Molly’s belly fairly bubbles with baby movement now. Two or three times every day I go and sit with Molly in her room -the moment she hears me croon, she lays on her side so I can stroke her belly. As long as she can feel me leaning against her she is happy. I encourage this. Farrowing is easier if you have the trust of the sow. Her babies kick and almost roil under my warm hand and she closes her eyes and sleeps.
She was chewing her cud and I was standing by her side with my hands on her belly waiting for a sign. I had gone as deep as prayer. My whole self settles into my hands as I wait for the calf to move in there.
When we were kids, we grew up right beside the sea, we never fished that I can remember, I think we loved the ocean too deeply to hook and kill the fish in it. But we used to drag the dinghy out into the water and puddle about out there.
I would track the migratory patterns of the orca with their familiar white spot, pods of killer whales came past our house four times a year. I would watch for the dolphins from our house balcony. I knew they were there. I must have been eleven or twelve or thirteen at the time – Mum was not sick yet and I was free to roam alone in those summers.
As a child I was very sure that I could communicate with them so when I knew the orca was due, or there were reports of smaller dolphuns, I would row out to wait for them
I would ship the oars and lie over the side of the dinghy, upsetting the balance right to the waterline, then I would go very still. Bare feet hooked under the wooden plank seat. Hands trailing in the water as the boat slopped and floated. I was a skinny, shoeless, leggy child with long wild untamed hair and freckles and I was sure, totally sure, that if I called to the dolphins (orca is technically a dolphin and I had done all the research) with my mind, they would rise up out of the deep, from under the boat and touch my fingers before lowering themselves back out of sight. I would see them as rolls of dark silvery water, watching me watch them.
At that age I dreamed of having a little boat made of glass so I could see what was under there. Imagine my surprise as a grown-up when I discovered that some tourist resorts did have glass bottomed boats.
It feels like I did this for summers on end but I am sure it was only a few times before my parents caught me breaking the ‘ never alone on the sea’ rule. And you cannot Sea Watch with little brothers in tow.
I only tell this because the total focus on my cows belly, calling her baby to show himself, is the same as when I was a child leaning out over the boats side in a long deep empty sea, the length of a shout from the shore, there I was communing with underwater mammals. I would take my breathing down as far as I could without hybernating. Not a sound but the sea. Not a movement but the sea. Feeling around in the waters with my senses for these fish that were not really fish.
They never did visit me. The orca or the dolphins. I saw a stingray once and orca love to eat stingrays but it just floated past. I saw little fish and jellyfish. All the shallow water inhabitants. My memory records no disappointment at this. I only ever saw these big mammals from the beach. But I knew that they would come up to me one day.
So with the same loose rangy intensity, I am standing at the side of my big milk cow feeling deep for any movement in her belly that is not breathing and also hyper aware of the other cows in the vicinity hoping I do not get caught in the usual pushing and shoving that cows do. But I am happy, I miss my milk cow and it is nice to stand with her. She does not mind – she trusts me.
I feel a slow roll under my hands.
Could that be a calf? I am not sure. But it reminds me of the slow roll of those long ago imaginary orca.
Without any real thought I lean right into her and lay my good ear on her side. It takes a while to sort out the noises I hear in there. Her stomachs are loud. I hear the watery boom, pause, boom, pause, of Lady Astor’s familiar heartbeat. Her heart is huge and at rest. Then like the slow emergence of a big silver fish up out of the depths comes the pat-pat, pat-pat, pat-pat of a smaller heart. It recedes as fast as I heard it.
I pull out my phone – reasoning that if I could hear that with my ear maybe I could record it with the the phone. So I turned on the recorder and pushed the end of the phone low in her round body. Instantly a little movement came from deep inside the belly of the cow and the phone jerked in my hand. A tiny foot booted the phone straight back off. The calf was tapping ME.
It seems to me there might be a baby in there after all.
There was no more movement after that. And after a while I left to do the chores. Curious, I thought as I climbed back over the gate. And now I think maybe I imagined it after all.
Suffice to say there was nothing on the recording either. I make myself laugh sometimes. I am going to dig out my stethoscope today I have one somewhere around here.
I hope you have a lovely day.