A Stormy Night
Our Experience with Ringwomb
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Carrissa Larsen
Ringwomb. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. While it’s more common in sheep, it’s still a fairly rare condition overall. Ringwomb is when the cervix refuses to soften and open during labor, leaving a hard ring of tissue that the kids can’t pass through. The outcome is rarely good for the doe or the kids. No one has a real answer on what causes this — the best guess is that there’s a genetic component. But the true answer is, no one knows for sure.
When we went into our second year of kidding, we had never heard the term “ringwomb.” On the never-ending list of potential issues I read about obsessively and tried to prepare for, this one never made my radar.
When our doe Stormy Moon went into labor, we were very excited. She was the first kid to have been born on our farm and have our herd name, so her first kidding felt like a big milestone for us. When the day started, Stormy began to show the classic labor signs — up and down, ground pawing, visible contractions. In the afternoon, she began to push. We watched anxiously as she bore down, pushing with real intent, only to get back up again. After a few hours we began to worry but chalked it up to an unusually long labor. No amniotic sac had ruptured, so we tried to be patient and let nature take its course.
After laboring all day and making no progress, we finally had to admit something wasn’t right with Stormy. After a frantic phone call to our good friend and mentor Cheryle at Old Mountain Farm, she agreed that it wasn’t normal for her to be pushing so long. She told me to go into Stormy’s vulva to see if I could feel anything amiss. At this point in our goat experience, I had never really gone into a doe for an internal check. I didn’t know what I was looking for and couldn’t find anything that seemed out of place. I was at a loss, and because of the late hour, I couldn’t reach the vet. Even though she was over an hour away, Cheryle agreed to drive to us with her husband and the 19-year-old intern, Jackson, who was staying with them.
When Cheryle arrived, we got Stormy up on our milk stand so she could get a better idea of what was going on internally. After an internal assessment Cheryle said the cervix was only partially dilated, not even close to what we needed. She said it was ringwomb, and in her 30 years of experience, she had only run into it once. We managed to get in touch with the vet, who suggested we massage the cervix to see if we could get it to open. If we couldn’t, it would mean she would have to come out and do a C-section or put Stormy down. She advised that the kids were probably dead by now. We tried to come to terms with losing the babies and having to put Stormy down. I did not handle this gracefully to say the least — I was a hot sobbing mess. Cheryle said her husband had brought his gun and was prepared to put Stormy down for us — she was suffering, and we needed to make the hard call.
Before putting Stormy down, Cheryle wanted us all to feel Stormy’s cervix so we could identify the feel of ringwomb for ourselves in the future. The hard, quarter-sized ring of unyielding tissue that I felt has been burned into my memory. When it was Jackson’s turn to feel, he paused for a second.
“I can feel a kid. I think if I can rupture the sac, I can try to pull it out.”
Everyone looked to me. Trying to pull a kid out may just prolong Stormy’s suffering. If we could get it out, it may damage the cervix irreparably. But we had nothing to lose. I nodded. Jackson went in further, and we held Stormy up — she was exhausted and had nothing left to give. He ruptured the sac and managed to grab the kid by hooking the jaw. He warned us that he didn’t know what kind of damage that would do to the kid. He pulled and we all held our breath.
After a few minutes, the kid came free, and Jackson had the limp body in his hands. Shockingly, the jaw was intact. Even more shockingly, the kid was alive. As we swung it and rubbed it, Jackson quickly pulled out two more kids. Both alive. We were astounded. We were giddy. All three kids survived, and it was one of the most incredible things we’ve ever experienced on our farm to date.
Stormy raised her triplets and was an incredible first-time mother. We worried about the potential damage to her cervix and if she’d ever be able to freshen again. We gave her a year off and then bred her again. We waited nervously, as a compromised cervix would most likely result in a miscarriage. She delivered us another set of triplets with no complications. The ringwomb never resurfaced. It has never resurfaced in any of her daughters. But it still hangs over me every kidding season. I hope I never see it again, but if I do, I hope I’ll be ready. And as always, I’ll hope for another miracle.
Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.