Farmer’s Lament

I need to get something off my chest. This weekend our favorite sow, Tuesday, gave birth and I failed her. And I can’t figure out why. I keep replaying the day over and over in my head and I know I should have done better. I could have done better. Perhaps it was just a combination of being too hot, tired, and overworked. My mind wasn’t firing on all cylinders. I thought she was doing ok. But the signs were all there and I missed them.

Saturday was a hot, sunny day at the farm. We knew Tuesday was close to farrowing, and a quick check of her early that morning showed she was producing milk, which for a pig usually means labor within 24 hours. At this point we were already set up for some trouble as Tuesday had decided to build her nest outside, despite having access to a lovely little hut that would have provided shade and kept her piglets safe. Once a sow builds a nest, there’s really nothing you can do to change her mind about the location, so we figured we’d roll with it.

A few hours later I went over to Tuesday’s pen with a pop-up farmers market shelter. I figured I could at least create some shade for her if she insisted on being outside. When I climbed into her pen she was in her wallow, but as soon as the shelter was up she waddled over and plopped down in the shade. I was so relieved! Her breathing slowed down and she seemed content. Suddenly I heard a wet, flopping sound and looked back over at her wallow, where a brand new piglet was struggling. Labor had begun!

I settled down next to Tuesday and waited for the piglets. And waited. And waited some more. Usually if the time between piglets is longer than 40 minutes, something is wrong and she needs help. At this point I wasn’t too concerned. I thought perhaps the first piglet came out early because she was stressed by the heat, and that her labor had slowed now that she was calm. Which in hindsight doesn’t make any sense at all; labor is labor and those piglets needed to come out! The next two piglets that came out were undeveloped and had clearly died a long time ago. This is not uncommon in my experience, so I still wasn’t worried.

As time went on, another healthy piglet was born. The time between piglets was still long, but for some reason I stayed back. Our new sow Holly had farrowed just a few weeks ago, and I assisted with her entire litter. Because I did, she delivered twelve healthy babies (though she wound up crushing two later that night). Had I not intervened, things would have turned out much differently because she wasn’t pushing and clearly needed help. I can’t figure out why I didn’t notice that in Tuesday. Perhaps because she is our older, more experienced sow. We’ve never had issues with her farrowing before. So I just ignored the signs. And that’s when things got worse.

After that healthy pig was born, another full term stillborn piglet slid out. And another. A couple more live piglets, and then another dead one. Suddenly a live piglet popped out and Andrew, who had joined me at this point, looked at it and said “whoa, something’s wrong with that one!” The poor little guy had a crooked spine and seemed to be missing his abdominal walls. It was obvious he could not have survived, so unfortunately we had to put that one down. Finally I decided to go in. I felt some afterbirth, and once that was passed we assumed she was done. We made sure the piglets were nursing, washed up, and ran across the street for about half an hour.

Whoops. When I returned I saw that Tuesday had passed yet another stillborn piglet. I sat there on my heels reeling, not understanding how I could have been so careless. Since Tuesday is an older sow we knew this was going to be her last litter. Our hope was to get a replacement gilt out of her, so that we could continue her legacy on our farm. At this point she had five live piglets, and NONE of them were female. I sat there thinking maybe, just maybe she had one left in there. As I contemplated going back in to help, out popped a healthy little girl.

Six healthy piglets out of a possible 11 that had come to full term is not ideal. But six is still a decent litter, and we had our girl! The rollercoaster of emotions was incredible. Finally we realized we needed to give Tuesday some oxytocin to get her uterus contracting and push out the afterbirth. In retrospect we should have given her this medication much earlier on, as it likely would have prevented most of these losses.

Unfortunately that night Tuesday accidentally crushed two of her piglets. We still have the girl, but now we are down to four. Thankfully she finally let us move her nest into the house, so at least they are staying safer now. But I can’t shake this feeling that there should be a boisterous group of piglets out there vying for mom’s teats. Instead there are only four. I know everyone makes mistakes, and I know that’s how we learn. I will never question myself again when a sow is in labor. I’d much rather help too much than not enough.

I realize this is a rather bleak post. Livestock farming is hard, emotionally draining work. There are a lot of romantic notions about what this life is like, but those cute animal photos on social media don’t tell the full story. I want this blog to be a place where I can be real and honest, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading. Putting these words down on paper is the best way I know to mend my aching, weary heart.

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Andrew and the little gilt. What a bittersweet moment.
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Full life, empty tank

I should be sleeping. I should be sleeping. I should be sleeping. Sleep when your baby is sleeping, they say. That sounds so lovely! I applaud the 1% of moms who are able to accomplish this. In my case, I’m staring at a giant pile of paperwork, a quickly approaching busy farm season, and a disaster of a house that doesn’t seem to want to tidy itself up. So here I sit, coffee in hand while my baby naps, trying to catch you all up on what’s new around here.

