It all began with Google… ‘Foods to avoid when pregnant’…and with that one search I opened up a can of worms for this mama wanna be.
Back track to 2011 and being the organised nerd that I am I wanted to know everything I should and shouldn’t be putting into my body when I got pregnant. 2012 was our year, we’d decided, so I gave myself one whole year to get fighting fit, healthy and baby ready.
The searches were mind blowing to say the least – red meat was a risk, as was chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, processed meats. Salmonella, Listeria, Mercury poisoning etc. the risks came with huge repercussions.
I read and read and read and so I questioned – ‘if it’s bad for my unborn baby, why is it good for me now?’
In short, it wasn’t.
Then I read ‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows’ and the association was made. I had begun the process of culling meat from my diet although only at about a 50% commitment level, so as I read Melanie Joy PhD description in her book of mama cows crying for their babies when they are taken from them, how they have been known to down walls to get to their calves and what fate eventually awaits those babies my heart broke. The cruelty of the dairy industry was exposed to me.
The icing on the cake was when I received the results of a food allergy test that showed I was incredibly intolerant to dairy and eggs.
For several days I had no idea what I would eat. To be honest, when I reflect on my diet I realise that most of my day was consumed by coffee and little else.
Then I came across this weird concept...veganism. I had a vague memory of laughing at a vegan years ago. "But the cows and the chickens are still alive, no one gets hurt from being milked or popping out an egg," I argued.
Turns out after only a week of no eggs and dairy and replacing those foods with whole grains and veggies a very strange thing happened to me - my body began to work... I felt like an F1 racing car, fuel efficient and with multiple pit stops and no embarrassing back firing of the engine, which I realised the dairy had given me my whole life.
So this is what it feels like to live pain-free...
So back to becoming a vegan...right around the time I entertained the idea of committing to this life I had heard that Mike Tyson became a vegan - what the hell!!! The guy was munching on ears a moment ago and now he'd gone veg? Then I heard Ellen recommending a movie that changed her life...Earthlings.
Until I saw this video there was one thing keeping me from calling myself vegan, of making that plunge and naming what it was that I was increasingly becoming by a process of elimination. There was just one thing I just couldn't rid myself of...fish.
The four letter word that means so much to many people of my generation who have been told repeatedly how good fish is for their health, the good oils and all that jazz. Plus it's lean and let's face it, its only a fish right?
Raised by parents from the Adriatic Coast, fish was in the blood and the fact that they had no ‘blood' meant it was fine to eat on Good Friday and other religious non-meat eating days. I never really questioned this ‘bloodless’ theory despite the amount of blood and guts that came from preparing a fish from the market or a live catch.
I could never watch for long - the poor animal gasping for its last breath and bleeding to death, its eyes afraid and yet I was somehow detached from the meal on my plate and the contents of the tin.
It wasn't until I watched Earthlings that I was forced to understand all sides of the meat equation - the human suffering, the animal suffering and the earth suffering. Still, that little voice told me that protein, the champion of the universe, must be eaten daily and thus fish was my solution. Only this time I put on my social conscious hat and said I will only eat fish that had the ‘sustainably farmed’ label. Well after buying two bottles of anchovies for $36 I thought there had to be a better way!
Then I heard about the 30-day vegan challenge and decided it was time to commit to the label I had been trying so hard to avoid and so I immersed myself in a whole new world.
I knew with 2012 fast approaching and this pregnancy we had dreamed of nearing I had better get informed if I was going to go vegan while pregnant.
I had just finished reading ‘Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven: A Gutsy Guide to Becoming One Hot (and Healthy) Mother!’ By Kim Barnouin, when I found out the good news – hole in one, first attempt and this vegan was pregnant! At that stage it had been four months of veg devotion and I was so ready to do this. After reading Kim’s very persuasive take on the effects of animal products on an unborn baby I was determined to create the healthiest habitat possible and cruise through my pregnancy.
As the weeks went on I not only felt none of the traditional ailments of pregnancy – no vomiting, no bloating, no reflux, no insane weight gain, no swollen ankles, not even fatigue - my energy levels soared.
This vegan and where ever possible organic lifestyle was agreeing me - and my growing baby. I never craved junk like my carnivore friends did and I gained steady and healthy weight. Scans showed a healthy and normal baby and life carried on nicely for 9 months, a time in which I embarked on some pretty crazy high energy, life changing activities – from starting a new business to walking on fire (literally).
But best of all I felt the most amazing peace –aggression was replaced with a more mellow me. I can’t lie, there was a barrage of questions and often-angry inquisitions from friends and family but I found a new level of confidence in the challenge of explaining my position and I grew as a person through this. I might have even enlightened a few with my nutritional facts and figures.
But there was one always-present hurdle – the medical system. My vegan diet was listed as ‘special’ on the front of my hospital file and off to the dietician I was sent. This left me wondering if mummies who ate nothing but chips and cheese toasties got the same free advice. To say the least I was bored and quite annoyed listening to this professional whose main advice was to take supplements, nevertheless it was a box to be ticked.
As my bloods came back time and time again ‘perfect’ for b12 and iron the midwives didn’t try hard to hide their surprise. Yet that sticker on the front of my file – ‘vegan’ – was a constant annoyance. Why the label? Do other women get the same white sticker, I wondered – ‘fast food addict’ - ‘ice cream junky’ -‘ French fry fatty’?
As 9 glorious months passed without a single bout of morning sickness, no fatigue, no varicose veins and no stretch marks I was excited to cruise through birth. Ummmmm, well this didn’t go quite as planned, 2 weeks early, 30 hours of active labour and 3 hours of pushing later and Valentina Ivana was born weighing a whopping 8.5 pounds. My big veggie baby – healthy and perfect. I had done it, killed all the silent voices in and outside of my head, which doubted that a vegan could produce a normal child.
Next came breastfeeding. What an absolute joy this has been. Miss V is almost five months now and still loving mummies milk – another ‘can’t believe you can do it, what being vegan and all’ achievement.
The doubters are still everywhere and I keep my lifestyle quiet to the maternal health nurse who has a “Vegan and other extreme diets will harm your baby” article stuck to her door. I just smile to myself and think how healthy and peaceful our way of life is. And with Miss V in the 95th percentile for her height I think nature is paying us back for our love of all living creatures.
As a trained journalist, former magazine editor and commercial copywriter, Ana Kolembus established Write Connections in 2008, a strategic copywriting and marketing consultancy, connecting together the best writers and marketing strategists to give clients full end-to-end solutions. Ana is a new mother and has been vegan since 2011.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia Licence