Kathy and her little flock
have been incubating chicken eggs as part of their homeschool adventures. It was exciting to cram into their laundry room with the lights out and "candle" the eggs with a flashlight to see the chicks developing through the glowing shell the week before they were "due". When the first tell-tale cracks appeared on the shells, Kathy called, and many hours later when the first paltry poultry emerged, we hurried over.
The first chick, we are told, burst from its shell like a race horse out of the gate. We watched the next one as it ev-er-so-slow-ly made it's way out into the light. The first hatchling would peep a tiny peep, and the egg would wiggle and answer back. We watched and encouraged and rooted it on, "Come on, little chick! You can do it!" Sometimes the first chick would stumble right into the egg and the bump would startle the still hidden chick into a flurry of effort, it's little chirping fervent and fast, though muffled. It worked away at making a long crack that encircled the egg and would eventually pop open like a lid.
It was exhausting to watch (I was real tempted to say eggs-hausting just then. I know, lame. I didn't. You're welcome). The next chick puttered at the start, but when it was time for the serious work, he made his way out so quickly I almost missed it. As each chick would hatch, it would gather with the others near a hatching egg and lay it's little head on it. If the chick inside the egg peeped, the chick outside would call back. It was almost like it was somehow helping.
We headed home after a while. There were more eggs to hatch, but it would be several hours before they got down to the serious rockin' and rollin'. We headed back that evening to share dinner with Kathy's family and see the progress. By evening's end the kids had lost interest and only the adults remained gathered around the incubator. One last chick had been trying to hatch for a very long time. Instead of chipping it's little starting hole at the side of the egg, it had managed to do so at the very tip of the narrow end of the egg, and somehow it didn't seem to be able to progress beyond that starting hole. It would wrestle and struggle, but all we could see was the tip of its beak through the unyielding hole as it breathed heavily. Eventually, it stopped trying.
We got worried, Kathy and I.
We are moms. That's what we do. It's in the job description, go look it up.
Kathy had read extensively about the process. While there is that whole myth "the chick needs adversity (breaking out of the shell) to get strong enough to survive", ultimately the message is true even if the reason is not. The chick has tiny blood vessels that are still attached to the egg membrane, and as it wrestles and struggles around to hatch, the vessels close themselves off and detach from the shell. Peel the shell off of them and the chicks could bleed to death.
But I have actually had experience of my own with eggs hatching once before. On my mission the family we lived with had chickens. One day 21 eggs hatched. One did not. The last chick had been working hard on his shell, but had never gotten far enough to finish the task before it had become exhausted. The woman we lived with finally just picked it up and started carefully pulling the shell away, one piece at a time. When I panicked and asked "Won't it die if it doesn't do it for itself?!" She answered softly,
"At this point it will die if I do nothing."
So Kathy and I talked about it, and we decided to help the chick just a bit. I cracked a ring around the egg with my thumbnail just the way the other chicks had done. It didn't seem to help. The chick was just too tired. So I carefully pulled away just the top few pieces of shell that would have popped off first. We replaced the egg in the incubator and with worried faces, said goodnight. On the way home I began to fret that perhaps by helping I had actually hurt the little chick's chances. If it died, how would I know if it was from exhaustion, or because I had interfered?
As soon as I saw Kathy the next day I asked, "Did it hatch?"
"It did." She sighed.
She had lain awake in the early hours of the morning, worrying, unable to go back to sleep. Finally, she crept down stairs, and to her utter relief the little chick was tumbling around with all the others,
a pack of peeping puffballs on legs.
At what point as parents do we help?
When is helping actually hurting?
What if we can't and won't know until all is said and done,
years and years from now?
There are those moments, those terrifying hours when we see that something must be done, but we are not sure if it is better to stay still and let the situation play out, or to step in and pry open the shell. It is so hard to know the right thing to say, the time to speak up, and the time to simply,
and let them work it out
on their own.