It’s been MONTHS since I last updated this blog, and there is so much news! Most of you likely have been tracking me on facebook, but for those of you who haven’t, hold on to your hats! Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s been going on around here:

We bought a farm! Yeah! I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet. It was in the works for over a year before it happened, and I intentionally avoided writing about it so as not to either jinx it or freak out our customers with the news that we were moving. And then we sealed the deal, and moved, and everything happened so fast that I just kept forgetting to write about it!

Our new farm is amazing. We purchased 30 acres in the Orting Valley, complete with TWO houses and several barns. We have tenants! And, biggest news of all, a shower! Indoors! Right down the hall! And since I have an infant, my dreams of spending all day, every day in the shower have yet to come to fruition. Yet it is exceedingly lovely to have the option to shower at a moment’s notice; a small luxury I shall never take for granted after the last five years of living without!

One of the wonderful things about our new farm is that it’s going to be a farm forever. The previous owners, Ken and Julie, purchased the farm several years ago in conjunction with PCC Farmland Trust. Ken and Julie purchased the property, and the Farmland Trust purchased the development rights. This means the property can never be developed, and it also conveniently lowered the value of the land, which made it more attainable for us. Well, slightly more attainable. We worked very hard for a year on a government loan for beginning farmers and ranchers, and were also fortunate enough to receive a loan from Andrew’s grandparents for the remaining balance. And thankfully Ken and Julie were patient and willing to wait for us to get our ducks in a row. They had several other buyers interested, but they were adamant about finding the right match and seeing this land be put to its best use, and we are flattered and grateful that they gave us this chance.

I’m sure you can imagine that moving a farm is no easy feat. In fact, we’re still not quite done, and we’ve been in our new home since October! Now imagine that on top of all of this work, our baby girl was diagnosed with something called Sagittal Craniosynostosis. Remember when I wrote about how difficult her birth was? Well, it turns out there was a logical explanation for that. The suture on the top of her skull, which is normally open to allow for compression during birth, and then expansion as the brain grows, was prematurely fused in utero. No one really knows why this happens. It’s fairly rare, although it can happen to any variety of the sutures in the skull. Fortunately when it happens to the sagittal suture alone, it is the least challenging to fix and has the least chance of complications. However, major skull surgery was required to open her skull for proper brain growth.

On January 20, Hattie Lou went into the OR at Seattle Children’s with an oblong, narrow skull, and came out with a shiny new round one! It was a super challenging time for us, but our surgeons are top in the nation, and she has had absolutely no complications. In fact, you can barely even see her scar, and she doesn’t seem to be aware of what she went through (although who knows what babies actually know and remember?).

The most challenging thing for me at the moment in regards to motherhood is Hattie’s difficulty sleeping. She naps great for two-hour chunks throughout the day, which is crucial in allowing me to get some work done. Unfortunately she treats the nighttime just like the daytime, and is usually up every two to three hours, wanting a boob snack and comfort. I know that this too shall pass, and infanthood is so very short. I just hope this rough patch is over before the summer, when sleep is going to be essential to my survival (well, even more so than it is now).

Which brings me to what else is happening around here! We are in the midst of a fundraising campaign to purchase our own mobile processing unit (MPU) so that we can do the slaughter and processing of our birds here on the farm. Now that we moved, we need our own infrastructure to get the job done efficiently. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty, as many of you already know the details. If not, you can learn more about our plans by checking out our campaign here.

I am thrilled that we received a $20,000 grant towards this MPU purchase. I recently learned that the grant program was very competitive, so it’s rewarding to know that my hard work in writing the grant proposal paid off. Now we just have the hard work of raising, processing, and selling 2,000 broiler chickens this year! No big deal, right? Of course now that we moved an hour south, we also have to figure out how to get our chickens and other meat into our existing customers’ hands. So there is some logistical work ahead for us.

