"The Most Natural Adoption"

As a newly minted adoptive mom reveling in my bond with my daughter, it just seemed natural to me when a mother goat on our farm took in a baby lamb.

One woman learns about adoptive motherhood in mother nature.

My husband, Alex, and I are rookie farmers, and every new animal offers an education. But I knew right away that Cleopatra was different, somehow. “Well, she is a lot fatter than the other ones,” Alex observed, “and kind of sluggish.”

Our vet took one look and said, “That goat is pregnant.” She was due in a few weeks. The most important thing, he said, was to make sure she got exercise. “You’ll need to walk her twice a day.”

I never knew you could walk a goat. It was like walking a very obedient dog. In the morning we tackled the hills behind the house, and evenings we strolled around the pond. A pregnant goat is, I discovered, a very good listener. “You’re going to love being a mom!” I said. “It is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I was still dizzy with love for my newly adopted daughter, Anna. She was a beautiful baby, all cheeks and boundless joy.

Our walks got longer and so did my monologue. I told Cleopatra how strongly I felt that Anna had  always been my daughter. One time, at a grocery store, a woman asked if Anna had been adopted from China, and I was taken aback. How could she possibly know? I had forgotten that Anna’s face was so different from my Irish face. “Forgotten!” I said to Cleopatra. “Do you think that’s weird?”

Cleopatra went into labor on a night as dark as ink. “It’s time,” Alex said. I asked him how he could be so certain. “There’s a foot sticking out.” Oh, dear. We managed to deliver the baby goat without incident. “Congratulations!” I said to her, and gently closed the barn door to give mother and child a chance to sleep.

Three days later, our neighbor, George, came barreling up our driveway. He climbed out of his truck carrying a baby lamb—the tiniest creature. Her nose was pink, and her body was covered with tight fuzz.

She was one of triplets, born a few hours earlier, but her mother had rejected her, had refused to let her drink milk. There was no sense or reason to it, George said; sheep just do that sometimes. “Maybe you can help?” I took the lamb in my arms and asked what I could do for a creature so delicate.

“Actually, I was thinking your goat could do it,” he said, looking over at Cleopatra. “She’ll have enough milk for this baby, too. Maybe she’ll accept her as one of her own. Maybe she won’t. But it’s worth a try.”

I felt awkward. After all, just how do you go about asking a goat to mother a lamb? “Hey, Cleopatra,” I said. “Would you mind?” I placed the little lamb next to her little goat. Cleopatra looked, sniffed, and in an instant she made up her mind. The lamb took a good long drink, and the bond was formed.

In a way, it was the most natural adoption in the world. Here was a baby lamb who desperately needed a mom, and here was a mama goat with plenty of mothering to give.

“I’m so proud of you,” I said to Cleopatra. She looked up at me, and her expression told me everything: Of course this lamb was hers. Of course. It was the same “of course” I felt the moment Anna was placed in my arms, a feeling that every adoptive mom knows never goes away.

We named the lamb Sweet Pea. When I watch my daughter playing with her, I sometimes imagine their conversations. “I know what you mean,” Sweet Pea might say to Anna. “My mom is a goat! They sure do come in all shapes and sizes.”

Illustration by Orin Brecht

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