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Nature Has No Due Dates: Lessons from the Frontline of Foaling Season

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Beth Anstandig

Walk through any populated urban area and look past the concrete, see beyond the electronics, listen through the automotive noise. There, you’ll find nature: dirt and trees, birds and rodents, plants and water. As mammals that think and talk prolifically, we humans often lose sight of ourselves as a part of the natural world. We talk about nature as if it’s a separate land we visit. But in fact, we’re inextricably woven into it, a fact we might forget whether we’re in a city, the country, or even the wilderness.

I live on a ranch with nature surrounding me, keeping me tuned into subtle natural changes that happen all day and night. Yet, I regularly come to realize the ways that I let my human mind take precedence over my instincts. It often leads me to thoughts and beliefs that are not only faulty and misguided, but that also result in stress or extra work.

Let me tell you the tale of this most recent revelation.

Sally is my pregnant mare, who was due to give birth 18 days ago. When I say “due,” I mean that my vet gave me an estimated due date based on when Sally was bred. I put the due date in my calendar and went on my merry way. I spent the next 341 days — the average gestation period for horses — with a giant assumption: Sally would have her baby on that date, Thursday, May 10.

I didn’t go so far as to lock in a time slot, but I certainly constructed a specific vision for how the whole thing would play out. And, I had a preparation period calendared for myself  too, with to-do lists, errands, and chores. Meanwhile, grazing in peace, Sally went about her business of living and growing her baby.

I wanted to be there for the birth in case Sally needed assistance — and I didn’t want to miss the beautiful experience of her foal emerging into the world. So, May 10 came. The big day! I scanned every inch of Sally’s body for signs she was ready to give birth. I watched my webcam vigilantly and tracked her every move. And at night, I woke up every hour so I could check on her.  

No baby.  

May 11 was an equally attentive day, and another sleep-interrupted night. And then, came May 12, and May 13 — the same. The sleep deprivation set in, and with it, a sort of temper tantrum. I’m pretty sure I called nature a cruel and withholding bitch.

I cycled through the emotions of grief erratically and in no particular order. I started desperately searching the internet for information that could change this unacceptable situation. I started to feel despondent and hopeless. Finally, I landed at a big ‘ole resentful WHATEVER.

Not once, and I mean not for a single moment, had it occurred to me that Sally’s due date was an approximation. It’s as if I’d never known anything about gestation and pregnancy, despite my own experience with childbirth. I locked onto May 10 like my barn cat pouncing onto a mouse, and I built an elaborate belief system and set of expectations.

When those expectations crashed into the wall of reality, I found a surprising layer of anger, a childish reaction to not getting my way. After all, if I’m ready for Sally’s baby, then Sally and her baby ought to be ready too. Don’t you know about my important, precise plan?

Settling into acceptance is a real pain in the ass.

I had to have my tantrum, and the foul mood it brought me, to get me to wake up to the fact that my plans and calendar dates for nature mean absolutely nothing.  But when I finally found that sweet surrender, I was able to begin the real work of my place in this drama — that of a witness.

As I’ve watched Sally for the last two weeks, I’ve been able to see her body change, each day slight shifts as she becomes more ready to foal. After my tantrum came and went, I became a student of Sally, of this pregnancy, of the unique way she is moving through the final stages of this process.

It’s not about human-imposed averages or estimates or generalizations. Even though those are fun for us to create, they often rob us of the tiny moments of learning that come from being aware of, and awake to, the nature within us and around us.

This foaling season reawakened me to nature’s rhythms and signals. I’m rethinking the idea of deadlines and timelines altogether.  Maybe our need to create structure reduces our ability to notice Reality — what’s actually happening around us. When does structure stop helping and start hurting us?

My expectations for Sally and her pregnancy only caused me a bunch of angst. By dismantling my schedule of what “should” happen when, I’m back to the reality of being just one part of this natural world.

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