Friday, July 22, 2011


Part of processing our recent cria death is to think about what and why this may have happened. When we look back, we realize that on some level we knew something wasn't right. For one thing, we never named the little guy. We always talk about names the moment we know the color and sex of the new cria. We didn't. And when we think back to Victoria's behavior, we are pretty sure she knew too. While she fed the little guy, she never clucked to him, or taught him anything (like where the poop/pee pile was). Victoria has never been a hands on mom, but she has always had some bond to her cria.

I relate it back to the story of our cat Fluffy. Fluffy had a couple litters of kittens and they all died before we knew anything was wrong. I believe it was her third litter that we were ready to be hands on to make sure this litter lived. I was at the barn one day when Fluffy pushed two of the kittens out of the box they were all laying in. I was so mad at Fluffy! While I put those kittens back in the box, I lectured her about how they will die if she rejects them like that. All along I had been blaming Fluffy's poor parenting. When I picked up the kittens, I looked at them, and they seemed fine to me, but I knew they needed mamma's milk yet. Within 10 minutes those kittens were dead - it wasn't because she rejected them, they were dying and she pushed them out because she knew it. (I've since read that she may have a genetic defect or infection that would cause her offspring to die). It wasn't obvious to me yet, but nature had a way of telling Fluffy those kittens were dying. In the same way, I think Victoria knew little guy wasn't going to make it.

Even though we have had this intense heat wave, I do not believe that is what lead to the death of our little guy (I've decided to call him "little guy" since we never did name him). I say that because I saw him nurse, and I saw him pee (even the last night that I saw him alive). I also don't believe it was a birthing problem, because we saw the entire delivery and it was all text book. Victoria's bag of water broke in front of my eyes, she labored for a bit, then he presented exactly like he should, the labor was not prolonged or difficult. There was never a time during labor when I thought he could have been deprived of oxygen. And following the birth, he sat sternal and walked in a faster time frame than the text books say he should. When we checked him over briefly, everything looked ok. When we noticed the placenta was abnormal, we were relieved he was born alive.

I believe that during uterine development little guy did not get the necessary oxygen through the placenta. The placenta was not normal, and likely did not bring him the right nutrients. While he managed to develop normally on the outside, his brain did not appear to work as it should. He appeared to have problems seeing (he did not respond to me until I touched him), and did not appear to learn things (like where to poop and pee). I've heard his behavior referred to as a "dummy cria". From what I've been told, typically that is from a difficult birth where they were deprived oxygen. Given the birth was so textbook, but problems were noted with the placenta, I believe the problem was prior to his birth. Since Victoria had has previously had 4 healthy cria with perfectly normal placentas, we believe this was just a fluke thing that happens sometimes.

While difficult, I think we have done a good job of processing this death. Living on a farm we are face to face with nature everyday. Death is part of nature, and we have had several animals die. In discussions with my kids, they were not yet bonded to this little guy, so it hasn't been as hard of a process for them. Last fall we had to put down our beloved family dog, Dottie, and that to them was the ultimate in sadness. Even now, talking about Dottie will bring choked up words and tears (and I admit, I'm just as bad as the kids). Little guy was not yet apart of our lives, and while sad, has been easier for the kids to cope with.

I learned something new about the grieving process. I found how therapeutic it can be to dig a grave. Last fall when we had to put Dottie down, J insisted on digging the grave (even though J had just had surgery and was not supposed to be doing that). I didn't understand then how the act of digging, the physical labor involved, can be part of this whole grieving process. I found little guy on a very hot morning when J wasn't going to be home until late. There was no choice but for me to dig a grave. I admit I didn't want to deal with any of it, but there I was forced to. I cried and dripped sweat while I dug that grave. But by the time I was done, and ready to put little guy in it, it felt like just the right closure. I dug his grave on the edge of the woods that overlooks the pasture. It seemed like the perfect place for him to rest.


Judi B said...

I'm all choked up just reading this story. Well done for processing it all so well, hope we will be able to do the same if we're ever faced with the loss of a cria.

Oak Haven Alpacas said...

Thank, Judi.

I really should add that my father works for hospice, so I grew up knowing about the grieving process. And I am a social worker, I raised my kids to be in touch with their feelings (my daughter at age 2 would say "I'm mad at you" instead of acting up). Not that we know it all, because I know I have my fair share of emotional outbursts (as do my kids), but I also think we know how to allow each other to have those emotional moments to work through our feelings.

The thing I am dreading at this point is the next cria that's born. It will be hard to trust that the next one will be ok. One step at a time though. No births today to worry about that just yet.

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