As someone who researches the dairy industry regularly, I have observed over the last few years a distressing surge in pro-dairy messaging from an increasingly visible and vocal sector of animal agriculture: female dairy farmers, many of whom are also mothers. It is painful and disturbing, to say the least, to read these mothers righteously defending the reproductive subjugation of other mothers, and the destruction of other mothering relationships for profit.
Fortunately, I am also frequently privy to comments and messages from mothers relating how the process of becoming a mother led them to see the dairy industry for what it truly is: an assault on motherhood and bodily sovereignty. The poignant insights these mothers relate articulate a uniquely powerful perspective that I believe deserves a larger audience. And so I am grateful to announce the launch of the Mothers Against Dairy campaign, a year-round project devoted to elevating the stories of vegan mothers for whom motherhood influenced their decision to reject dairy and go vegan, as well as reflections from mothers who were already vegan before becoming a parent, but whose mothering relationship deeply reinforced for them the injustice of dairy farming.
Below are 10 of the most thoughtful and heartfelt statements
When I became pregnant with my son, Noah, I initially planned to breastfeed for no longer than six months. In my naivety, I assumed I would pump and freeze enough milk for him to last through his first year of life. At the time, I had no clue how exhausting and time consuming pumping would be for me (not to mention my lack of freezer space). And then, on top of it all, my son refused my pumped milk! He refused all bottles and would only breast feed directly, which he’s still doing today at 18 months.
But it soon became clear that I was naturally producing an abundance of milk, so I made the decision to continue pumping when I could in order to donate my labor of love to infants in need. To date, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share more than 1,000 ounces of my breast milk with three infants in need. But this was a conscious decision on my part, and for me that distinction can’t be emphasized enough; it’s one of the reasons I am vegan.
Unlike myself and other human mothers, cows exploited for dairy products do not get the option to decide when or if they want to pump, or whether (and with whom) they want to share their milk. Instead, the natural recipients— their calves— are taken away, forced into a motherless existence and deprived of their mothers’ milk in order to serve the selfish palate pleasure of the masses.
The violent and unnecessary use of these mothers and their young is absolutely deplorable. These beautiful animal mothers are forced to be manually or mechanically milked for hours on end, day after day, most of them literally tortured until their bodies can no longer produce at optimally profitable levels, and then they are slaughtered. All of their years of unimaginable pain and loss to satisfy another’s momentary happiness.
I am brought to tears as I picture these mothers being robbed of the bond that they anticipated for 9 months, and that I have been able to experience for eighteen months of beautiful days. And their helpless infants deprived of the maternal love, connection and nourishment they so desperately need and crave. Where is the compassion for this mother-infant bond?
I am saddened beyond words that something that has filled me with so much joy, and that has provided my precious son with the nourishment and comfort he needs, is for mothers trapped in the dairy industry a source of torture, deprivation, exploitation and ultimately death.
In all its forms, dairy farming is fundamentally an invasion of motherhood, perpetuated through senseless attacks on innocent creatures based on selfish desires; and all of which can be avoided by opening our hearts and truly learning to value life and equality.
I have remained a strong proponent of breastfeeding over the years. But recently something happened that made me wonder if my advocacy has been too limited and prejudiced. It began when I read a book that was set as my son’s freshman reading when he was admitted to Duke University— Eating Animals, by Jonathan Foer. This book led me to question whether it is right to be taking the mother’s milk that belongs to another baby — in this case, a calf.
Dairy cows do not make milk for humans — they make milk to feed their own babies. A female only makes milk when she has a baby — whether it is a human female or a bovine female. In the dairy industry, female cows are forcibly impregnated so that they will lactate when their calves are born. So in this process, the baby calf is a by-product of the dairy industry. But to the mother cow, her calf is everything. To the calf, the mother is the center of the universe. They want to be together, just like we want to be with our babies.
But because the industry does not need the calves, especially the male calves, they are separated from their mothers and killed immediately, or confined alone for a few more months to be killed for veal. The calf is given formula so that his mother’s milk can be sold in supermarkets.
