I turned to Omar, the shepherd who I was accompanying, and asked him, “Is that ewe pregnant?” Omar confirmed my suspicions, she was indeed pregnant.
“Will she give birth today?”
“Inshallah (God willing).”
Over the next 30 minutes the ewe got up and down, up and down, up and down. Omar seemed to pay no attention to the ewe as she obviously was going through some labor pains, believing she was ready each instance that she went horizontal. By the third or fourth time that she went to the ground, she stuck one of her rear legs up in the air (something she hadn’t done previously). Omar apparently possesses a sixth sense for sheep giving birth, because as the ewe’s rear leg went up, Omar turned towards the sheep – their movements were nearly synchronized. Omar came to the ewe and examined where she was at in the birth process. Apparently concluding it was time, he found two legs (the rear pair) and gently pulled out the lamb. The lamb came out flatter than I thought possible. Its rear legs pointed backwards in line with its body and its front legs pointed forward. Omar rested the lamb against her mother’s head. He cleaned his hands by rubbing them on the ewe’s wool. Omar told me it’s important for the mother to immediately accept her lamb. Forcing the mother to smell and lick her lamb is a way to assist that acceptance, as is wiping the smell of the offspring on her wool.
The ewe spent the next 30 minutes licking her lamb. The lamb spent the next 30 minutes trying to stand up. Clumsily standing and slipping, standing and locking it’s legs and falling over sideways.
Omar said that after two hours the lamb would be able to walk back home with her mother. Omar facetiously asked me if I walked home from the hospital after I was born. He told me that if the sheep were like me then momma lamb would have to sit out in the hills for one year protecting her lamb before they could walk home.
The ewe again laid down, seeming to abandon the project of tending to her lamb. Omar answered my question before I could form it. “Looks like she’s having another one,” he told me.
After unsuccessfully trying to convince me to deliver the next lamb, Omar again used his sixth sense as he approached the ewe at the perfect moment. The second lamb looked just as healthy as the first, and the ewe gave as much attention to second as she had the first.
I surprisingly wasn’t grossed out by all the fluids that were involved in this birthing process (there were various colors and consistencies in case you are unfamiliar and/or interested). It wasn’t gross because, frankly, it was a beautiful thing. Birth makes life new. Birth is life anew. Birth is a process that allows our world and our species to march forward in history. It’s a necessary and an amazing thing.
I also began to think about the layers of life that this birth brought. The birth of two new lambs is in part necessary for sheep to continue to live and thrive in this part of the world. Without the births of lambs like these, sheep would cease to exist. But even more significant (from my human-centric perspective), the birth of these two lambs provides a greater possibility for Omar and his family to stay on this land. With two lambs, the flock grows. The enlargement of this flock of sheep means more sheep products to feed Omar’s family. Laban (dried cheese), samen (butter-like dairy product), fertilizer, and wool all provide for this family. Laban and samen are staples in their diet, important sources of fat for a family that doesn’t have the means to eat meat.
Omar’s family lives within an Israeli military firing zone in the South Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank. The military’s policy since 2000 has been one of expulsion and land confiscation. Measures have been taken, such as: closed military zones, home demolitions, home invasions, and the destruction of roads -- all in an effort to make it impossible for Palestinians to continue to live on this land.
The layers of life that came, and the layers of life that were made possible from the birth of these two lambs is profoundly significant. These lambs, as exaggerated as it may sound, were a glimmer of hope. The destruction of life that I see everyday as a result of this occupation is often staggering. These lambs were simply a sign of life, a sign of a world that was built for life and birth, not death and destruction.