that didn’t stop us from shouting (softly, inside the car), “For crying out loud, stop eating grass and go tend to your bleeping baby!!!”
We watched from afar for a little while as the mother wandered farther away from the spot where her calf lay. It had started to lick itself clean and had made a couple attempts at standing up, although to no avail. However, during the time we watched it, it did make solid progress, leaving us optimistic that it would stand up and its mother would notice it and remember, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s mine and I’m supposed to take care of it,” which is entirely possible. Well, actually, everyone’s definition of “optimistic” is different. Audrey and I, Future-Mothers-of-America, were optimistic that the mama would retrieve it and the topi calf would have a happy ending. Andy was optimistic that she would forget all about it and a bunch of hungry hyenas would stumble upon it and have a jolly good time arguing over who got the choice cuts. We left before any of our versions could be spoiled by something as bothersome as the truth.
So today’s life lesson is just for Perrin: when the time comes for you to have your baby, try to stay focused. Yes, I hope for your sake the process is as quick as it was for the topi. But I hope for your baby’s sake that you don’t become forgetful and sidetracked and wander away from her to check out the hospital’s cafeteria.