Sunday, April 1, 2012

Messing with the maternal instinct: a new dairy cruelty

This is one of my most painful memories: I woke up from general anesthesia after an emergency C-section and immediately pressed the call button for the nurse. "Where is my baby?" I demanded.

"He's fine," the nurse assured me. "He's in the nursery; they're giving him a bottle."

"But I'm going to breastfeed. I want my baby."

The nurse patiently explained that because I'd been out for so long, they'd had to feed my son formula and they would bring him to me as soon as I was moved to a room.

After that, I was in an out of consciousness for a while, but pervading every waking minute was a sense of desperation. Every time I saw a nurse, I asked what was taking so long. When my husband was allowed into the recovery, I begged him for information. He assured me he'd been to the nursery and our baby was fine, but it made no difference to me. The maternal instinct demanded that I see my child.

When I was moved to a room, I was so relieved. I waited eagerly for them to bring my baby. And waited. And waited. The desperation grew, not because I believed anything was wrong - I knew my son was healthy and in capable hands. No, because of the biological imperative, the primal instinct, of a mother to care for her child. I have honestly never known a stronger drive in my life - no mere emotional response compares. I was just about to try to get out of bed and drag myself to the nursery - giant incision, morphine drip, and all - when they finally brought him to me.

My son will have his 20th birthday in 2012, and the pain and rage over those hours he was withheld from me after his birth are still as real to me as they were in 1992. Maternal instinct is, quite literally, a force of nature.

My friend Peter from Ready for Plan B pointed out an article to me today. From the ironically named Progressive Dairy site, the relevant point was this:

Q: What is one unique thing you’ve tried?
A: Calf sounds.

"We are playing hungry baby cow sounds in the robot stall," said Jones. "It releases oxytocin in their brain and we had some research done by a high school student that it increased milk production by a pound at first and causes them to release their milk faster."

What fresh horror is this?

We know that cows have a maternal instinct. Regardless of whether you believe they can think or feel, this much is known: a defining trait of mammals is that the females nurse their young; therefore, that they have a maternal instinct is self-evident. (If they didn't, they'd abandon their young and the species would die out.) Simply put, a cow's instinct demands she care for her baby, the same as my instinct demanded I care for mine. The dairy industry robs her of the ability to act on that instinct, which is cruel enough. But then to prolong the suffering indefinitely by piping in the sound of her baby's cries?

Imagine being a mother whose child is taken away from her, yet every day, someone plays you a recording of your child crying out for you. Setting aside the emotional aspect, how long do you think it would take for that maternal imperative to fade? How long until your child's cries no longer make you want to react? And you are able to process the child's absence intellectually and choose to tamp down your instinctual reaction. Though I do think they're intelligent creatures, I doubt cows are able to rationalize on that level. No, they're just in a perpetual state of biological drive, with no outlet for that instinct, and the only end in sight is when their milk dries up. After that they're forcibly impregnated and the whole cycle starts again.

To twist and misuse the maternal instinct this way is an affront to nature, and to all mothers everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a mother so don't have that maternal instinct in my experience but I am a person with compassion for all of the planet's creatures and became vegan as soon as i learned the true horrors of the dairy industry and can fully appreciate the instinct that compels a mother to nurture her young. That they deprive cows of this instinct is bad enough but to compound that distress by letting the cow believe her calf is close by and crying for her is beyond cruel. The more I learn of the nature of mankind the more I believe that humans are the only mistake evolution ever made.