Sunday, July 5, 2015

When Zookeepers Have A Kid (Part 1)

Recently at my place of employment, we had a delightful happening!

A baby dolphin was born.


It doesn't get any better than watching an animal you love go through a pregnancy and then deliver (in whatever method that particular animal does) a healthy kid.  Even if he/she has to grow in an egg for a while, or chillax in a pouch.  As soon as the newborn nugget emerges in its finished ready-for-external-life all animal caretakers everywhere celebrate.

But what I think is the most fun? Watching the little guy or gal grow.  Not just physically, but cognitively.  How does this brand new being interact with the environment?  With their conspecifics? So for the past two months, I've been able to basically do what I've NEVER been able to do before and that's basically just sit and watch a dolphin calf grow.

It's been a really, really rare treat for me at a supervisor level to have the opportunity to do observations for massive chunks of the day for so many weeks.  It's not just because I got to sit in a comfortable chair; it's because I got to observe some incredible milestones that I'd only read about in books.  I'm not just talking about the "big" milestones in mammalian neonatal development (like successful nursing or whatever), but the more minute ones.  Like when she started to veer off from the adults and started playing with her own bubbles at just a few weeks old.  Or the first time she started to actually play with the other dolphins.  And that story is another blog in and of itself (so stay tuned)!

My obs shifts also allowed me to take a zillion photos

But the reason I was confined to a comfy chair taking in the glorious wonder of young'uns blossoming was because I was gestating my own progeny.  At later stages of pregnancy, I could do all of the following activities:

1) Sit down
2) Complain
3) Eat
4) Word puzzles and endless episodes of Mad Men

You just keep watching me, Draper...and I'll keep watching you <3

Other activities such as: sleeping, walking, and working as a supervisor of animal training were a little more challenging.  Luckily, the timing of the birth of the baby dolphin allowed me to feel relatively useful.

Being preggo at the same time as another animal is pretty cool.  I definitely watched the entire experience differently knowing that I would be experiencing something similar just a month or so after mama dolphin did.  But because I am Cat, nothing about my pregnancy or raising a kid has been like, normal.


First of all, let's talk about being pregnant and being a nerd.  It is really, really weird.  I'm not saying that to poop* on people's dreams of growing a little person in their body.  I know it's a very beautiful and spiritual thing on different levels for people.  But for me, in addition to the fun anticipation, I looked at it like this bizarre science experiment; an added bonus for being excited that a little version of myself would roam the planet (and I'm really sorry to the rest of humanity for that).  

Actually I'm not.

Before I knew I was knocked up, I made these epic vacation plans for a 10 day trip to Monterey, CA. My plan was to basically whale-watch every day, all day, until my money ran out and my camera punched me in the face and jumped off the stern of the boat in protest for abusive use.   I was so excited.  I wanted to see Northern right whale dolphins.  I wanted to see sea otters in the wild for the first time in my life.  I wanted to eat all the delicious seafood, and go to cool yoga classes and then wonder how on earth I'd one day be able to move out to coastal Cali (my dream place!).   I found an awesome deal on Travelocity and booked the trip.

Then, I found out I was pregnant.  Cool, that'd be a nice way to just unwind and really embrace the change on the horizon.  I was going to be in Monterey for most of the trip by myself, so I took it to be a sign from the Universe** that this would be a deeply meditative trip.  I'd be amidst wildlife I adore, with a little creature carefully grown in me that I knew I'd love fiercely, and I could just take it all in surrounded by the majesty that is the Pacific ocean.

Oh little long-beaked common dolphin, did you know how much I needed to barf everywhere when I took this photo?

So I got there, started my whale-watching journey and thought, "Oh man, this is GREAT!"  The next day, I woke up for another day of fun and BOOM.  Morning sickness from Hades.  Like, some devilish creature actually crawled up from an underworld and into my digestive system and rendered me bed-ridden for the vast majority of my trip.  My spiritual journey amounted to watching Chopped episodes for 10 hours a day and wondering how anyone can eat ANYTHING ever again, much less the stuff they have to use on that show.

