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Tugs of War

By Chloe Campbell
November 2008

Red Cow was pregnant. I had watched her rusty fur stretch over her abdomen for months. Ma Weaver had intended for the bull to impregnate one of the younger cows, but of course that didn’t work out. Nearly the oldest cow in the herd was pregnant yet again.

I was in first grade during the gestational period and obsessed with the idea of Chloe Campbell, MD. Nothing associated with the guts of creatures was too gross. So one night when Daddy suggested we go up to the barn to watch the birth of the calf, I jumped to the door. Mom tried to stop us, saying it would be too graphic. She called out the window to tell me not to wear my jacket with the Presidential Physical Fitness patch on the pocket, but Dad and I were already fading into the blackened field. I looked up at the farmhouse’s silhouette and waved to Mom’s white face smiling worriedly in the bright square of the kitchen window. A different glare guided us to our destination. The light from the wooden stall came from floodlights rigged up with orange extension cords. It jutted out from the cracks in the stone foundation and suspended the hay dust in its beams. The steam from Red Cow’s slippery nose puffed upward when her head tilted up as she strained to release her stillborn calf.

I stood on a stump and leaned on the wall of the stall. Ma Weaver’s sons and farmhands were hard to hear over the generators and bellows from Red Cow. To my back blew clean fall air, but my face was moist from too many breaths and the heat from an opening womb. Red Cow was too old to give birth to her baby on her own. Daddy tried to explain to me what a stillbirth was, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much those cold chains must hurt the wet baby calf’s knobby ankles. The men began to play tug of war with the breach baby. Red Cow took two steps back, two steps forward. Ma Weaver started wincing as she watched me wince.

Finally, Red Cow seemed to understand the goal, and she began to walk forward. The men dug their heels into the dry earth of the stall. The haunches of the calf’s slick body began to show, and as the sunken stomach cavity created an air pocket, Red Cow dung, amniotic fluid, and blood sprayed across a one hundred and eighty degree radius, catching even my jacket with the patch. I didn’t stay to see the rest of the “birth”. With the realization of what was on my jacket and cheeks, I flew off the stump and ran back to the kitchen, guided by the neat square of light that lit up Mom’s face. As Mom undressed me to get me in the shower, I described to her with much drama the scene of tug of war. She told me later that I peppered my story with multiple versions of the declaration, “I don’t wanna be a doctor anymore.”

After my shower and after the calf was buried, I still watched Trauma: ER with enthusiasm. I again began telling people that I wanted to be a surgeon when I grew up. Dad told me that that situation at the barn could have been more efficient, but everyone had been surprised and unprepared. Ma sold the archaic machine with chains to an antique farm equipment dealer. As a girl, I did not try to understand everything he told me; I was not ready to leave my bright kitchen window yet.