Lise kept an eye on her watch, and felt Pete looking at her again. She didn’t know how much he knew about foaling — he had to be reading the concern on her face — but she was beginning to think Sotisse’s agitation excessive. She told herself to wait until the water broke before getting any more paranoid.
“Finally,” she muttered as the placental sac appeared and soon released its contents, drenching the mare’s hocks. Lise was already discarding her coat and slipping off her sweatshirt, nervously adjusting her long hair in the elastic again and pushing up the arm of a long-sleeved t-shirt. “Okay,” she said, turning to Pete as she pulled on a long sterile glove. “Hold her for me?”
Lise ducked Pete’s questioning eyes as she slowly withdrew her arm and turned away, assuming she looked as pale as she felt. She removed the glove in the aisle and pushed back the dark fringe of bangs from her forehead. The uncomfortable warmth she had felt earlier was quickly replaced by a chill unrelated to the winter temperature.
And a true breech. All Lise had found were hocks, the hind legs tucked all too neatly underneath the foal’s body, preventing delivery. No wonder Sotisse had spent so much time trying to shift this baby. The presentation was all wrong. It wasn’t going anywhere, the way things stood.
She was going to need all her strength for the job ahead. Lise had to work against the mare’s contractions as she pushed the foal’s haunches back and searched, struggling to get ahold of a limb and bring it into the birth canal. She wrestled the left hind free of the pelvic rim and felt a rush of relief as it joined her arms in the passage.
Resting was out of the question. The right hock was more easily found, but the force of the contractions was painful. Somehow she found the energy needed to grasp it, still fighting against the intermittent pressure exerted by Sotisse. Lise slid her hand down from the hock along the long cannon bone, through the wetness to the soft, strange covering on the tiny hoof. She took hold, and took a breath, telling her screaming muscles not to let her down now. The contractions miraculously cooperated and abated long enough to let her bring the appendage up to join its mate.
“Okay, Pete, just turn her loose.” Lise leaned back against the wall out of the way, trying to take advantage of the momentary break but ready to influence the mare if Sotisse picked a bad spot to deliver. Pete stood beside her as they waited once again. Lise closed her eyes briefly and refused to acknowledge the ache in her shoulders . They needed to get the foal out quickly.
Sotisse turned once around the stall as she looked for a spot to settle in the deep bed, sweat and straw matting her thick coat. At last the chestnut went down, then flattened herself, groaning.
“C’mon, you’d better help.”
Lise nodded to Pete, both moving in to take a now clearly exposed little hind foot, soles strangely facing upwards.
The struggle was obviously telling on the mare, and Lise fought her own fatigue as she and Pete worked steadily with each contraction. There was no time to think of the danger still involved. For all she knew the foal could already be dead, if the blood supply through the umbilicus had at any point been compromised…and if suffocation hadn’t yet occured, the possibility remained. They would know nothing until they got the foal out.
The long hind limbs of the foal lay stretched behind Sotisse, her baby now half expelled — caught precariously between the life she had known in her mother’s uterus and the potential of a new one which waited to welcome her. The mare’s sides heaved with her deep breaths, but Lise noticed anxiously that the contractions were no longer coming. “How is she, Pete? C’mon, ’Tisse…”
The shoulders, yet to come, were the largest part of the body. In a normal foaling, the head was out and clear by then. The comfort the filly had known inside her dam for ten months would now be suffocating her.
It was completely normal for the mare to rest partway through delivery, but in this situation, the seconds ticking could prove to be deadly. “C’mon, big mare, you’re almost there…”
They were both prepared when the next contraction finally came. The mare was striving with renewed strength, pushing the shoulders clear, and they quickly drew the foal out onto the straw bed. Lise was pulling away the amniotic sac before the forelegs were even free, cleaning the nostrils and anxiously looking for signs of life.
Pete reappeared at her side and started rubbing the fragile, dark body vigorously with dry towels. In her exhaustion Lise didn’t even protest when he gently pushed her out of the way to start respiration. He paused from his breaths to glance at the foal’s slight ribcage, waiting…they both saw the faint flutter.
“You got her,” Lise said, relief and suddenly considerable gratitude for Pete’s valuable presence washing over her. She sat back on her heels in the mess of straw, feeling her heartbeat slowly begin to return to a normal rhythm. Neither she nor Pete moved, staring at the tiny filly as each breath came more strongly that the last. Sotisse lifted her head slightly, murmuring at her new foal.