02 May The Animals On My Farm Always Kill Their Newborns
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"The Animals On My Farm Always Kill Their Newborns"Written by Christine O'Neill
Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Before I take my life tonight, I need to write down what brought me to this point. Just for my own sanity, just as a catharsis. If I’m feeling brave I’ll post it on the Internet when I’m done. And if I do – if I’m actually talking to some human soul out there – know that I am at eternal peace as you read this.
My favorite animal on my fiancé’s farm was Sausage. She was an enormous hog who might have been intimidating if she wasn’t so lovey-dovey. Sausage acted like a dog whenever I came around, always wanted to be scratched behind the ears and made little grunts and snorts if I wasn’t giving her enough attention. In fact, she was the one who sold me on the whole farm thing. It was scary for me to move in with Anthony and his sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs, donkey, and cats; before that, I had owned a total of two fish and a hermit crab.
But I was in love with him. And he was in love with me, even in spite of all my anxieties and manias and foibles. I took a leap of faith, moving onto his 40-acre Midwest ranch a few months before the wedding. His father had raised him here, but had passed away a year before we met. After only a few days, I stopped nagging him about selling the property and moving closer to a city. Just a few days – that’s how long it took for sweet Sausage to teach me that farm animals were not “pets but, like, judgmental of you,” as I had originally told Tony. She was smart and affectionate. She was my friend. It didn’t take long before I developed similar sentiments towards the rest of my new family.
Sausage was pregnant when I moved in, and she was due to give birth just one week after Anthony and I returned from our honeymoon. Though I was on the verge of having a panic attack the whole time, I was there from start to finish delivering all four piglets. They seemed healthy and I was overwhelmingly proud of myself.
The following day he brought over the two little boys who lived across the street, as was tradition, to name the newbies. The runt was, not so creatively, christened Peewee. For a few days everything went well. The new piglets required a lot of care but were super cute. Besides, I was confident that between Sausage’s nurturing disposition and Tony’s expertise, they could make up for whatever I messed up.
The piglets were only a few days old when everything happened. After the chores were done for the day, Tony and I fell asleep holding each other like the happy newlyweds we were. I hadn’t been out for long when a deafening squeal shattered my sleep. I spasmed away from Tony and whipped my head towards the window. I can’t even describe the feeling that swelled in my chest at that noise. It was shrill, desperate, horrified. The two of us flew downstairs and across the field to the pig pen. By the time we had reached the front door, the squeal tapered off like a stereo being unplugged. With just the light of the moon to guide us, I didn’t make out what was happening until we were a few steps from the pen.
God, I’m in tears remembering this. Poor Peewee. His little body was just destroyed. It looked like he had been banged against a wall repeatedly. His legs were dislocated, his body swelling with bruises, his tiny nose twitching as though it were the first step to being able to move again. But he would never move again. His glassy little eyes rolled towards us as we burst through the gate.
And there was Sausage, calm as ever, looming over her newborn. Mechanically, almost gently, she gathered Peewee by his scruff and jerked back her head. “No! Sausage, no!” I shouted. I was about to lunge at her but Tony grabbed my arm.
I made a hysterical whimper as the pig slammed its snout into the ground with Peewee in her mouth. The ensuing crunching noise almost brought me to my knees. Tony whispered, “It’s over Wanda. He’s gone.” He was right – Peewee was probably dead the instant he made contact with the dirt. I wasn’t sure how many times Sausage had smashed him into the ground like this before we arrived, but I understood why Tony had held me back. If I had stopped her just then, we would have been responsible for a mercy-killing. The most humane thing was to let nature take its course.
But what the hell was natural about any of this?
Tony had tears in his eyes as he scooped up the three remaining piglets, who were cowering in a corner. Meanwhile Sausage nudged the body of her runt and, satisfied that he was thoroughly dead, meandered over to the slop tub. I watched Tony deposit the piglets in the next pen over, so that a swath of fence separated them from their mother. He told me to wait inside while he buried Peewee.
I was all cried out by the time he came upstairs. He looked more enervated than I had ever seen him, soaked in sweat and smudged with dirt.
