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Jessie Veeder

Coming Home: Trusting in my motherly instinct

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Early this morning I got a text from my dad. A picture of his cow dog Juno came through with the caption, "4 puppies so far!"

And there they were, all squishy, slimy and black and white, poor timing to be born in the coldest part of winter, but tucked in snug in a bed my dad made up for her.

Downstairs, my oldest niece was sleeping on an air mattress in my makeshift office. After all of the Christmas festivities, she made plans to come home with us for a few days to help with the baby.

As I write this, the little girl I used to rock, burp and snuggle who suddenly grew up to become a 12-year-old with superb baby-sitting skills is upstairs burping and snuggling my baby.

And so I'm plotting how I can keep her around.

Because she likes changing diapers. And the projectile vomit Edie gifted me, the one that coated my shirt and hair last night, didn't even faze her.

I got up out of the chair to head for a towel, and that 12-year old (who was just a baby yesterday) looked at me and said, "That's not a cleanup situation there ... that's a shower and find new clothes situation."

And she was right. There was no saving me.

Yes, I'm in the trenches of motherhood now, the period where the guests carting meals stop knocking on your door, the burp rags pile up in the hamper and reality sets in.

This is not a drill. This is the part that I was nervous about.

Because unlike the motherly, animal instincts that kicked in for my parents' dog early this winter morning, the one that will keep her licking on those pups and keeping them snug throughout the winter, I was worried I didn't have the natural, know-what-to-do caretaking instinct in me.

I love children, but hand me an infant before Edie was born and the "I'm gonna break this thing" panic set in, complete with stiff arms and cold sweats.

But it's been a month now and besides checking her breathing in her car seat every five minutes on the way home from the hospital, and a few middle of the night soft pokes to the tummy just to make sure, much to my surprise, I haven't panicked yet.

Little by little I'm finding out that all of the tips, tricks and preparation articles I've read don't compare to the instincts nature equipped me with.

It's a welcome relief because the observation of instinct is where growing up as a ranch kid can either calm you or terrify you. I've seen plenty of animals being born. I've seen motherhood and babyhood in its most raw and natural form. I've seen a momma cow take after my dad, knocking him to the ground while he was on his way to check on her baby--a dangerous, protective motherly instinct that nearly sent him to the hospital.

I've seen mother cats move their kittens from secret spot to secret spot in an attempt to keep pesky farm kids at bay.

I've seen it go well and I've seen it go terribly wrong--a momma cow rejecting her needy, wet calf in the middle of a blizzard; a confused pregnant dog dropping her puppies, helpless and alone all over the barnyard; a baby calf born and unable to feed.

And in these situations, as animal caretakers, we step in to find an orphan calf a new momma cow to take her, pick up the puppies and introduce them to their mother, and find a bottle or a tube to feed the calf.

Every day my baby stays healthy, eating and pooping and burping away, I say that I am lucky and whisper a quiet prayer of thanks.

Every day that my mind is clear and my body cooperates, I am grateful knowing that motherhood doesn't always come easy.

But watching my mother change her granddaughter's diaper, hearing my friend on the other end of the line offering advice and trusting my young niece to rock my baby safely and expertly in the other room, I am assured in knowing that if and when I falter, like Juno has her rancher to make her a warm bed, I have my village.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughter on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

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