How did you spend your Sunday afternoon ? If you didn’t say, “On my back in a paddock, up to my elbow in an alpaca, swearing up a blue streak,” then your afternoon was probably less… gooey than mine. You probably don’t have the interesting bruises on your arm, either. Please note that I will be describing this afternoon in a bit further detail, so if this squicks you, now might be a good time to glance at the photos, sigh, “Ah, everything turned out okay,” and go read something else.
So Stephen noticed about lunchtime that Jasmine was probably in first stage labor. This is Jasmine. Isn’t she pretty ?
The next time he went out to check, he came back with the terse instructions, “Trim your nails and wash your hands!”
Jasmine had pushed out a little white head and a little white foot. Problem is that alpacas have, yes, two front feet, and both of them are supposed to come out at the same time. The other one must be folded back under the cria’s body. According to the neonatal class we’d both gone to last year, that meant getting a hand up in, catching the other front foot, and executing this tidy little maneuver whereby you flip the front leg under the body and pull it out properly alongside the other one.
If you are thinking, “Boy, I bet that’s harder than it sounds,” you would be right. In the class, we practiced with an “artificial uterus”, which I can tell you is a hell of a lot roomier than the real thing. Especially when the real thing is really eager to squeeze both the cria AND your arm out right the $#%^ now, thank you very much.
Now, I can tell you that once I figured out which slick, squishy-yet-bony lump was the leg I wanted, and how it was positioned, I could see that part of the problem was that the knee was already through the opening of the cervix and into the birth canal. I had to try and push it back into the uterus to even have a hope of flipping the leg. I can also tell you that I was thinking (quite out loud) that if she’d got the knee through the cervical opening, could she not get it the rest of the way through the pelvis as-is ? I mean, that little leg is a good bit skinnier than my arm, after all. Well, but that’s not what we’d learned, so I gave it my best. So did Jasmine. Ow. She’s a strong girl ! It was difficult to get my arm far enough up there in the first place to get a grip on the wrist, difficult to maintain a grip on the slippery, gooey wrist*, and, in fact, impossible to get that leg flipped around. It’s possible that I just didn’t have the proper angle. It’s possible that there really just wasn’t enough room.
*Here’s an experiment for you: Have someone wrap both hands around your forearm, at the meaty bit below the elbow. Clench your fist as tight as you can. Now have that person squeeze your forearm with both hands. If they’ve got your arm wrapped properly, you’ll find it hard to maintain that grip — there’s some tendons in there that’ll try to make your fingers open.
At any rate. I was getting tired, Jasmine was getting tired, and Kerry was getting sunburnt — and tired from running down to the house and back for the cell phone, and then for the bit of rope we were going to try looping around the slippery ankle. Then we had to send Beth back for the phone book… note to self: reassess the contents of the “birthing kit”. Using the cell phone Kerry fetched, Stephen rang our neighbor Shaunie, a much-more-experienced-than-us farmer, who’d assisted cows, sheep, and horses before. Huzzah for good neighbors!
Here’s Shaunie having a look (that jug I’m holding is lubricant, if you’re curious, and if you weren’t, would you have read this far?):
And here’s the result:
She lined the leg back up and pulled him (yes, a boy — a blue-eyed white) out with that leg knee-first — she reckons the leg was too long to flip (“They’re built like greyhounds — they’re all leg!”). So I’d been correct, actually, with my first instinct. And now I’ve got the experience to know to trust it.** So that’s one good thing to come of the afternoon’s experience.
And here’s another:
**EDIT: Just to be clear, the narrowest part of the birth canal is the pelvic frame. The cervix is just tissue, and can expand, but the pelvic frame, being bone, can’t. The widest part of the cria is the shoulders, so it is important that the cria is positioned so that there’s nothing — like, say, a folded leg — adding extra width to the shoulders as they go through the pelvis. The class we took also covered things like shifting the cria’s shoulders around onto the diagonal, where’s there’s just slightly more room, and little tricks like grabbing the legs and shoving one shoulder back while pulling the other forward, so that one scapula comes through slightly ahead of the other, narrowing the shoulders that way. (That’s what we had to do with Cindy’s stuck cria last year.) Sometimes, if the cria is already in the birth canal (i.e., past the cervical opening) but in the wrong position to go through the pelvis, you do have to shove the thing back into the uterus to reposition it. We were lucky that Jasmine is a big, sturdy girl with a pelvis plenty wide enough to get the job done despite the less-than-ideal position.