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The miracle of life

Emma Miller

"Home" Samuel Bloom

By birth, I am an Iowan. But this word does not make the top fifty I would use to describe myself. Despite what my Pennsylvanian cousins may think, the percentage of my life spent on farms nears one. Finding myself in a barn about to deliver a pig never crossed my mind as a Sunday afternoon activity.


Entering the long red barn, a symphony of snorts met my ears. Four mother pigs ruled their separate pens. Each mother was pink and black and twice my size. My heartbeat increased with each step forward, realizing what I had signed up to do.


My foot brushed a five-gallon bucket. Scratched and cracking near the top, it had clearly seen some years. As I moved past it, I caught a glimpse of the contents. My breath and feet both jerked to a halt. Two piglets, stiff and colorless, lie on top of one another. No more than a day or two old, judging by their size. My anxiety continued to rise. 


I didn’t get the chance to linger. Mr. Burzlaff called me over. Go time. Already, one small, slimy body slipped around the pen, just a few minutes old. A pale yellow membrane coated a piglet that weighed no more than four pounds. He continued to slip, sometimes on the blood-coated floor, sometimes on the pink cord still wrapped around him. The piglet dragged itself towards the mother, seeking warmth. She kicked it away and the piglet flew toward my side of the pen. My heart jumped when he hit the floor, not hard enough to hurt anything, but enough to set me further on edge. 


Mr. Burzlaff, the model of calm and collected, handed me a long yellow glove, and I pulled it up my shaky left arm. At this point, my heartbeat pounded in my ears while the sow in the far pen shrieked and shook her food trough. Crouching down, I tried to focus on my job, not on the blood flowing from the mother. Each visible contraction of the mother, my heart copied in turn. My gloved hand reached before me, shaking in anticipation. I can’t do this, I thought. Clearly, I am no Old McDonald, just a teenager with an English assignment.


Before I could back out, I saw them. The first signs of life and my challenge. Two white hooves, no bigger than the tips of my thumbs. In and out of daylight they went, too small for me to grab. As they reemerged, I prepared myself. This time, two little pink legs came, too. 


“Grab and pull!” exclaimed Mr. Burzlaff, watching from my left. 


Grabbing hold, I tried doing as I was told. Pull? I thought. How hard is too hard? What if I hurt it? Why is nothing happening? Slipping through my fingers, the piglet escaped my grasp. My cheeks burned with frustration and fear. I had to do this. 


When he reappeared, I once again reached out, gripping higher this time. Seconds later, and with a splash of embryonic fluid, life burst forth before hitting the ground with a soft thud, startling both of us.  


After breaking the umbilical cord, I let out a breath for the first time in minutes, blood returning to my brain. I laughed, despite feeling rather nauseous. Finally, I had a moment to look at the piglet. Disgustingly cute, with a black head no bigger than my fist. The rest of his pink body lay under the heat lamp, still steaming from the heat of the womb. Just like his older sibling, he was coated in a yellow fluid that matted his tiny hairs. Little Wilbur began to squirm, softly crying out. I began to laugh in spite of myself, flooded with the feeling of relief and awe. 


As we walked back to the red brick house from the barn, my heart finally started to slow. The fear just minutes before slowly left my body. In its place sat a new sense of pride in doing something I never thought I could.

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