The Thieves of Motherhood

Here in America, we’ve celebrated our version of Mother’s Day since 1914, although rituals of honoring motherhood date back to ancient Greece and Rome, where they’d hold festivals in honor of their “mother” goddesses.  During his term as President, Woodrow Wilson signed the declaration establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Florists, chocolatiers and Hallmark are all eternally grateful that he did.

But Let's Talk About Motherhood

Evolutionary, scientific as well as psychological studies have documented the powerful bond between a mother and her young. This bond exists in mammals of various species, witnessed by watching mothers protect and nurture their children. It's portrayed in film, stories and song as well as in nature itself, when we take the time to look. The bond begins with nourishment, nurturing and an undeniable fierce love. This bond is not just innate in humans. This bond lives deep inside every mother’s heartbeat, whether she is a dog, chicken, cow, sheep or pig.  The promise of that same devotion runs through the veins of every female who gives birth to her child. 

But whether we acknowledge it or not, when it comes to species other than our own, we are the thieves of motherhood.  We are the bond breakers. 
Our culture has taught us how to eat. We grow up thinking that consuming animals, eggs and dairy is both normal and healthy — even with studies exposing animal-based foods for the chronic illness- and disease-causing diets they are. These studies and reports repeatedly concur that plant-based diets are recommended for optimal health: Belief systems and traditions die hard. As long as we hold on to these beliefs and become attached to our man-made traditions and norms, we allow motherhood to be stolen from our fellow earthlings, the animals. We don't often think of our food sources as mothers...but let’s take a look at how “farmed” mothers will spend their Mother’s Day.

Mother pigs

In nature, a pregnant sow looks for a safe secluded spot to give birth and then she digs in the earth to make her birthing bed of grass and leaves. She meticulously prepares for the birth of her babies. Newborn piglets can recognize their mothers’ voices (through grunts, snorts, snarls, squeaks and squeals) and she will also sing to her piglets as they nurse. There is a deep loving bond between a mother pig and her babies. Farmed female pigs, however, are forcibly inseminated and placed in an iron enclosure (called a gestation crate) for the entire four months of her pregnancy. Day in and day out, in the darkness, she cannot move. The crate is so unyielding to her shape that she literally cannot turn around or lay down without parts of her body extending through the bars. She spends most of her life in this contraption, because she will be impregnated again and again. She will become depressed and unresponsive as her spirit breaks. She may even go insane and bang her head against the bars of her prison. When she finally gives birth, she cannot turn around to meet her babies. They nurse for a couple of weeks and are then taken from her forever. After giving birth to countless babies who have since become refrigerated supermarket shelf items, this mother pig will be considered “spent” and will be sent to slaughter, with another sow taking her place. This was her motherhood.

Mother cows

Female cows are gentle creatures who carry their babies for nine months as we do. If you’ve ever seen a newborn calf bond with his mother, you would see and feel the love — it’s palpable!  But that bond may not last for even one day, because in order for humans to drink cow’s milk or eat dairy products made from that milk, the calf must be taken away from the mother soon after birth, so that machines can be hooked up to her udders and the milk extracted for human consumption. The sound that comes out of a grieving mother cow clearly defines the depth of pain she is experiencing as she watches her baby being ripped away from her forever. The wailing can be heard for days and weeks as she cries out for her baby’s return. I can hear those cries when I’m in the dairy section of the supermarket. Cows must birth a calf and be lactating in order to give milk, so after a while, that same mother cow will be forcibly impregnated again and when her baby is born, she will experience the emotional pain of yet another loss. After four or five years, she will be considered “spent” and will be sent to slaughter to become fast food hamburger meat, with another dairy cow taking her place. This was her motherhood.

Mother chickens

If they were left to live free, chickens lay the number of eggs they desire for a proper nest and then stop producing more eggs until their chicks are old enough to fend for themselves. Chickens are fierce protectors of their babies (thus the coined phrase, “mother hen.”) Chickens in nature would only lay 10 to 15 eggs per year. It is very difficult on their bodies to lay the amount of eggs taken from them in modern-day egg production factories. These chickens have been genetically manipulated to lay between 250-300 eggs per year. In the hatchery, the chicks are sorted by their sex. If they are born male, and will never lay eggs, they are immediately ground up alive in grinding machines or suffocated in large garbage bags (I know...that's a horrible visual.)  They will never know their mothers and will not live longer than a day or two. This is the fate of every male chick in the egg industry. If the chick is female and will become an egg-laying hen, she will have her beak burned off and will be placed in a cage with other hens, to painfully lay more eggs than her delicate body can handle. Free range only means crowded larger sheds, not freedom. She will never get to hatch her own eggs nor will she ever bond with her babies. Soon her body will be spent and she'll either die in that cage or be sent to slaughter, with another hen taking her place. This was her motherhood.

I remember the exact minute when I first became a mother

When I gave birth to my beautiful son several decades ago, I was nervous, excited and thought I was filled with a great love…but the exact feeling I experienced was more encompassing. I actually became love, in all its exquisite bursts of sensation and spirit. As many of us know, that feeling is one that defies description. The point that we humans miss completely – is that a mother cow, pig, chicken, goat or sheep doesn’t need to possess our intellect nor our exact sentience to know and feel maternal emotions of love, or the grief and pain of loss. Love is love. Pain is pain. Humans do not hold an exclusive on these. If only we could see and feel what that mother cow experiences as she gives birth, nurtures, cleans and protects her own baby boy. But unlike my miraculous birth experience, that baby calf will be ripped away from his mother as she wails and grieves and tries to protect her child, and fails. Perhaps if we could witness that particular sequence of events up close, we might all understand.  It took me a very long time before I made this connection, and I still scratch my head and wonder why.

Living a vegan life means coexisting with nature without causing harm. It may not be totally possible in a world where animal use is prevalent everywhere, but we can do our best with the choices we make. There are countless alternatives now available to replace dairy, eggs and meat. These alternatives are delicious, healthier for our bodies and infinitely more compassionate. Living vegan will spare animals a life of suffering.  It gives us the control to make conscientious choices about our health and the health of our families. And it enables us to honor all mothers — respecting their right to know the beauty of life’s most emotional bond.

This Mother’s Day, I invite you to expand your compassion to include all mothers in this celebration of nurturing, gratitude and love.


*If this blog touched you in any way, please feel free to share it. And comment below if you'd like to.    Happy Mother's Day 💙