Going vegan was a transition I never thought I’d make.
I grew up surrounded by agriculture, especially the farm where my father worked as a dairy farmer.
I was familiar with the milking parlor there and had a relaxed attitude about the dairy industry. I witnessed the birth of calves and heard them braying in their barns. When the cows called loudly to the barns I was told they were “talking to their babies.”
Everything seemed so normal; charming and boring even, depending on my mood. There were the cows in the fields, the calves in the barn, and the cups of fresh milk my brother and I enjoyed “straight from the cow.” I didn’t think this was a lifestyle I’d ever opt away from.
As a young adult, I worked in a health food store and was introduced to soya, almond, and oat milks, along with other dairy-free products. Still, my preference for dairy was something I didn’t think would change.
Then 2017 became one of the most challenging years of my life. I became pregnant with my second son, who was born prematurely in August.
At the time of his birth, I was already in the midst of terrible prenatal depression. They took my baby to the neonatal unit immediately after he was born and even transferred him to another hospital while I slept—I woke up not knowing my baby had gone.
When I finally saw him again, I couldn’t hold him, couldn’t feed him, couldn’t mother him. All I could do was express milk, which I was required to do every few hours. I cried all the time. Bleary-eyed, I rigged myself to a machine that sent my hormones into overdrive, pumping milk into a sterile container. My body ached for the baby who ought to be doing this himself. Without him, I felt hollow. I felt like an object.
I would do this every single day until my boy finally came home.
Cut to eight months later, I’m now completely meat and dairy-free. My outlook on life has changed entirely. I now fully appreciate that every mother has a right to nurse her infant, human or animal.
I was an intelligent human being, with complete awareness. I knew why my son was gone, I knew he was in the best place for him, and I knew my milk would feed him when it came out of the hospital’s fridge. Yet the emotional distress and trauma I suffered birthing a child who was taken away and replaced by an express pump…my eyes were now wide open.
My memories of the farm have now adjusted: the braying of cows, a mother bellowing for her baby, her udders full of its milk, and a maternal instinct she’s being deprived.
The memories cause me pain now as I acknowledge how these animals must truly feel in their role of providing milk for our pleasure. At the cost of milk in our tea, our cereal bowls, our baking. A female cow doesn’t know why her calf is being taken away, why she’s herded to a milking parlor, and that the milk she produces (hormones raging) isn’t going to sustain the precious calf she carried and birthed herself.
I myself can no longer view milk as a pleasure to consume.
For others, it still seems to be a necessity which comes without cost or sacrifice. My family have made a living from the dairy industry. I owe the industry in my own way for financially raising me and the generations before me. But I do strongly believe that—just as many previously-accepted traits and practises have faded out with time and understanding—so too will the way we approach the dairy industry.
With overpopulation comes greater demand for easy-access, affordable produce, but as our empathy and intolerance of distress caused to animals increases, there will surely come a time when every household will need to ask themselves what matters more.
For me the answer is easy. I look at my son, who I eventually held to my skin and nursed the way nature intended. I remember the comfort we both felt, the peace in my body and soul as I returned that expressing pump to the hospital and turned my back on my role as my son’s “dairy cow.”
I am a mother and I choose to defend every mother’s right to the same peace and comfort, human or animal. I choose vegan.
Author: Naomi Wicks
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron