So this post is a little off topic but I feel it’s a subject that needs to be touched on. My hope is that other vegetarian moms who are raising other vegetarian babies will read this and find it helpful, relatable or maybe one of them can educate me a little.
About three years ago I stopped eating meat and about three years ago my family became very concerned. I was never a big meat-eater, in fact I think I have been or wanted to be vegetarian most of my life, only it just dawned on me three years ago. I experienced a moment that I can only describe as when someone has a twin their whole life and doesn’t know it and maybe they have these strange vibes now and again that can never be explained and then one day they are at the store and they bump into someone who looks just like them and realize they have had a twin all along. Ok maybe that’s a little dramatic but when I started my job three years ago I met my first vegetarian and felt that immediate connection with her like I’ve been one all along, I just didn’t know it! She guided me through the basics (such as jello, marshmallows and most yogurts aren’t vegetarian, who knew?) and she recommended books like Slaughterhouse, Farm Sanctuary, Eating Animals, Fast Food Nation, Food, Inc. and many more. Once I realized how many books were out there on the topic I was hooked. Everyday learning a new grotesque detail about the meat industry or how the little meat I was eating was affecting my body. But the ugly side to my newfound lifestyle and knowledge was that no one wanted to hear about it! I felt like I uncovered the holy grail but everyone else looked at me like I was an idiot. So there I was, not eating meat, despite the constant nagging from my family and husband. They thought I was making the wrong choice. Two years later we found out we were expecting our first child.
And with that joyful news came the not so joyful backlash. For 40 weeks I had to listen to questions like, “how is the baby going to grow if you don’t eat protein?” And, “Isn’t the baby going to have more allergies now?” I was being bullied and led to believe that by not eating meat I was hurting my unborn child (we didn’t find out the sex). Unfortunately, I could never find much information to support a vegetarian pregnancy I just kind of got through it on my own instincts and help from other vegetarian moms. I told my OBGYN I was vegetarian and she asked me what I eat as if she was giving me a pop quiz, “how are you getting protein?” was the first thing she asked. After spouting my answer (spinach, beans, tofu, dairy, etc.) she seemed pleased (not that I cared). She wrote me a prescription for a prenatal vitamin and I was on my way. Over the 40 (almost 41) weeks of my pregnancy I never had any complications or issues, not even the oh so common Gestational Diabetes. I worked out the entire time, running (until 36 weeks), spinning (until 39 weeks) and light weights and yoga. I gained 30 pounds and that was mostly due to a terrible spell of nausea during the first 2-3 months where I could only eat carbs. All in all I had never been healthier. Then I went into labor.
It’s a girl! Afton Pamela was born on June 20, 2011 (a Monday), weighing 6.8 pounds and measuring 21 inches long. After a long, tiring labor (I pushed for 3.5 hours) she was born posterior (face up), my nurse came to my bedside and said, not just anyone could have done that – most women would have had to get a C-Section. I was strong, I was healthy, I was a vegetarian mom! I felt empowered for the first time in my life. I had created (sure the hubs helped I guess) this amazingly beautiful and healthy creature with my body, my vegetarian body. The next challenge was breastfeeding, and by challenge I mean: the next thing I am going to have to defend to my family. Shortly after we came home I got really sick…I mean really sick. My temperature was 105, my body was convulsing (rigors is what the doctor called it), I ached everywhere and that on top of no sleep and breastfeeding…well, that just might kill you. At least I thought it was going to kill me. During this awful time my family would say things like, “just stop breastfeeding her to make it easy on yourself” and “maybe your breast milk is going to make her sick.” But I pushed on and eventually found out that my sickness was caused by extreme dehydration from the breastfeeding. I was experiencing terrible UTIs due to the dehydration only I didn’t realize it because I was still mostly numb down there from the epidural and stitches. The doctor said, you are severely dehydrated so you either have to promise me you will go home and drink a ton of water and cranberry juice or I will send you to the hospital for an IV. I swore I would drink until I floated, just please let me go home so I can feed my baby. In my previous life (before baby) I would drink 64 ounces of water a day, now I was drinking over 100. Once I started chugging the fluids my body started to heal. Soon I was back to being healthy (still not sleeping) and the peanut gallery left me alone. Then it was time to introduce solid foods to Afton.
If I thought I had to defend myself for my eating choices in the past, that was nothing compared to what lie ahead. I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office with Afton for her four-month appointment waiting for the doctor to come in. I was flipping through her baby book when I saw the words that stopped me in my tracks: “at six months we like to introduce strained meats.” Strained meats? I almost fell off the chair. If this type of verbage was actually written in my baby book I knew the battle would be a good one. At first I took the silent approach, don’t ask, don’t tell. What? Her height and weight look good? Perfect, see you in three months! My husband and I had the conversation at one point and I think it went like this: him “how are you going to deny her a McDonald’s happy meal?” me “she can go to McDonald’s they have apples and milk and yogurt she can eat.” him “you mean she is never going to taste a cheeseburger?” (which to him that thought might be the worst thing in the world) me: “she can eat veggie burgers when she is older and if she decides she wants to try meat then so be it.” After that it was never really brought up and since I am the one who prepares her meals for the week I pretty much dictate what she eats. She is 13 months old today (tear) and I have been weaning her from the breast for the last few months. Soon I will be done breastfeeding and I am grieving right now, as silly as that probably seems. But I know there are better things to come, such as bonding over our vegetarian meals (this morning we enjoyed spinach quiche, mini zucchini muffins and strawberries). I know the older she gets the more control I’m losing when it comes to the fight against meat. I can only do the best I can and hope she follows suit on her own one day. In the mean time.
If you are a vegetarian mom or soon-to-be mom I would love to hear about your triumphs and your struggles. What are some of the ignorant (as in uneducated) things people have said to you? How do you plan meals for your toddlers? I am always up for learning new things about vegetarianism and specifically raising a vegetarian child, as there isn’t a ton of information out there. Thanks for reading!