by Marlene Leeper & Reg Reed from Sechelt, BC & Mitchell, ON
As the veterinarian in my town, my family and I are used to the me being paged to deal with animal emergencies. One such disruption, on Christmas Eve some years ago, is particularly memorable.
It was a perfect Christmas Eve. The snow was falling and we were in church waiting for the service to begin. I sat back to listen to the music. Almost immediately, I got a call ... a Mennonite farmer, who lived out of town, needed a veterinarian to help with a difficult calving. As quietly as possible I crawled out of the pew and headed out into the night.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse. The snow was falling heavily; the wind was angry. Where I was going the drive would be difficult at best. Christmas Eve, on a back-country road and the ploughs probably not at capacity.
When a farmer calls about a calving it is generally not going to be easy. The cow, I knew, must be in a bad way for me to be called out on Christmas Eve.
Before long I could hardly see the road. I rolled down the window to get my bearings. What should have been a 45 minute drive turned into an hour and a half. I knew that as time passed my chances of helping the cow deliver her calf were diminishing. I finally made it to the lane and turned up the drive. The farmer had no snow blower, indeed no vehicle, so the lane was almost impassable. I made it part way up with the 4 wheel drive but then I was stuck.
When I finally reached the barn door I was puffing heavily.
The farmer greeted me quietly but from his expression I could tell he thought I was too late to be of any help. We made our way to the pen. The cow was down, trying in vain to deliver her calf. I felt dismayed after I examined her. A breach birth. She was exhausted with the effort she had made. She turned her head away in defeat. I had come such a distance on this terrible night … I was determined to help her.
Half an hour later, stripped to the waist, covered in sweat from the exertion, I pulled out the baby calf. At first - nothing. I thought he would not breathe. But the mother nudged it gently and he took the tiniest intake of air. I watched his struggles to get up in the deep straw. Although I had delivered many calves before I was ecstatic about this little fellow. The farmer nodded to me in gratitude and asked if I’d like to dry off with some clean towels before we headed out into the night to try to dig out my truck. The barn door thudded softly to a close as he left to fetch the towels from the house.
When he left he placed his lantern in the barn window. I had been so preoccupied with what I was doing that I hadn’t noticed the absolute silence in the stable. All the other animals were staring in wonder at the newborn calf. He was staggering around the pen on wobbly legs investigating his new surroundings. Exhausted I sat down on a hay bale beside the stall and smiled at the calf’s first attempts to nurse.
And that’s when I realized how intensely peaceful it was in that barn at that moment. I felt blessed to be part of this event. I knew that I would not forget the intensity of this birth, on Christmas Eve, in a remote stable cast in the golden glow of a lantern.