Don't look at me like that, Ted Allen.  I've seen every episode and LOVED IT.

But I took it all in stride and made the best of what I could.  That trip set the stage for the rest of my experience.

I used the fact that I could wield an ultrasound machine to my advantage every so often.  That was pretty cool, seeing this little thing wiggle around inside of me and I was the one actually doing it.  If ever I needed a quick glimpse, I could hop into our lab after work and fire up the machine, make sure babycat still had the important things (like ribs) and then go home.  But what I was really excited about was the Legit Ultrasound that happens between 18-20 weeks gestation.  That's when you get an expert with a super duper ultrasound machine who tells you if your kid is healthy, what gender it is and/or if it has any super powers.***

But you know what I mean.  You know how on Facebook when people make their cute/quippy pregnancy announcements with the subsequent Standard Profile Mug Shot Ultrasound photo?  The one where you're like, "Awww, look at that little sonic representation of a human fetus!!" (what, that's not what you think)?  Well, I didn't get that.  I got the ultrasound, which was really cool because we found out we were having a girl, she was human, and got to see cross-sections of all of her organs (to be used as embarrassing story fodder in the formative middle school years).  And then they started freezing images to send to my nurse practitioner midwife and to give to me as a keepsake.

Standard adorable ultrasound profile shot.  That's what every pregnant chick gets to look forward to after coming out of the haze of Vomville, right?

"Yes!" I thought.  "I'm going to be able to send my parents the Standard Profile Mugshot Ultrasound Photo!"


This.  This is what I get.

Can't see it? Wait, lemme rotate it.

The head is in the center.  The gaping hole is the mouth (near the label) and there is one eye present (on the right), a vacant triangle where the nose would be, and zero eye on the left side.  SHE IS A GOBLIN.

I found out I was gestating a little one-eyed demon.  Or zombie.  Maybe a banshee.  I couldn't tell, but it was definitely from another world.  And was a girl.  So a little ghost girl, growing inside of me and making me feel like I'm going to yiff everywhere all day.

Here's another one, same thing: right eye all Living Deadish, zero left eye.  I like the ribs on the right, it's a nice ghoulish touch.  

Immediately, I began thinking what anyone else in this situation would've thought: Is there a way to get this kid into the scary movie business?  I mean, think about it.  Paranormal Activity could easily use this image to inspire 8 or 10 more movies.    I also found there are several advantages to having a Paranormal Kid:

1) They are cool
2) They don't eat much
3) They are free on airplanes (probably...I can't find a "Banshee in Arms" ticket option so I'm just making an assumption)

I won't bore you with any further details of my Tim Burton-inspired offspring, only to say that she's been born a real, non-ghosty person (with both eyes).  AND that I feel even closer to the dolphins at work.  When their appetite decreases and they act a little sluggish for the first few months of pregnancy to the final stages where you can see their calf kicking around, resulting in an oddly-positioned, squinty-eyed dolphin....I feel like I can really commiserate with them.  And that's pretty cool.  In fact, all of us zookeepers empathize with the animals under our care, even if we haven't had the same experience.  But for those of us who have reproduced, I hope all of us look at our zoo/aquarium ladies with a little camaraderie.

Good news: my kid has both eyes and is of this world.  

And now you'll have to excuse me.  My newborn infant, who can't even hold her head up on her own, has farted something unholy into her 57th diaper of the day and it has registered as seismic activity in Los Angeles.  This is one part of parenthood the dolphins really got away easy with. ;)

Side note: I have 100 photos of this baby dolphin on my iPhone.  I also have 100 photos of my daughter on my iPhone. I don't care what species the baby is, I'm going to take some insane photos. Guilty as charged.

* Ha ha, zookeeper and new mom making poop's all I seeeeeee

** Or whoever is in charge...God? Murphy? Carl Sagan? I hope it's the latter.

*** Mine does, but I'm choosing not to share.

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