Over some months, I began to figure out that what I was doing when I ate yogurt, cheese or ice cream was taking the milk that belongs to other babies. I had been fixated with my own nursing relationship with my babies, but I did not spend a moment’s thought on other nursing relationships that I was disrupting every day when I ate my meals.
Soon after I read that book, I became a vegan and an advocate for animal rights. The animals whose bodies and secretions that we eat, be they cows or pigs or chickens, feel emotions as strongly as we do, and perhaps they feel them even more strongly. They feel the strong bonds of family; they become attached and love each other. I am grateful for my children for allowing me to understand this, and I look forward to the day when all nonhuman families are given the respect they deserve.
Although I was vegan before becoming a mother, the entire basis of the dairy industry became particularly disturbing to me after I had my first child. Pregnancy and labour are hard, both mentally and physically. It takes months, even years to fully recover. They’re worth it, though, for the gift of a child.
Like humans, cows excrete oxytocin— the bonding hormone— at birth. Human mothers can express what this feels like: we say we would die for our child, we’re deliriously in love, we can’t believe such a love exists. This is the oxytocin talking.
I have two sons. If I were a cow, they’d both be dead by now, killed and eaten. I’d still be mourning them, and maybe others, too. However, it’s almost worse to think that if I had daughters they’d be suffering my same fate. Losing a child is any mother’s nightmare, but so is the knowledge that your children are suffering.
It would be excruciating for any sensitive species to watch their beloved child being brutally taken away, helpless to do anything, with no understanding of what was happening or why. Mother cows will relive that nightmare year after year until their bodies are depleted from back-to-back pregnancies when they’re killed and eaten themselves. To think we do all this for the sake of unnecessary dairy foods is difficult to comprehend.
Attached is a picture of me breastfeeding my youngest baby at a dairy protest. He’ll drink my milk until he weans, and then he’ll stop drinking milk from any mothers.
Becoming a mother has only strengthened my belief that commercial animal agriculture is immoral and my resolve to work towards ending it. The perversion of motherhood is rampant throughout this grotesque system, beyond the gentle mother cows who grieve their children. It’s also present in the thousands of orphaned chickens in barns being raised for meat, peeping for their mothers and finding no comfort. It’s present in the pigs unable to stretch through the aches of pregnancy because they are so tightly confined, and never being able to snuggle with their babies as pigs love to do. It’s present in the chickens laying unfertilized egg after egg until their uteruses prolapse or their bones fracture from the loss of calcium.
I’ve seen footage of cows in milking parlours so fresh from birth that afterbirth is dangling down behind them. Their babies are gone, but there’s no time to recover or to mourn, they must be hooked up to machines to have their milk taken for humans. The system is sickening.
None of us would want to be impregnated again and again, to fruitlessly endure the challenges of pregnancy and labour, and ultimately to have our children stolen away from us. We shouldn’t put others through this either.
My son would be 21 years old today. He was born stillborn. Jonathon was full term and circumstances dictated that I was forced to have a natural birth, knowing that my son was already gone. 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 eventually that I would have to call the nurse to come and get my son. 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 as 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.
As a mother haunted by this loss, I cannot help but think of the dairy industry and its never-ending cycle of forced pregnancies and stolen babies. 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.
My motherhood was erased when Jonathon died, much like the way we erase the motherhood of animals used for food. We pretend it doesn’t exist, because that’s easier than acknowledging the fact that we are taking babies away from their mothers. But the pain of loss is not limited to species. Neither is grief.
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. – July 14, 2016
From the moment my son was born, our bond has been unbreakable, thousands of years of evolution tangling us in the purest of loves. A mother’s love for her child changes her. My son is my drive, my everything. When I think of dairy, I think of the heartbreak, helplessness, and desperation of mother cows being torn from their babies over and over again, having the milk they create exclusively to nourish their babies turned into a commodity, and my heart sinks with them. How can anyone in good conscience, especially mothers, support this horrific industry?
