At the precise moment I was pleading with God to lift what felt like a storm cloud over my life, because I would not survive another heartbreak, he was cooking up the most impossible miracle that would breathe new life into my spirit and restore my faith. If you’re like I was, and you struggle to believe in God, prayer and miracles, I encourage you to read on. I promise you will at least consider the possibility that prayer works.
In a matter of weeks, I was grappling with the critical illnesses and deaths of two parents, water devastation in two homes, a car accident that totaled my paid-off vehicle, a nuisance lawsuit, and the sudden illness and death of my beloved horse.
I didn’t even have time to mourn. My days were consumed with remodeling the home where I raised my children after it was destroyed–first by a renter from hell, then by a once-in-a-lifetime polar vortex that burst pipes and flooded the parts we’d just spent $25,000 to remodel. I wish I was exaggerating.
On top of it all, for almost a year, we’ve been embroiled in a lawsuit with said renter from hell, which continues to hang over everything like a putrid fog.
Suffice it to say, we felt we had somehow offended God, and he had cast us into one of the rings of hell for all eternity. I was seriously beginning to wonder if someone had placed a Vudu curse on my neverending nightmare of a life.
At about the time my mare, Aubrey, was struck with colic, one of Swingin’ D Horse Rescue‘s latest rescues, Wilma, started showing cause for concern.
Approaching 30 and in the poorest condition of any horse we’ve ever saved, Wilma’s grapefruit-sized arthritic knees were making it especially difficult for her to get around. Her feet were swelling and, aside from a bulbous belly, she was failing to gain weight along her topline, which made us question whether we were meeting her dietary needs.
Consumed by Aubrey’s emergency, we decided to adjust Wilma’s diet and monitor her, fearing we were about to be forced to humanely euthanize her and her best friend, Howie, who was similarly suffering.
Wilma came to us in December from the kill pen where she, Howie and Pebbles clung to each other for dear life. Since then, it seemed we were perpetually postponing humane euthanasia for the elderly pair.
For a week, Aubrey’s emergency colic surgery took center stage. Meanwhile, Wilma’s belly continued to expand, putting even more pressure on her already stressed joints. We knew we could not allow her to go on suffering. As soon as we got past Aubrey’s emergency, we dreaded what came next with Howie and Wilma.
I didn’t know I could hurt more than I had already hurt, laying to rest my parents and rifling through their belongings to settle their estates. But losing Aubrey felt like losing everyone all over again. It seems like, when someone you love dies, you relive the pain of every loved one you’ve ever lost; so the thought of euthanizing Wilma and Howie was just too much to consider. I needed time to catch my breath.
I was blessed to have two amazing fathers. Losing both of them at the same time left a scar on my soul, and made me wonder what I could possibly have done to offend God.
How could I have ever known that in the days I took to regain my bearings, a lifesaving miracle was growing in the belly of the oldest, saddest mare we’ve ever rescued?
Never Say Die
Anyone who knows me well, knows that surrender is not in my vocabulary. Perhaps to a fault, I never know when to throw in the towel. I’ve poured thousands of dollars into horses that even the experts have said could not be saved, researching every treatment and remedy to keep them alive and provide quality of life. I have yet to meet a horse I felt was so far gone, would be better served by a humane death. The same was true for the decision to bet on Howie and Wilma. But we were getting close to making that final decision (Howie may be crossing the threshold between good days and bad).
Against All Odds
As the Swingin’ D staff began to gloomily concede the inevitable–that we were nearing the time to let Wilma and Howie go–I tossed out a wild hypothesis: Wouldn’t it be crazy if Wilma was pregnant?!
Pfffft! Came the response.
How the heck could she be pregnant? The only male she’s been with is Howie and, as I’ve said in the past, the 20-something gelding with arthritic knees couldn’t mount a mouse with the assistance of a winch.
But, I learned, a horse’s gestation is 320 to 370 days. We rescued Wilma in December. You do the math.
She’s almost 30, for gosh sakes! The older the mare, the fewer the eggs, and the lesser the likelihood of fertility. Strike Two against pregnancy.
But, as it turns out, while not advised, not common and not easy, mares can breed into their 30s.
In my mind, pregnancy could explain many of the aliments that were forcing us to consider euthanising Wilma: Swollen feet, sore joints, slow movement… And, oh yeah, big belly. In any event, our vet would be the arbiter of Wilma’s future. Either she was bound to live more bad days than good, in which case the more humane route would be to let her go, or Wilma was carrying new life, in which case the only answer was to make her as comfortable as possible until she delivered.
The Vet’s Verdict
Dr. Jay Ross took one look at Wilma and, without even palpating her innards, said, ” If she ain’t pregnant, I ain’t never seen a pregnant horse.”
