The Maternal Instinct

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by CJ Mouser

Courage is ten, nine is the ability to escape.
— Azerbaijani Proverb

My 17 year-old daughter Jill has taken to sleeping on the couch. She and her sister share a bed, and she claims Jenny kicks and squirms all night. Sometime around 2 a.m. she came into my room. She was holding the newborn piglet that I stitched up earlier that evening. It suffered a cut from the sow’s toenail, shoulder to elbow. I gave it a dose of muscle-relaxer, which quieted it long enough to get in ten stitches, and also relaxed it to the point that it was snoring on a towel under the coffee table for the better part of the night. Clearly, the relaxation had worn off, and now it was screaming to be fed.

“What can I do with this piglet? It won’t shut up!!”

I ran through all my options, and nothing sounded as good as getting it as far away from the house as possible.

“Take it out there and put it with its mama.”

“Huh?!?”

“You heard me. That’s the only thing to do, it’s hungry.”

“Well… okay.”

Jill’s a smart girl. She knew I was right about the hunger thing. However, she agreed so readily that I got suspicious that my plan might not be a good one. However, I was still half-asleep, and I couldn’t for the life of me think of why not. I heard her go through the house, and I heard the squealing increase when she put the piglet down in order to put on her rubber boots. Then I heard the front door open.

“Jill! Wait!”

I came through the house in nothing but a t-shirt and skivvies, and started to pull on my boots.

“What?”

“I wanna go with you.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure.” I replied honestly.

I grabbed the spotlight, and out the door we went. We were walking along in the darkness, Jill struggling with the wriggling, squalling piglet. We neared the gate that led out to the back pasture. The sow had built her nest about ten yards northeast of the gate, so I told Jill to try and shush the piglet.

“How, exactly?”

“I don’t know! Put you hand over it’s mouth.”

“You put your hand over it’s mouth. It bites!”

By then, we were through the gate, and that’s when I heard it. The sow had heard her baby screaming and was on her feet, grunting and barking and headed for us at a dead run. I had handled her babies before, but it was dark, and she was awakened abruptly to the sound of one of her progeny in danger, so she came flying out of that nest loaded for bear.

“What do we do?!” Jill squealed, giving the piglet some very real competition.

“Danged if I know!”

At the moment we were just trying to stay ahead of the sow. She ran back and forth from one of us to the other until she pinpointed the origin of the baby’s cries, then she went for Jill.

“Throw the stupid thing, Jill!”

Jill tossed the piglet into some soft grass on the outskirts of the nest. Mama followed the piglet and sniffed it. Then, as if she just wanted to be nasty for being woken up in the middle of the night she turned on us again, effectively blocking me from escape and putting herself between my baby and me. Armed with nothing but a spotlight, barelegged in the dark, and facing four hundred and fifty pounds of angry pork running out of control in four wheel drive, I felt less than adequately prepared. It was a classic confrontation, two mothers, both protecting their babies. The difference was, hers was no longer under any threat, mine was. I did the only thing I could think to do. I hauled off and planted my right foot under her chin for all I was worth. Her head jerked up violently and she stopped dead in her tracks. She shook her head and backed up a few paces, which gave us a chance to scoot around her and escape.

On reflection, I know I should have spoken to the sow. She knows the sound of my voice, and chances are she would have calmed down before the face kicking set in. But in the future there will be no chances taken where it concerns sows and piglets. For a few seconds there we had identical agendas, she and I — protecting our own. Truth be known she could have easily won. She just chose not to.

© C.J. Mouser, used with permission.

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A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.