My little boy is my light. All of the work we do together in the community, distributing vegan food with Chilis on Wheels, stems from lessons I have learned from being his mom. “Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child.” – The Buddha
I had my first born at 19 years old. I was new to motherhood, but the art of mothering ran deep through me. I knew breastfeeding was my only option, and a natural birth was the only way to go. Years before, I had parted ways with dairy milk. Something about it didn’t sit right with my tastebuds, even as a youth, but still I struggled with the desire for other dairy/animal products. Then one day, as I was waiting at a red light, first in line, headed to the mall with my daughter in the back seat, I saw the beginning of the end. I witnessed a semi-truck turning slowly in front of me, and in the back were hundreds of chickens being transported to…??
To this day, I can only imagine the probable outcome of what those chickens experienced shorty after, but what left a mark on me was the sight and state of those creatures. With temperatures in the high 70’s, and their cramped confining travel conditions, it reminded me of slavery. I felt so sad as I watched that semi turn slowly in front of me. The chickens looked like they were barely surviving. In that fraction of a moment, which seemed longer than it was, there was no separation between what I was observing, and myself. That day changed my life forever.
I breastfed all of my children until they were a little over 2 years old. My daughter was born with eczema, and I struggled with health ailments. At the same time that I was exploring this art of motherhood and self-healing, I returned, once again, to my mother (nature) for her guidance, and ancient wisdom. I had to sit with her, and listen closely like I did as a child. I had to ground myself, and pay attention. My daughter and I would sit, watch, and listen. I watched the ants. I watched the bees. Observed the clouds and the wind. I began to notice the subtleties in nature. I watched mother squirrels, rabbits, horses, and yes, the cows (I’m from Colorado).
I watched animals nurse their young just as I did, until it was time for them to chew the grass. I wondered why humans would nurse their young, wean them, and then proceed to take milk from mother cows and give it to the children they were no longer nursing. I wondered why some human mothers would choose not to nurse, only to take the milk of another species and give it to the children they chose not to nurse. Why were we the only species on the planet doing this? And what gives us the right to take milk from a nursing mother? What must the cows think of this and of us? And what were the health consequences of doing something so unnatural?
In my observation, there was no need to disturb and take from other animals. I turned to the plants, and let the animals be. They answered my questions, and healed my ailments, as well as my daughter’s eczema. I knew I was on the right path. What a gift we have as mothers, not only to bring life forth, but to produce all that is needed to sustain the life that we give.
When I gave birth to my son, I had already been vegan for seven years, and my commitment to veganism was unwavering— but I don’t think I ever connected as deeply to its principles, or empathized more with the poor mothers and their babies exploited by animal agriculture, as I did after my son was born.
Due to a medical complication, my son had to be hospitalized for about a week after he was born, and it was positively wrenching despite the fact that he was given the best of care and had professionals tending to him around the clock. But even though we had full access to him, not being able to bring our son home, and away from that intrusive clinical space with all the machines beeping around him, was incredibly difficult.
When he was finally released, I spent weeks on end nursing him in bed, getting the hospital smell off of him, touching his soft skin, his downy hair, just staring at this beautiful being. I never wanted my son to be away from me ever again. Knowing full well what is done to mothers and their babies on dairy farms big and small around the world, this was a bittersweet time. My baby was safe; we were together. The same cannot be said for mother animals on dairy farms, whose babies are mercilessly taken from them so their milk can be stolen for humans for whom it was never intended. That unbearable loss is something that every mother should understand in her bones.
As a first-time pregnant mother, I was consistently told my kid would need milk: not mine, but cow’s milk. So with my first baby, I did just that: instead of nursing, I gave him cow’s milk, not even considering that as his mother, my milk had everything he needed. As a result, we did not develop the attachment and bond that most nursing mothers develop with their babies from breastfeeding. And to this day, I deeply regret that.
Then I was given a second chance to get it right; once I found out I was expecting my second son, I knew I was going to breastfeed him. But it was a difficult pregnancy, and during my delivery there were complications that caused my son to be kept in the NICU for his first week of life. For several days I was unable to hold my son even as my breasts filled with the milk I desperately wanted to feed him. I began to pump every 2 hours, and soon I had so much milk for him, but no baby to feed.