Well, I’ve never really been around pregnant horses. In fact, if we would have known Wilma was with child when her donors asked us to take her in, we probably would have declined. We know our limits, and we don’t have enough experience with pregnant mares and newborns to bring them to Swingin’ D. With so many needy horses to save, we would not risk harming a pregnant mare and her foal by getting in over our heads–especially since Wilma came with Howie and a bonus 2-year-old at a time when there was quite literally “No room at the inn.”
Wilma was born about the same time Dr. Ross started treating horses, so we felt pretty confident in his proclamation, which he punctuated with even more surprises: It could happen within hours, days or weeks, but it was happening, and we’d better get ready.
Dr. Ross cautioned that, because of Wilma’s age and condition, and because we had not known to provide prenatal care, the pregnancy was high risk, and we should prepare ourselves for a host of complications that would be both terrifying and costly, and could very possibly end with the death of one or both mama and foal. He recommended we haul her in to his hospital so he could determine just how risky the birth might be.
Before we could even make an appointment and terrify ourselves with all the dire possibilities, Wilma took matters into her own hands.
Ready or Not
One of the vet’s recommendations was to extricate Howie from Wilma’s side as soon as possible. It wasn’t safe having him stumble around a newborn foal.
Remember, the one stipulation generous donors required before they would pay to save Wilma from her inevitable execution, was that whoever rescued her must also rescue Howie and 2-year-old Pebbles. They were so attached at the kill pen, donors felt it would be more humane to let them die together than to force them to separate from each other. Removing Howie from Wilma is like surgically removing a tumor. They never leave each other’s side. If Howie is having a bad day, Wilma stands as his support, allowing him to rest his weight on her, and vice versa. If we pull them apart for the farrier or to temporarily move them from one pen to another, they scream for each other and, no matter how much pain they’re suffering, limp across the rescue to find each other again. It’s painful to watch.
You may be wondering why we haven’t just put them down. We’ve consulted two vets who have told us as long as they seem to enjoy life together (look forward to feedings, eat heartily, express preferences), as long as we can keep them comfortable, and as long as they have more good days than bad, there’s no reason to euthanize them. Only recently did we begin to consider the possibility we were keeping them around more for us than for them. That is, until our miracle arrived.
Because forcing Wilma and Howie apart would surely stress her and the baby in her belly, I decided to do it last–after we baby proofed her stall with safe barriers and fresh, foal-appropriate bedding.
The very night we finished the birthing stall, I watched Wilma for hours on surveillance cameras we had installed so volunteers could help monitor 24/7. I noticed Howie standing outside the stall while she lay peacefully inside. Odd, but she didn’t appear to be in labor, so I fell asleep resolving to start the process of extricating Howie in the morning.
A couple hours later, before the crack of dawn, April, our longest-serving volunteer, popped up on caller ID.
“We have a baby!” she cried with exuberant glee, so Danny and I bolted to the barn in our pajamas.
Inside the barn, surrounded by curious rescued souls and with Howie standing vigil nearby, Wilma lay mothering her newborn foal. Still slick with amniotic fluid and tangled in afterbirth, the baby twitched and blinked to gain her bearings. Exhausted from her magnificent accomplishment, Wilma nudged the baby closer with her nose, encouraging her to wriggle free of her wrapping and take her wobbly first steps. It was one of the most terrifying and beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced, and I never would have survived it with such calm and confidence if it weren’t for–of all things–Aubrey’s emergency.
All things happen for good
You see, Aubrey’s hospital stay gave me my very first exposure to pregnant and nursing mares. While spending time with Aubrey, I watched mamas walk over and around what appeared to be lifeless foals, all but certain the babies were dead, or the mothera were about to trample them to death. The vet explained that such behavior is completely normal and, somehow, horses have survived for centuries without helicopter humans intervening for protection. Had it not been for Aubrey, I would not have known a foal can figure out how to break out of the amniotic sac all by herself, or that it takes a while for baby to stand on her own.
The Bible tells us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good.”
While I would never wish what happened with Aubrey on my worst enemy, I’m grateful for the experience because I’m able to see how it prepared me for the miracle God had brewing to heal my shattered heart.
Skip the despair
I try to live by the credo, Faith lets you skip the part where you despair.
When my head is right and my faith is strong, I know things always work out in the end. It may not turn out the way I hope or expect, but it always works out the way it’s meant to be. I’m at peace when I can get right with the way things are, not the way I wish, hope or expect them to be.
But the good news is, God knows my heart. He knows when I’m trying, and he knows when I can’t take another step. That’s where I was ac few short weeks ago–at the end of my rope and begging Him to throw me a lifeline.
God’s answer came from a creature that should not be alive, should never have been able to breed, lacked all the special care a mama of her age and condition requires, and who waited until we were ready for her to effortlessly and without trauma or drama, deliver the miracle that would restore my soul.