Tony sat across from me on the bed. He didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, he raised his brown eyes to mine and said, “Juanita. There is something I haven’t told you.”
I can count on one hand the number of times I’d heard him call me by my full name. A chill ran up my spine. “What?” I whispered.
“This – what happened tonight – is nothing new. All of the animals on the farm kill their newborns, one by one, unless they are separated immediately. I don’t know why. I mean, honestly. There is no explanation, scientific or otherwise, I have ever found for this behavior. It’s just – it has always happened on this farm.” He looked away.
I scooted closer. “How is that possible?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. It’s not a satisfying answer, but it’s all I can tell you.”
“But… but even Saucy?” I asked, invoking the nickname I had given my favorite farm animal.
“All of them, Wanda. All of them.” He sighed. “And I know you’re wondering why I didn’t separate the babies right away, and it’s just because I was being selfish.” I watched him clench and unclench his fist. “I didn’t want to have to tell this to you, ever, and I guess I just hoped that it had been in my head all along. You know, now that Dad’s gone, and you and I are starting our life together, I just thought… rather than separating them like my family had been doing for years, I should see what happened. Maybe the curse had never existed in the first place, and I would never have to have this awful conversation with you. But look where that got us.” A tear fell onto the bed.
For the next several days, Tony wouldn’t look me in the eye. You would think it was him out there torturing Peewee that night – that’s how ashamed he was. Seeing how profoundly this instance affected him just made me love him more. I have told him as much time and again since that day. He has never believed me.
And that was the first infanticide I witnessed on Anthony’s family farm. Four years and several deaths have transpired since then. We tried to keep the animals separated, and obviously they needed to reproduce to sustain the farm, but sometimes the killings happened before we even knew the mother was giving birth. I don’t want to make a laundry list, because obviously these things aren’t pleasant for me to relive, but one other episode that I constantly have nightmares about is Snoozers.
Snoozers was a barn cat who would appear curled up napping in random places on the farm. Sometimes we wouldn’t see her for days. Tony and I had been talking about how she was getting big enough for us to assume she was pregnant, and we tried to keep an eye on her, but you know cats. She came and went as she pleased.
We really started to get worried when we didn’t see her for almost two weeks. That’s when I was certain that she had given birth, and I feared for the lives of those helpless, infant kittens. But what could we do? I went on with my farm chores, having taken on more responsibility once Anthony got promoted. He was a quality assurance specialist for the USDA, and his new position meant he occasionally had to travel to conduct trainings.
Mid-morning was when I got around to changing out all the food and water. As I walked over to the goat’s pen, I noticed Snoozers lounging on a pile of hay. “Snoozers!” I chirped, at once thrilled and terrified. She was noticeably thinner but I didn’t see the kittens. Oddly, this made me feel much better. It would have put a maddening pressure on me to rescue them, and I would spend every second until Tony came home feeling like I had to protect them with my life. I just wasn’t equipped to handle something like this on my own. Honestly, I was fine pretending she had never been pregnant at all.
I slipped into the pen and knelt down to pet Snoozers. The clump of orange fur stretched and did a happy-cat-blink as I stroked her. At the insistence of the goats, I stood up and went to give them fresh water.
Now, the water was in a big, black ten-gallon tub in the corner of the pen. We changed it every few days. As you may imagine, by day three the water was murky with hay, dirt, food, and whatever other yuckiness the goats had on their mouths when they went to drink. Tiny as I am, I struggled to pick it up and pitch it over the fence.
I heard the water splash onto the ground, followed by five or six distinct plopping noises. I was so shocked I dropped the tub. Lying on the ground in front of me were the shriveled, soaking wet bodies of Snoozer’s kittens. They were so little that their eyes had not even opened yet. Shakily, I got to my knees and stared with tearful eyes at the corpses. The most frightening part was the lack of injuries. They didn’t even have the self-awareness or strength to fight for their lives. All I could imagine was Snoozers taking her kittens in her mouth one by one, and systematically holding them underwater until they stopped moving.
None of the food or water got switched until that evening. I spent the whole day in bed, trying to get Tony on the phone. He would be home tomorrow afternoon. Until then, he suggested, put a towel over the kittens and he would take care of them when he returned.