Oh! We’ve had over 25 healthy lambs born on the farm in the past month, after a rocky start where we lost two ewes and seven lambs. We’ve also got eight market hogs, two sows (and more bacon breeders on the way…stay tuned for that update!). We’re also getting a handful of cows this summer. And 100 heritage turkeys again. Oh, and probably a sheep herding border collie. You know, the usual stuff.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, I also decided to join the Board of Directors for the Orting Valley Farmers Market. I’m not planning on doing markets this year, other than the small one in our new hometown. I don’t expect to move a lot of product at this market, as we live in a rural community where many people raise their own animals, and there isn’t a lot of disposable income around. But I think it’s important to be invested in my own community, and I want Hattie to grow up in a town that has a thriving, healthy local economy and a vibrant farmers market. So on top of all that’s going on, I have been busy helping get the market set to go for the upcoming season.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty dang pooped. So if you see me walking around looking like a zombie with my baby in tow, do me a favor and DON’T ASK when the next one is coming. I will happily accept offers of coffee, babysitting, and help on the farm though! Here’s to an eventful, exciting, showerful 2018 season on our new farm!

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A photo of the barns, taken by the previous owner, Julie. I seem to have that “new mom syndrome” where I only take photos of my baby (and the occasional critter).
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Pregnant and *this close* to sealing the deal on our new home!
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Our new town has phenomenal views of Mt. Rainier.
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Before and after surgery. What a change!
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Meeting Lee Roy the therapy dog at Seattle Children’s.
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Hattie with her amazing surgeons!
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Farm life
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Babies everywhere!
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She’s pretty dang cute.

IT’S A GIRL!

Well this post is long overdue! Many of you follow me on facebook and instagram, so you by now have seen the news, but for the rest of you: we had a baby girl! Hattie Lou Ide was born on July 31st, after a pretty trying ordeal. I thought I would use this space to write about my birth experience.

My original due date was July 20th, and my mom arrived a week before that to be here for the last days of pregnancy, and to help welcome our new baby into the world. Mom was a labor and delivery nurse for many years, so I was grateful that she was able to come be with me. Although you’d think that all of that experience would have altered her travel plans a bit…my baby was definitely not ready to come out on the due date, which is really common with first babies! Poor mom had to adjust her flights, car rental, apartment rental, etc. in order to stay long enough for the main event!

We spent the last weeks of my pregnancy walking a LOT, trying to stay cool, and enjoying each other’s company. Finally on July 29th I felt like I was having some early signs of labor. My midwife suggested castor oil to speed things along. A couple hours after taking the castor oil, my labor started in full force. And when I say full force, I mean FULL FORCE. My contractions came on at two minutes apart, and were lasting two minutes or more. The midwife told us not to come in to the birth center yet, as those types of contractions (while painful!) aren’t doing much to motivate baby. From 8pm until 1am I labored at home. Finally the contractions were timing right and we drove over to the birth center.

Forgive me for my hazy memory, but labor is so intense (as many of you have undoubtedly experienced) that a lot of the details slip through the cracks! What follows is a combination of my memories and bits and pieces I have picked up through Andrew and other observers retelling the story. I labored at the birth center from 1am until 5am, mostly in the warm tub. Finally my midwife asked me to get out so she could check my progress. I hadn’t progressed much (I think I was around 5 cm) so she decided to break my water in an attempt to get things moving. Unfortunately when she did that, a large quantity of meconium poured out. Meconium is the result of baby defecating in utero, which is generally a sign of distress. And since it is something that can get into baby’s lungs when he or she takes the first breath, moms that have meconium are automatically transferred to the hospital for extra precaution. At this point I had to say goodbye to my preferred delivery plan of the lovely water birth in the cozy birth center, and we took a little drive to the nearby hospital.

I have no memory of the drive over, but I do remember the lady at the check in counter telling me not to have my baby at her desk! At this point I didn’t have much of my sense of humor still intact, so I mostly remember being annoyed at her comment. Heads up: you do not want to annoy a woman in labor. Fortunately we were quickly put into a room and I wasted no time getting back into the warm (though considerably smaller) bathtub. At this point my contractions were so intense! All I could do was chant “ommmmmmm” along with Andrew with each contraction, which were still two minutes apart. If you’re keeping track, this means I was in full labor mode for nine hours at this point. I hadn’t eaten since dinner the night before, and I was feeling pretty weak, not to mention exhausted!

After another five or six hours of labor like this at the hospital, my progress was checked again. I had only gained another centimeter or so of dilation, and was nowhere close to pushing. At this point I threw in the towel and opted for the epidural. I knew I couldn’t continue on with the contractions for much longer without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. When the anesthesiologist arrived and proceeded to insert a very long needle into my spine, poor Andrew turned ghost white and was forced to lie down and regain his composure. And here I thought I was the one feeling weak!

I’m not quite sure on the order of events once I received the epidural. I was in and out of sleep at this point; my body finally had a chance to recuperate. I can tell you that it is very surreal to be in the most significant pain of your life and then suddenly: nothing. My body was still going through all the intense motions of labor, just now without any sensation. At some point there became some concern about two things: the strength of my contractions, and the baby’s heart rate. I can’t know for sure if the epidural led to either of these concerns, but regardless things started changing rapidly. I was put on an IV drip of Pitocin, a hormone that increases the strength of contractions. But unfortunately after each contraction my baby’s heart rate was dropping, which is worrisome. So they sloooooowly increased the Pitocin drip over the next several hours, hoping to get my contractions strong enough to fully dilate my cervix without further stressing the baby.

At this point I had quite a troupe in my room with me. There was Andrew, my mom, Andrew’s sister Bethany, the nurse, two midwives, occasionally the charge nurse, and the OBGYN popped in from time to time. I’m sure I’m missing a few other players, but you get the idea! The OBGYN was a very nice woman named Dr. Sok, and she came in to tell me that at some point we would have to consider a C-section, but that she was willing to wait as long as possible since I was really hoping for a vaginal delivery. Finally at around midnight I was fully dilated and was told I could push! Again for those of you keeping track at home: that’s a whopping 28 hours of active labor!

Have you ever tried to push something out of our body while simultaneously being completely numb? Unless you’ve been through this exact experience I’m going to guess not. You can assume that this is a very difficult task indeed! Especially with very little sleep and no food for over 24 hours. Despite these challenges, I was told I was a strong pusher! At the peak of every contraction the midwife would tell me to push. All of the people around my bed would hold my legs up (since they were totally paralyzed), and I would bear down as hard as I could, twice for each contraction. We did this for a while before the midwife decided to “go in” and see what the progress was. Unfortunately this is where things got even worse. She could just feel the tip of baby’s head, but couldn’t tell what direction it was in, and it didn’t seem very far into my pelvis yet. After each push the baby’s heart rate was dropping, and by now the baby’s resting heart rate was actually higher than normal, so it was obvious baby was stressed. I was allowed to push for two hours like this, before we all decided that the best possible thing was to get baby out immediately to reduce further stress on us both.

I was of course disappointed, but I always knew in the back of my mind that a C-section was possible, and that it exists for a reason. This was no convenience surgery scheduled so my doctor could make a golf tournament! This was do-or-die. So I was wheeled into the operating room with Andrew at my side. My anesthesiologist was the absolute sweetest man, and he stayed by my head the whole time and gently explained what was going on. I was beyond exhausted at this point, so I was slipping in and out of sleep. What I do remember hearing is Dr. Sok exclaiming, “Wow! Your abs still look really great!” (much to my surprise), and then some mumbling as things got a bit complicated.

It turns out that our baby was stuck. Like REALLY stuck. The head was wedged into my pelvis, and while usually they try to do a gentle C-section and quietly pull baby out head first, Dr. Sok realized that wasn’t going to happen and had to yank the baby out feet first! At this point they quickly asked Andrew to identify the sex: A GIRL! Then it was obvious something was wrong, because Andrew looked very worried and they whisked our baby over to a little station where nurses surrounded her and I couldn’t see a thing. I should have been dying from fear, but I was so exhausted I just remember still slipping in and out of sleep. At some point I did ask someone to explain what they were doing. I don’t remember what they said, but later I learned that when they pulled our baby out, she was limp and barely breathing.

The Apgar score is a test that is done on babies one minute after birth and then five minutes after birth to see how well baby tolerated the process. The score range is 0-10, with 0 being stillborn and 10 being healthiest possible. Our baby’s first Apgar was a 1. This is terrifying after the fact, although at the time I don’t think they told us this. I only know that they were able to completely revive her without having to take her to the NICU. Finally they brought her over to us, and placed her on my chest for our first contact and her first attempt at nursing.

Hattie Lou Ide was born on July 31st at 3:11 AM after a most dramatic and powerful experience. This only seems appropriate, since she was named for the two strongest women we’ve ever known: my grandmother and Andrew’s mother. Hattie is a variation of Harriet and Henrietta, as was my grandmother’s given name of Hendrina (though she went by Hindy). All of these variations mean the same thing: “ruler of the house” and that’s no joke. Andrew’s mother’s name was Nancy, but for some reason one of the nicknames her husband had for her was Lou (and sometimes Lewis), and I always thought that was cute and endearing. And so she was named for a woman who survived the holocaust and lived joyfully until the age of 92, and another woman who died too young after battling intensely painful cancer, but is remembered for her strength and a heart overflowing with love.

We don’t know much about Hattie’s personality yet, it will take some time for us to get to know her. The only thing we’re certain of is that she’s a fighter just like her Great Grandma and Mamaw before her, and for that we couldn’t be more proud.