On day 4, I was discharged and sent home without my son. It was a devastating feeling. This must be the feeling that a mother cow feels when her baby is snatched away from her. The bond a mother shares with her child starts during pregnancy. We naturally want to love and nurture our babies. Being separated from my newborn hurt me to my core. I was lost, confused and all I wanted was to feel him with me. The experience I suffered through is inflicted on all cows used for dairy: consistently pumping and producing milk with no baby to feed and fulfill that maternal longing. The only difference is that on day 6 I was reunited with my son and able to nurse him for the first time. Our bond was sealed. Unlike the cow, my son came home. And this is one of many reasons I will always be vegan.
My journey to motherhood was arduous. My pregnancy was grueling and labour was agonizing, but my love for my child was instant from birth. And the joy since that moment, inexpressible. A mother will endure any and all obstacles for that moment. A year after giving birth to my son, I was shocked to learn that cows used for dairy are slaughtered just as cows used for meat are. Equally dreadful, I learned that we kill their babies by the hundreds of millions globally. How could I as a mother knowingly continue to fund such an inhumane system, all so I could eat some cheese?
Mother cows, like us, produce milk only to nourish their young. That we take and kill those babies, and take their food to make ice creams and lattes from their mothers’ breast milk, is incomprehensible to me. Yet our society not only ignores the inherent cruelty, but celebrates the products made from it. All while denying the mothers of another species what we treasure most. It’s heartbreaking.
Six years on, I still experience indescribable shame for my ignorance and participation in this industry. My only consolation is the changes I made that day. Now, when I look at those mothers, at those gentle, placid souls, I cry. I touch their faces. I tell them “I am sorry.” And I tell myself, “no more.”
My experience as a mother profoundly deepened my opposition to dairy. I gave birth to twin preemies, 11 weeks early. They spent nearly 3 months in the NICU, wouldn’t latch, and needed my breastmilk to survive. I pumped every few hours, ‘round the clock for about 20 minutes at a time. Even though I was on this machine for short intervals, I still experienced excruciating blocked ducts, and painful thrush, among other problems. Cow mothers are on the pumps constantly, battling swollen, bloody teats and painful mastitis. But no relief comes to them. I imagined a role reversal, where my milk was taken for another species and I was robbed of my babies. What an unconscionable loss to endure.
On the day of my daughter’s birth, I marveled at the billions and billions of living souls before me whose bodies had heaved and rolled through labor. On hands and knees, my body pulsed and contracted on my bedroom floor, and I pushed my daughter out into the hands of my midwife’s assistant. I felt connected to all of the other animals in this world — human or otherwise — who had ever endured this grueling, bewildering, humbling process. Soon I was astonished to feel my breasts burn and drip as they filled with milk every time my newborn gave me visual or auditory cues that she was hungry. This was a physical expression of love for another being like I had never experienced before, and was a testament to how much our bodies were synced and how essential we were to one another at that fragile time.
It was during these early days of nurturing Melody’s life that I was hit with an acute sense of grief for dairy cows. Just like human mothers, cows carry their babies for nine months, at the end of which they endure a long and painful labor. But once calves are delivered, they are stolen from their mothers within hours of birth in order for humans to take the milk intended for them. Instead of feeling the tingle of their mammary glands producing milk at the sight, sound, and touch of their tiny nurslings, for mother cows, that sensation is prompted by the sights and sounds of the unfeeling machines that crassly violate them once their children have been ripped away (and, if they are male, killed for veal).
I had visions of being forcibly separated from Melody and routinely strapped to a breast pump. I couldn’t imagine the sorrow of those hidden mothers, who are assaulted and robbed of their babies and bodily fluids so that we can use their milk as a non-essential ingredient in bars of chocolate and bowls of cereal. How can anyone who has felt the sore and painful love of birthing a helpless, trusting newborn wish this on another mother? Being a nursing mom, I’m devastated for the mothers and babies of this heartless industry. The dairy industry is at its core an abject betrayal of motherhood and the female body.
Joyce is a passionate vegan activist and has a BSc in Nutrition from the University of Washington. Except for discovering and reporting breaking vegan news and top industry stories, she is now pursuing a full medical degree, which she believes will give her more credibility while spreading the vegan message, and inspiring people to live a healthier cruelty-free lifestyle.