When I was writing my middle grade novel, Barn Boot Blues, I decided to put my protagonist, a 12-year-old girl named Taylor, into my scariest imaginable situation: being home alone when a ewe goes into labor and needs help. (Birthing? Not my thing. The touching of bodily fluids? Not my thing.)
In the novel, Taylor is home alone, no vets available, no parents, no neighbors, when a ewe struggles for hours to give birth. My intrepid Taylor, although terrified, pulls on the latex gloves and ventures inside the birth canal to help. She figures it out and the lambs are born safely. Bravo!
In 2011, for the first time ever, Melissa was working an off-farm job that kept her away for 12 hours each day. Early April, as the lambing date of May 15 neared, I suddenly realized that I would be home alone during lambing. Serious panic threatened. But then, to calm myself, I said, “Wait a minute. If Taylor can do it, I can do it.”
Yes, I actually said that. It became my mantra. I fantasized about calling Melissa on her cell on a warm day in mid-May, saying, “Yeah, I just delivered twins.” If Taylor could do, I could do it.
That warm spring day in May arrived. At 10 am I noticed the first ewe had gone into labor. I shooed her into a pen, and returned to the house. Most ewes do fine on their own.
I went back to the barn at 1 pm. She was still in labor. Damn, damn, damn! I knew where the latex gloves were. The ewe was in a pen so I could catch her. If Taylor could do it, then I could do it.
It’s disturbing to know that there are just some aspects of our personalities that we can’t change. ..or we won’t change. To make a long story short, after I made a tearful call to Melissa, and she made a call of her own, our neighbor the nurse came and happily delivered the lamb while I held the ewe’s head, my usual job. Bravo for Jaycee!
Here’s a photo of me with the lamb later in the week. Notice the look on my face…still stunned I wasn’t Taylor.
(To contrast with the photo of me and lamb, here’s Melissa, clearly in her element!)
I’d made the classic writer’s mistake—getting myself confused with my characters—which was crazy because my characters are always smarter and braver and more resourceful and more adventurous than I will ever be.
For days afterwards I found myself wondering—If Jaycee hadn’t come to my rescue, what would I have done? I’d like to think I would have finally pulled on the gloves and given it a shot. So here’s my new mantra: “If Taylor and Jaycee can do it, then I can do it.”
Denial is, and always shall be, my friend.