I have a friend who is not vegan. Despite this, he reads this website. I couldn’t say how often, but every once in a while, he questions me about a post or thought that he’s had about veganism.
I’ve written about him before- when he asked me about the lives of chickens, that time he wanted to know more about why vegans don’t eat honey– he’s inquisitive, and I enjoy that about him.
We’ve been friends for a long time- 22 years. He’s seen me grow from a teenager to the woman that I am today. He’s seen me through some hard times, witness to some of my most personal and tragic situations.
A couple of years ago, I wrote what is still today the most personal post I’ve ever written titled, Don’t Take the Babies. After I wrote it, I received a phone call from my friend.
Him: “I can’t believe you wrote that on your blog.”
Me: “Wrote what?”
Him: “That animals losing their children is similar to your son dying. It’s not. It’s not the same at all.”
Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it the same?
Let me backtrack a bit.
I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant. Although unplanned, I wasn’t unhappy about the pregnancy. I had always wanted children, and I had always wanted them at a young age. I had gotten my wish.
My brother’s wife was also expecting. She and I had gone to school together and were excited to share our pregnancy and our families. It was special. I spent time daydreaming of our children playing together, go to school together- being close because they would be so close in age. Our children were going to be born two months apart.
Today is my son’s 18th birthday. I can hardly believe it. It doesn’t seem like 18 years have passed. It goes so quickly. My brother also had a son, and they were indeed born two months apart- almost to the day. My nephew has grown into an excellent young adult, 18 this year, as his cousin would have been.
You see, my son died the day he was born.
From my post two years ago:
“There are reasons, explanations, medical terms that describe what happened to my son- they’re just words. None of them will change what happened; nothing can. Jonathon, my son, was full term and was born several days before my due date and two days after his father’s birthday.
I didn’t know then and still struggle with now, how to cope with the loss of my first (and only) child. My son was baptized the day he was born, with my family surrounding me. We took turns holding him, trying to absorb a lifetime of love from a child we’d never get to know. We took pictures; we held his tiny hands in ours- amazed at the tiny fingers and toes. But it couldn’t last, and I knew that I would have to call the nurse to come and get my son eventually. I would have to call her, and once I did, I would never hold my son again.
I don’t know if I’ve ever made a more difficult call when I pushed the button for the nurse. The time I spent with my son seemed to go by in a split second, it wasn’t enough- but my time was up. When the nurse came, I had a hard time letting go. And when I finally let go, I collapsed. My heart simply broke.
I mourn the loss of my child every day. There is nothing- nothing that I wouldn’t give to be able to have him here with me. I will never forget the life that I created and brought into this world. I never had the opportunity to mother my child, but I am a mother.
I imagine that cows, chickens, pigs, horses, birds, deer, raccoons, squirrels, and any animal that creates life, bring it into this world, would feel the same if they lost a child. I imagine that their grief is as painful as mine. And like me, I doubt that these mothers ever forget their children no matter how many years pass.
We must stop taking babies from their parents, never to be seen again. Canine, feline, farm animal, exotic or otherwise- these animals create life, families.”
It has been 18 years since I lost my son.
I have never forgotten the little boy I held that day. I remember with clarity how his little hand fit into mine and how it felt to keep him in my arms. Most of all, I remember how painful it was to let someone come and take him from me- knowing I would never hold him again.
It broke my heart then; it still does today. And milestones like my son’s 18th birthday, well, they are filled with such a sense of deep, deep sadness.
I know what it is like to create life, to carry it inside you, and the pain of childbirth. It is incredibly powerful, and I’ll never forget it.
My friend was dismayed that I compared the loss of my son to that of a non-human animal losing their baby.
But animals create life as well.
Cows are pregnant for nine months, just like us. And just like me, mother cows mourn the loss of children by bellowing, being anxious, and they have been known to travel long distances to search for their babies. Pigs are incredibly social, staying in family units that make up herds. They develop strong bonds with parents, siblings, mates, and friends- separation can cause anxiety and death. Sheep, goats, and chickens also create strong relationships with their young that lasts their lifetime.
A newborn gorilla baby will form a very close relationship to its mother — rarely straying more than a few steps from her side for the next three to four years. Also, like us, gorillas mourn the death of loved ones. They care for the dead, keeping the body close until it decomposes- on occasion, even burying them by covering the body with leaves.
Dogs and cats have also been known to become “depressed” by the death of a loved one. Dolphins have been known to spend weeks mourning (refusing to eat or play and make distressed sounds) a loss.
Elephants are profoundly affected by the death of another elephant. They become highly agitated when they see another dead elephant and demonstrate trunk swinging and prodding the bodies with their feet. And even when confronted by the bones of long-dead elephants, other elephants will gently touch the tusks and skulls with their trunks and feet.
I have witnessed red-tailed hawks, robins, squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks all raise young in my backyard. I have firsthand knowledge of their attentiveness and fierce protection of their young. I have seen robins chase squirrels away from their young who are just learning to fly. I have witnessed hawk parents bringing food to their young weeks after they left the nest. I watch these animals teach their young how to navigate the world – how to hunt, how to stay away from humans – and in the case of birds, how to sing. I could go on and on.
We aren’t as different as my friend would like to believe.
These animals create families. I have little doubt that they care for each other- not that I need that affirmation to care about their interests. After all, being a good steward of this earth means caring for the planet and the life that inhabits it.
I ended my post two years ago like this:
“There have been studies on the sentience of animals- do they feel, do they grieve, do they care if the family stays together? For myself, I don’t need to read a single one of them to know that losing a child hurts- human or non-human, children are simply children to their parents.”
I want to end things there this time as well.
Except I’d like to add one more thing: We don’t have to be the same as non-humans to care about them as individuals.
We only have to care.