Grumpy Bump

Pregnancy just really isn’t my jam. It’s hard to say that publicly! But I think I need to put it out there for all of the other mommas-to-be who are pretty much suffering in silence for 40+ weeks, putting on a happy face for all the well-wishers. Let me clarify to say I am grateful that I was able to get pregnant, and I know I will be overjoyed once this child is born. I realize many, many women struggle and often fail to ever conceive, and I commiserate with them. But man, pregnancy is HARD! Some women seem to have magical rainbow unicorn pregnancies where everything is beautiful and lovely, but I am not one of those women!

I can’t even complain about the usual pregnancy issues. My morning sickness at the start was fairly benign. Yeah, I was exhausted a lot in the first trimester, and have re-entered the exhaustion phase as I round the corner to the finish line. But mostly there are a million tiny uncomfortable inconveniences that pregnancy brings on. In my normally active life, these little things really add up!

My abs have completely stretched out and have stopped functioning in any capacity, other than keeping my uterus from exploding out of my body. I can no longer lift a 50lb sack of feed, a previously daily occurrence. Shoot, I can no longer easily pull myself to a seated position without either help or a lot of patience! Forget about tying my shoes. I’m used to being small and agile. Both of those convenient traits have flown out the window. I waddle and amble around, and get winded from carrying this extra 35 pound bowling ball on my belly. For someone who’s never waffled in weight more than ten pounds, this is quite an extreme adjustment for my aching bones.

Like many pregnant women, I don’t sleep much. I wake up constantly to either pee or adjust my body into some sort of barely comfortable position, until I wake again to chew some papaya enzymes to combat the acid reflux that attempts to strangle me. And when I finally wake in the morning and stretch my legs out, more often than not I am greeted with excruciating leg cramps! Ahhh…the joys of creating life are plentiful! Oh, and that pregnancy glow? Yeah. That’s called acne.

Of course I am looking forward to meeting this little “sprout” who has taken over my body. But I can already tell he or she is going to have a lot to say about life. My ribs are sore from the kicks and jabs I receive constantly. At our last birth class the instructor stopped talking to exclaim “wow! Your baby is so active, I can see it from here!” We’ve got a mover and shaker on our hands, that’s to be sure.

Yet all of the physical ailments aside, the strangest part of being pregnant is that somehow my body and life have become public domain. I don’t normally receive a lot of attention from strangers, (unless I’m walking around with my twin), but pregnancy changes that. Suddenly people not only notice me, they feel compelled to say something! Usually it’s women, and I know they are just often remembering their own pregnancies fondly. I don’t mind when someone says “congrats!” or asks my due date; my belly is really obvious and it’s normal for people to notice it. The other day Andrew and I were walking around downtown Snohomish and a guy outside a bar basically started jigging and told us he was so excited. That was a new one on us, but it was sweet and made us chuckle.

This weekend I was waddling down the street at the farmers market, minding my own business and eating a pickle, (like the walking cliché that I am), and I found it very odd when a woman literally jumped into my path. She forced me to stop so she could oooh and ahhh. She lightly touched my belly and told me I was “sooooo beautiful” and isn’t it amazing what my body can do?! I wanted to tell her, sure. It’s amazing. I have low blood pressure, anemia, am exhausted, sore, and need to get back to my booth because I have a job to do! But instead of course I smiled and faked some pregnant-lady joy. Because that’s what you do when you’re pregnant.

At that same market another lady gave me all kinds of unsolicited advice, and was rather aggressive about it. She had strong opinions about pain medication, and was trying to get me to essentially promise not to use them. Now, I certainly have opinions and desires about how my birth will go, but it seems to me that pushing a child out of my body is an extremely personal decision. While I might discuss the details with a close friend or family member, strangers definitely don’t get a say! Pregnancy really brings out the crazy, and not just in me (hormone joke, bah da cha)!

All that said, of course we are getting excited. I’m not the ooh and ahh type of lady, but there are a few items of clothing and gifts we have received that trigger a little bit of the cuddly feels in me. I know that once the sprout comes out, the hormones and nurturing instincts will kick in and all will be well. But for now…I’m mostly just looking forward to getting my body, and my personal space, back to myself.

Instagram!

Hi all! It’s been FOREVER and a day since I’ve written, and for that I am sorry. I will be writing again soon, but today is not that day. Instead I want to direct you to my instagram account, where you can more easily keep track of farm life and animal shenanigans! Instagram is a really fun app, if you don’t have it yet. Each post contains one photo and a description of what’s going on. It’s easy and fun for me to post things as they are happening, and requires a lot less time and brain space for yours truly (both of which are seriously lacking during my third trimester of pregnancy!)

You can check out our instagram account here. Enjoy!