Friday, October 11, 2013

Maria's Miracle

Life is a story that leads to redemption, and miracles happen all around us on the most common of days.  Maria's little Miracle is such a story.

Without her mother, she could have been lost.  The bewilderment of finding herself alone in the world could have led to depression and despair.  But she wanted to live.

You could tell that she wanted to live.  After all, this was the baby we thought was already dead at her birth-- yellow from muconium staining, not breathing, limp.  Dr. Jana was so sure that she was dead that we all turned our attention back to Maria, her mother.  But 2 minutes later Lynette saw her breathing!  Even though she had shared in her mother's sedation, she made her presence--her life!--known.

Many crias who have a slow start refuse the bottle, but not this girl.  She was eager to take whatever milk was offered to her, in whatever form it was offered.  She wasn't picky at all!

But she had more hurdles to jump than just being an orphan.  Because she was a tail-first breach, her body had been crammed backwards into a tight space for quite awhile.  Her legs, hips, and neck were scrunched into positions not normally held by alpaca crias.  When she was finally freed from her cramped quarters, Miracle was a bit misshapen.

Her front legs gave the appearance of having been "windswept", with her left foreleg fairly straight, but the right curved abnormally to the right in a curve that encompassed her whole leg, from the shoulder to the ankle.  It almost hurt to imagine what it felt like to stand.

The hindquarters were similarly "swept" to the right. Her lower back and hips had been turned to the right, and her right hind leg opened out so that the stifle appeared to be on a sideways hinge.  Below the stifle, the leg was curved to the right similarly to the front leg.

Her neck was a normal length, but appeared shorter than usual because of a kink about an inch below the base of the ears.  It caused her chin to tuck in and her nose to point to the right a bit.  I wondered how she would be able to nurse, even if she did figure out how to stand.

Altogether, she was a discouraging sight, but nothing was too daunting for our girl!  

She learned to take the bottle quickly, and although she was only 12 lbs. at birth, she would virtually inhale 5-8 ounces in no time.  We ran into a local shortage of goat's milk, so we switched to organic whole cow's milk with some yogurt stirred in for the probiotic benefit, and she sailed right through the change.

On Day 2, I gave her a shot of Vitamin AD to help with the straightening and strengthening of her limbs and neck.  By Day 4 she was already looking straighter.  Now, two weeks later, even I have to look hard to see the slight curvature of her legs and hips.  Her neck straightened up quickly, also, which was a real blessing in the next part of the saga.

After Maria died, we tried Miracle with several other mothers to see if any of them would adopt her and let her nurse.

I knew she couldn't nurse well yet because of the kink in her neck, but I was encouraged with Clementine showed signs of accepting her.

Clementine is a maiden mother and had recently had her cria, so she was a good candidate for adopting an orphan.  Between Miracle's persistence and lots of good thoughts and prayers from friends, Clementine is now happily feeding both babies!! 

Hurray for Clementine---and for Kathy for being willing to let Clementine participate in our Adopt-A-Cria contest!

By the way, Clementine isn't the only one who has agreed to adopt little Miracle.  Kate and her grandson, Mason, have formally adopted Miracle, making this story even more miraculous.  Mason does almost all her care now, and is also practicing walking alpacas on a halter and lead rope for the Gold Country Gathering.  He hopes to take Miracle to shows when she is old enough.  He is getting to be a real Alpaca Wrangler!

So our little girl has found a family and security without her mommy.  I'm sure we're still not as good as another alpaca at making her feel secure and loved, but she definitely is--secure AND loved.

Miracles still happen in the modern age.  Don't let anyone tell you different!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The End in the Beginning

September 26, 4:30 AM

I found them this morning, keeping each other warm in the predawn.  Maria lay on her side, the coil set from the IV fluids stretched across the pen, still securely attached to her neck wrap.  The cria lay across her body at the base of her neck, sound asleep, like a tableau from a Greek tragedy.  The slight rise and fall of her tiny chest told me she was sleeping deeply.  The absolute stillness of her mother told me that Maria slept a different kind of sleep.

It would be unfair to leave the story unfinished.  Tuesday's triumphant and miraculous birth was a story that was almost too good to be true.  And as those stories sometimes do, it gave way to tragedy this morning.

Do you remember the movie, "Old Yeller", where the fierce and heroic dog saves his adopted family  from a rabid wolf at the bonfire?  Travis' mother insists that they keep Old Yeller in the corn crib for two weeks just in case the wolf had bitten him and given him the dreaded "hydrophoby".  Fourteen days later the tension in the music builds as an impatient younger brother, Arlis, creeps out to let the dog loose so he can play with his best friend.  Mama and Travis arrive just in time to keep the snarling monster bay.  All is lost.  Old Yeller is doomed…  Actually, he had been all along--we just couldn't see it before.

The seeds of Maria's tragedy began even as Tuesday's triumphant birth played itself out.  Despite antibiotics, banamine, a clean uterine flush Wednesday morning, normal vital signs and normal behavior, we were losing Maria all along.  I knew it when I came out to check on them after dinner.  She had been up almost all day, waiting patiently while her baby learned to nurse.   But as dusk descended, she lay in the corner of her pen with her head stretched out in front of her, too tired to stand.  

The sobbing started somewhere deep in my gut.  I heard it before I realized it was me…such an unearthly sound, the kind of crying that links us all in a chain where we feel each other's suffering.  After yesterday's elation, I was once again breathless, but this time with the knowledge of the death that was yet to come.  Nonetheless I called Dr. Jana.  I couldn't just let Maria fade away without some tangible proof that there was no other path to be followed.

For the second time in as many days Dr. Jana pulled her car into the yard.  She took a blood sample  and did a thorough exam.  Everything seemed normal except her potassium.  Hoping to correct it with fluids, we set her up with an IV drip in a small pen where her baby could be with her.

People often ask, "What's the down side of this business?"  I have to say, this is it.  We raise them from itty bitty crias to adults who go on to have crias of their own;  watch them, love them, monitor their nutrition, their pregnancies, help birth their babies… and then something like this comes along.  I usually have pretty good boundaries with my alpacas.  I can even sell most of them.  But when I have to do intensive nursing care because one of them is really sick, all those boundaries crumble.  I can't help it.  I wanted her to get well, to nurse her baby, to go on to have another one someday.

But instead, I watched her slip further and further away through the night, until at 4 AM she lay still.  It was almost anti-climactic.  I had known death was coming all night.  But I don't think anything ever prepares us for the actual moment that life ends, the realization that the soul of one who was with us is just… gone.  I felt an emptiness because I had hoped it could be different.

As I stood there letting reality settle in, the cria let out a loud sigh, as if to remind me that all was not lost--her little life had just begun.  It was comforting to be reminded of the "circle of life".  Maria would live on in her cria, and I would now have a much bigger role in this cria's life, so I better get busy and warm up a bottle!  Tomorrow, as Scarlett O'Hara would say, is another day.