UPDATE: Xantho X Vixen litter (long version)...
After monitoring Vixen's temperature every morning and evening for a whole week, on the evening of October 19 (her due date) Vixen's temperature finally dipped down to 36.9°C (98.4°F). This drop signaled the beginning of Stage 1 labor, which lasted a whopping 18 hours... a looong night of restlessness, heavy panting, digging in the whelping box, etc. I was expecting contractions and straining (pushing) to start at any time so, of course, I didn't get much sleep that night... I just spent the whole time (aside from when I went to check on Vala and Clover in the kitchen) camped out right next to Vixen's whelping box, which is located in our bedroom. By the next morning her temperature had dropped even further, down to 36.4°C (97.5°F) so I knew we were getting close... yet still the wait continued. Finally, just after noon (at 12:30) there was a small 'pop' and a gush of fluid as Vixen's "waters" broke, signaling the start of Stage 2 labor. I figured that contractions / straining would start within 20-40 minutes, but after 2 hours of nothing more than restlessness, heavy panting, and more digging in the whelping box, I was starting to get worried. Then I remembered, from Vixen's first litter
that there had been a 4-hour waiting period from the time her waters broke (the appearance of the first 'lubricating bubble' of amniotic liquid) until the delivery of the first puppy.
However, after 2.5 hours without any visible contractions or straining whatsoever, I decided to do what any self-respecting breeder would do, and check to see if there was anything in her birth canal (a stuck puppy, for instance, can cause primary uterine inertia). Sure enough, far up (almost out of reach) was something dangling down... long and thin. There were only 2 things it could be: the severed end of an umbilical cord; or the tip of a tail. It was unlikely to be an umbilical cord, considering the first puppy had yet to be born (no detached placenta, yet) and the furry, tapered end gave it away. Then I realized... the gush of fluid hadn't come from a "lubricating bubble" of amniotic fluid, it came from the placental sack itself (containing the puppy) which is why I could feel the tail directly. This means the puppy had been positioned in the birth canal for the past 2.5 hours... and wasn't going anywhere. Vixen wasn't straining or pushing and the puppy was firmly lodged in place. It was very difficult to grab hold of the very tip of the slippery puppy tail, almost as far deep as I could reach, but in combination with "feathering" the upper wall and a couple of strong pushes from Vixen, I was able to get hold of the first centimeter or two of the tail (a very loooong tail, I might add).
With more "feathering" and much encouragement (to motivate Vixen) as well as plenty of stretching, I could finally feel, at the very end of my fingertips, the toes/claws of one rear paw. Gripping both the tail and the paw was very difficult (slippery, tight working space, etc) but I realized that unless I could help Vixen to get this puppy out, there was no other way that this first puppy could come out by itself... it was stuck tight. If this puppy blocked the way, all the other puppies behind it were also at risk. After struggling for 30 minutes and barely gaining any ground, I decided to call the vet for advice. He suggested I keep trying for another 30 minutes, and then we'd see where to go from there. In other words, if this puppy doesn't come out, a caesarean section surgery would be the only option (an injection of oxytocin at this point would be very dangerous since the blocked puppy could cause Vixen's uterus to rupture, which would kill all the puppies). Driven by adrenaline and sheer determination, I was finally able to grip an ankle and feel the other back leg. Once I had a (slippery) hold of the back paw / ankle / tail, with more "feathering" and more encouragement / motivation ("come on Vixen!!!"), I was finally able to grab hold of a knee and upper leg. Once I had the back legs in my grip, it took several more strong pushes from Vixen (in combination with me pulling with all my strength, coinciding with Vixen's pushes) to work the puppy loose. I was worried about hurting the pup or causing serious damage but, by this point, I was coming to the realization that this puppy was likely to be already dead. Either way, it had to come out - otherwise ALL the puppies would be dead. So we struggled and persevered and, finally, I saw two purple-ish paw pads sticking out. I didn't have too much time to worry about the color (indicating a lack of oxygen) because, with a couple more strong pushes / pulls, the puppy was out. A boy! Born at 16:00... and alive! What a rush! There was plenty of blood and gore, but it was such a relief. Vixen had been straining (hard) for an hour by that point, so I could tell that she was also glad it was finally out.
Another 2 hours passed, and then a bubble of amniotic fluid appeared - another pup was on the way! Except... there were 2 bubbles!! Two puppies were coming at the same time! Seriously, what next?! The first pup was stuck (in reverse) and now the second/third pups were coming at the same time (almost guaranteed to get stuck and cause another blockage). I tried to push one bubble back inside (without breaking it) and focused on gently pulling the one that was larger / closer to delivery. With a couple of strong pushes from Vixen, the puppy was out - another (identical) male! - born at 18:20. Only 15 minutes later, along came the third puppy... a dark female, born at 18:35. Then, at 19:00 another (almost identical) male was born. We knew from the x-ray that there were 4 puppies (possibly 5) but the uncertain fifth one, positioned by Vixen's ribcage, was hard to identify as a puppy... if it was a puppy, it was well separated from the others and likely wouldn't arrive for a long time after the others. We decided just to wait and see... so we waited, and waited... and nothing. We figured that if there was another one, it probably would arrive at some point during the night and so we decided to let nature take its course. However, by next morning, still nothing. No contractions, no straining, nada. Perhaps there were only 4 pups after all (3 males and 1 female) - not the end of the world, and at least they were all big and healthy (and born on time, not premature). Just to be certain, I felt Vixen's abdomen and felt something hard, which moved. Another puppy, without a doubt. However, by that time (08:00) it had been 13 hours since the previous puppy had been born. Would the puppy inside still be alive? Would it come out on its own? Should we go to the vet clinic with Vixen to give her another ultrasound scan / x-ray, followed by an injection of oxytocin to stimulate contractions and force the puppy out? If that didn't work, would Vixen need a cesarean section to remove the last (possibly dead) puppy?
I figured that during the night the puppy would have moved into a better position, and Vixen should have plenty of oxytocin already in her system (thanks to the placentas and suckling pups). So, once again, I decided to take matters into my own hands (literally). With more feathering, to stimulate contractions / straining, every 10 minutes, along came another puppy... a female, identical to the males, born at 08:50 (almost 14 hours after the previous puppy). A complete family (as indicated by the x-ray) - 3 males and 2 females - or so we thought. Roughly 1 hour later, I was still not convinced... Vixen still seemed quite plump and perhaps it was intuition, or just a hunch, but I palpitated Vixen's abdomen and I was fairly certain (though not convinced) that I felt another puppy inside. I decided to act on the hunch and utilize more feathering technique; sure enough, at 11:05 another (female) puppy was born... alive and kicking. A grand-total of 6 puppies: 3 males and 3 females!
Anyway, it is now 22:00 and I am fairly certain (though not totally convinced) that Vixen has finished whelping. We'll take her, and the pups, to the vet clinic tomorrow so that Vixen can have a final ultrasound scan / x-ray, just to make certain...