And I wish I could say the reason I’m writing now is because I am fearing for the life of another animal. But Jesus Christ it is so much worse than that.
Of course, Anthony and I had a discussion about this shortly after we found out I was pregnant. “What if it happens to me?” I had asked him. “What if I try to kill the baby?”
“Wanda, sweetheart,” he said, running a hand through my hair. “I promise, that’s not going to happen. I was raised on this farm, remember? Our baby is going to be happy and healthy.”
I hate myself for being too scared to point out that he was raised solely by his father. His mother – as the story goes – died during childbirth. But as I look back now, I wonder if that’s just what he was told so he wouldn’t ask questions.
Tonight I am in the house by myself. I gave birth a week and a half ago, and in all that time I have never been alone. Anthony, my parents, our families, our neighbors have been incredibly supportive. And with all the attention and company, it has been easy to ignore the thoughts I am terrified to be having. Thoughts of killing my child. At first I tried to tell myself that it was psychosomatic, that I had in effect cursed myself by believing this curse existed in the first place. Every night since JJ was born, I have lain awake reading about post-partum depression on my phone. I was dying to find something, anything validating these feelings. And of course, if you search long enough on the Internet, you can convince yourself of anything. But each time I put down that phone and looked at the little lump in the crib beside me, all I could think was how much I wanted to kill it.
I don’t even understand why! And that’s what’s devouring me from the inside out, is I can’t even try to reason with myself. I haven’t breathed a word of this to my husband. If he thought for a moment that leaving JJ alone with me was endangering our child’s life, he might do to me what I’m convinced his father did to his mother. Besides, I love this child! What’s so maddening, really, is the genuine, maternal attachment that I have to JJ. I love him so much, I can’t even put it into words. But – but I don’t know how much longer I can fight this impulse.
Even sleep doesn’t give me a respite from this hell. The nightmares have gotten increasingly worse. The night before Tony left, I dreamed that the baby and I were hiding from a killer. I clutched him to my chest and ran through a dark cornfield, pausing only to catch my breath and hear the telltale rustle of the murderer. Finally, I found my way out of the field. A small farm house was in sight. I ran as fast I could to safety and locked the door. I sat on the sofa with JJ in my arms until I calmed down. And then I placed him on the table in front of me, took off his clothes, and began peeling away his skin. He didn’t make a sound, just stared at me with omniscient eyes. When I tore off a slice of skin, I placed it in a neat pile on either side of him. One by one I exposed his organs until all that was left of his skin was the patch between his eyeballs. We stared at each other until they rolled back into his head. I woke up, then. I darted to the bathroom and vomited before Tony could ask me what was wrong. I called through the door that I had food poisoning or something, and showered for an hour and a half until my heart rate slowed back to normal.
It’s nighttime. I put JJ down after I had finished dinner and went to watch some TV, trying to take my mind off the thoughts I was having. The last thing I remember is feeling like I was nodding off, but not quite falling asleep. And just now, just twenty minutes ago, I… woke up? Came to? I just suddenly realized that I was halfway upstairs with a kitchen knife in my hand. I screamed and flung it away from me and collapsed where I was in hysterical tears. I have no control over myself anymore. God. Who am I?
I can hear JJ crying. He’s been at it for a while, wailing from hunger. I haven’t fed him since early this morning because I fear that if I try to feed him, I’ll choke him to death before I can stop myself. Even if I did call Tony, or my mother, or a neighbor or the police – I know that the moment I put that phone down, I would kill JJ before anyone arrived.
Writing out these truths, these thoughts, is the only thing that has kept me from taking the life of my child. I am shaking so hard now. I know I don’t have much time left before I can’t take it anymore. And since the instant the first murderous thought popped into my head, I have been using every mental faculty to figure out how to prevent this.
And I did. Tonight, I figured out how to save JJ’s life.
I cannot risk another black-out like I just had on the stairs. Recording all this has been glorified procrastination. Anthony, I love you. JJ, I love you. Please never forget that. And I hope you can both move on and live long, happy lives. I just have one last request before I take my life tonight.
Burn this fucking farm to the ground.
🔔 More stories from author: Christine O'Neill
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