By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor
I watched a young blue jay follow their parent around my backyard today. The jay was old enough to fly, but still young enough to be cared for by parents. The jays flew around the yard- going from a tree to a bush, and then back again. Eventually, they made it to the bird bath where the adult jay began to demonstrate how to bathe- splashing water everywhere. The sunlight is dappled from the trees above, and the drops of water hitting the leaves of the plants below glitter like diamonds as they fall through the air. I watched as the young jay tried to mimic the movements of the parent, falling adorably face-first into the water over and over again. After a few minutes, they flew away together as a family.
I both love and hate July 14th anniversaries- each with their own different milestone, or rather, a representation of them. This particular July 14th is especially hard as it marks an rather monumental milestone. One I started thinking about 21 years ago when I found out that I was pregnant. I was 19.
When I hear a crash in the house, I know it’s because of the kittens. There are seven cats and two dogs that live with me, three of them are kittens. Their mother was rescued after walking in front of my car during a thunderstorm. I didn’t realize she was pregnant at the time, not that it would have mattered anyway if I had. Two months after I brought her home, she gave birth. I watched this new family grow together over the following months, noting that they never stray apart from each other. They operate as a family unit and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Today is my son Jonathon’s birthday. It’s one of those milestone birthdays, too- his 21st. I don’t get the chance to talk about my son that often. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know he exists. It’s not from a lack of desire to talk about him- sometimes that’s all I want to do. But the fact is, there’s no nice way to tell someone that your child was stillborn. There isn’t. You can’t talk about your pregnancy either because that just leads back to the child who died. Losing a child is hard, not talking about that child ever again is torture.
Jonathon was full term and born still, three days after his fathers birthday. I had known the night before his birthday that he had passed away. I found out after I had made a frantic visit to the emergency room to find out why I couldn’t feel the baby move. Doctors advised me to have an emergency delivery- I was very ill, my son had died the day before. But I left the hospital that night anyway. I never slept. Instead, I spent the night grieving for the child I had dreamt about, planned for, and loved for nine months. I returned to the hospital the next morning to give birth to my dead son, utterly and so very completely broken.
For the first few years after Jonathon died, I tried talking to people about him. But trust me, no one wants to talk to you about the death of an infant. Hospitals aren’t equipped to deal with them, and parents of stillborn children are left to fumble their way through a devastating time with little advice or support.
My son is gone and with him went my motherhood. Gone. Erased. Like it never existed. I know what it is like to create life, to carry it, and the pain of childbirth- yet I’m not called a mother because my son never lived. I never had an opportunity to mother my child, it’s true, but I am a mother.
Many years later, I learned about our industrialized food system and I couldn’t help but make the connection between my own loss of motherhood with theirs. Billions of female animals are exploited for their reproductive capabilities every single year. Mothers are imprisoned, manipulated, tortured, and eventually slaughtered for human profit. Their children are either forced back into the cycle of (ab)use or immediately killed for simply being the wrong sex.
Whenever I think about the exploitation of non-human mothers, I immediately think of the dairy industry and it’s never-ending cycle of forced pregnancies. Cows carry their young for nine months, building the biological bond with their children long before they give birth. They have deep maternal instincts, yet newborn calves are taken from their mothers within hours of birth causing extreme distress for both. Cows will go to great lengths to protect their children, some even hiding their newborns from farmers in the hopes of keeping their family together.
Related Reading: Remembering Riya – Lasa Animal Sanctuary
As a mother, I can tell you that the loss of my child is one of the most painful experiences that I will ever endure. The deep, ragged grief stays with you as the years go by- each milestone more bittersweet than the last. I never stop wondering about my son. Who would my son look like? Would he be short like me or tall like his father? Would his hair curl like mine? Would he share my vegan ethics? Most importantly, would he be happy? I’ll never know.
For the past few years I’ve been writing about Jonathon, I’ve done so from my viewpoint as a mother. First in this post, Don’t Take the Babies, where I compare the loss of my child to that of a non-human animal- noting that both are painfully the same:
I imagine that cows, chickens, pigs, horses, birds, deer, raccoons, squirrels, and any animal who creates life, brings it into this world, would feel the same
I continue my story in, We Don’t Need to Be the Same to Care:
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. We don’t have to be the same as non-humans to care about them as individuals. We only have to care.
From last year’s article, Loss is Universal:
The dairy industry employs some of the most heinous crimes against mothers in our industrialized food system. And yet, most people have positive feelings about consuming animal-based dairy products. They are shocked to learn how milk is actually produced, and about its direct connection to the veal industry. Simply put, there can be no dairy industry without the suffering of mothers and their children.
My motherhood was erased when Jonathon died, much like the way we erase the motherhood of animals. We pretend it doesn’t exist because it’s easier than acknowledging the fact that we are taking babies away from their mothers.
The pain of loss is universal and not limited to species. Neither is grief. It’s time we make the connection.
Happy 21st Birthday Jonathon, you are forever loved.
Please learn more about how the dairy industry exploits mothers by visiting this Vegan Dairy Guide. Quitting dairy has never been easier. From gourmet cheeses to creamy nut milks, vegan choices are abundant. I’ve put together a shopping guide to help point you in the right direction. And, if you’re interested in making non-dairy milk products at home, well, I’ve got you covered there, too. You can do it. Dump the dairy. Let me show you how.