Monday, 30 September 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Eight: Placenta

Louka was a two year old pure bred, brindle Cane Corso. By all accounts she possessed what might best be called supernovic powers of fertility, and when all was said and done, twelve hours and fifteen pups spilled out onto the basement floor.

I don't know what we expected, but Craig had seemed to be prepared. He'd built the pen days before and had towels and blankets at the ready, and hot water nearby. I was only visiting, but even to my novice eyes it quickly became clear that we were well-intentioned but ill-equipped. Let there be no confusion: birth is a sloppy affair. Exhilaratingly disgusting and, as far as I can tell, not something that one can ever be properly prepared for. I think, to begin with, we'd expected it to happen at some time of day that wasn't midnight. I think too that we assumed it would be far more of a spectator sport. Surely the dog would know what to do. Instincts and all that. But for all of Louka's prowess at conception, the details of what went on in the departures gate were lost on her.

None of us wanted to get too close, nor would she allow it. She paced around her 10'x10' pen, circling and cowering behind whimpers. She'd sort of collapse down on her side and then crawl a little before standing again, and then she'd start all over. Eventually she just squatted, as if to expel something, though I don't think she knew what exactly, and the first purplish-red, kidney bean looking sack dropped onto the newspapered floor. She turned and nosed at him once, seemingly to bury him under the slush of a business section, and then removed herself to the other side of the pen where she proceeded to lick and fuss at her own wounds.

He was roughly the size of a Yukon Gold, and with just about the same amount of gumption. It was probably his helplessness that saved him because I couldn't bear him just lying there dying. You need to get him out of there, Craig said as he knelt next to Louka. And get him breathing. She's supposed to lick them out of it and get them started, but... his voice trailed off into the obvious. Clearly she wanted nothing to do with it.

The placenta was warm and slippery, but much stronger than I'd expected--the consistency of a balloon. It took both hands and several tries, but he finally burst out. She's supposed to lick all the mucous away to help them breathe.

All that warmth. And those tiny, little toes. The weight of him. He was almost nothing. Almost nothing. And so very...unmoving. 

I thumped at his sides with my fingers and pulled the goo away from his mouth. Nothing. I rinsed one hand in the bucket of hot water, and coned my thumb and forefinger around his nose, blowing sharply into it. It took a few tries, and more smearing away of fluid and thumping of ribs, but finally his body began to quiver and twitch. His head lolled over my finger tips and each tiny leg squirmed to life. It seemed to me that this was the greatest thing I'd ever done—the biggest, most important thing—and it occupied less worldly space than the palm of my hand.

I placed him down in front of Louka, who had composed herself in the interim, and with one flick of her tongue she swabbed his whole body. She had the hang of it then, and took to cleaning him almost frantically. She managed the next fourteen like a seasoned pro and for the rest of the night we remained in the trenches, swamping out piles of oozing papers and replacing them with dry sections, refreshing the water bucket, and redirecting wayward pups as they became separated from the heap. We took shifts lying down and re-brewing coffee, and eventually we must have slept because we woke together to find Louka, glassy-eyed, nursing, and draped across the pen. Not quite as romantic as Disney would have played it, but every bit as magical.

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