Two springs ago, when I still lived in town, I took in a batch of bum lambs, one of whom was unable to walk. A few neighborhood girls came over daily to help with the bottles, and they named the little ewe Cutie Marigold, but I just called her Meri. She was fine when she was first born, but weakened by scours, she lay down on the barn floor when she was a few days old, and didn’t get up again. She was put in the orphan pen because she couldn't get up to nurse, and that’s how she found her way to me.
Unable to move herself, she was at the mercy of the other orphans. If another lamb wanted to stand on her (which they did from time to time) she had to make her peace with that. When feeding time came along, she would get lifted out and held, and thanks to lots of little girl love, she spent a good amount of time being carried. She got a little stronger, and after a week or so with us, started to stand again if someone helped her up; but, her legs were so weak she was unable to lower herself back to the ground. The only way to lie down was to let herself fall, and wherever she landed, there she stayed, till myself or one of the girls moved her again.
All things considered, she seemed relatively happy. The other lambs would clamor for their bottles, shoving and jostling to get to us, trampling her if she happened to have fallen near the exit, and she wouldn’t make a sound. I would rescue her – she always got fed first -- and she was one of the best eaters.
Of course, everyone else was growing and getting stronger, and it wasn’t long before the flock needed more space to practice their little lamb antics. So, the dogs and I started taking them out of the barn for supervised walks around the pasture.
The lambs loved it, following us in a bumbling, toppling fashion. They practiced running their fastest, then changing directions at pretend danger. The older lambs would race to the gate, turn suddenly to avoid smashing into the fence, and then run fast, fast, fast away from it.
Meri couldn’t do any of these things. I carried her on these jaunts, setting her down every once in a while so she could get some exercise. Eventually she began to walk, with stiff awkward half steps, but she couldn’t move fast, and her balance was terrible. She cried in terror as her barnmates ran away without her, then cringed with fear when they whipped around, plunging towards her again. She stuck close to the fence line so that she could lean against the posts as they stampeded past. Still, they sometimes knocked her over, leaving her helpless as a tortoise flipped on the highway until I came and collected her. She still couldn't stand up without help.
Spring was nearly summer and the lambs grew big enough to be outside alone during the bright, warm days. The flock loved to romp and run in the green expanses of new grass – except for Meri, who was stranded alone by the barn while the others frolicked wherever they pleased. She was no longer improving and at each feeding she was eating a little less. I feared my stoic little girl, left too often behind, was losing her will to live.
One evening in May, I was standing by the barn and the other babies were tossing their heads and teasing the dogs. Meri was standing alone, shivering hard. Her back was curved like an old woman’s and her hip bones jut through the dirty wool on her back. Her head nodded heavily, oddly large on her shrinking frame. “That’s it,” I thought. “She’s coming in for the night.”
I wrapped her up and set her on the couch next to my little dog, Micah. For all his annoying qualities, he has a few good ones, namely that he is a great snuggler. I sat down too, and if it is possible for a lamb to smile, Meri was smiling. She began to nibble my shirt, his collar, the fuzzy fleece blanket. This kind of nibbling is normal for a lamb, but it is something I’d never seen Meri do before. I scratched her chin and she smiled again, this time sighing and showing her teeth like a gawky girl posing for a photo. We sat and watched a movie together and then I tucked her in next to Micah for the night.
I had to get up at dawn to feed the other babies. Meri drank a little milk, and I took her out to pee with the dogs, then left her in the dog bed. The day passed quietly enough. Meri went out a few times for bathroom breaks, she drank a little more, and ate some pellets when the dogs had their meals. Other than that, she and Micah, and eventually one of the cats, spent most of their time piled together, napping.
This went on for days that turned to weeks. She practiced walking in the kitchen. She learned to run chasing the dogs across the yard. She grew stronger, got her appetite back, and lost her starveling’s boniness. When I thought she was ready, I took her back to the pasture, and by the end of the summer, other than a slight limp, and being a bit smaller and a bit slower than her adopted sisters, you’d never have guessed she’d had a rough start. She was my little miracle, a creature under my care who had made it through impossible odds.
Yesterday, we were out checking the flock and discovered Meri’s udders swelled to a round, soft pink. I’d noticed one of her sides bulging of late, and worried it was a rupture, thinking it unlikely that she, of all the ewes, would be the first to get pregnant this season. To be honest, I never thought she would get pregnant at all. It seemed more likely that her health would take a turn for the worse, as she has never been as sturdy as her sisters. Well, there is no doubt about it, that little bulge (now a big bulge) is a lamb.
By the time this article goes to print, my flock might be one sheep bigger, or it might be one sheep smaller. With her small size, and limp, I am worried giving birth won’t be easy for Meri. Her “baby bump” is lopsided – favoring her good leg -- and her pelvis is unusually narrow. These are the stark realities city life doesn’t prepare you for – the times when there will be a passage into life, or out of it. Certainly beloved pets die in the city, but with so many less animals to care for, the odds of facing loss are less too. I always say it is a blessing to be confronted with the true terms of the natural world, but it can be scary. All we can do now is wait, hope for the best, and pray that whatever carried her this far will bring her safely to the next stage of her life. In the meantime, I will be visiting her often, cherishing the gift of her for as long as I can.
After all my fretting Meri, gave birth to not one, but TWO beautiful babies. Everyone is settling in, and seems to be doing well!