Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vegetarian and Pregnant

Becoming a vegetarian was much more about my health than protecting the lives of harmless animals. A friend of mine was vegan and challenged my defense that he needed to eat some form of meat for nutritional value alone. He sent me countless links to various vegan and vegetarian websites, some filled with images of badly mistreated animals and others full of text about what animal farming does to the environment. Call me cold, but I was still not moved to quit eating meat. The world seemed much to big and my efforts much to small to make any kind of real difference. Who really cares if I eat a hamburger instead of a salad? As a last ditch effort he sent me one last site, a science article about hormones in beef. The article explains that cattle are often given testosterone surrogates in order to increase muscle mass, while many cows are given progestins to suppress their reproductive cycles in order to free up resources for muscle building. These hormones not only pass into the meat we consume, but also into the environment through animal feces. Among the consequences are links to cancer and reproductive abnormalities. Young girls are beginning puberty younger, more and more women are experiencing trouble conceiving and multiple miscarriages. The outbreak in breast cancer and prostate cancer can also be linked to the mass quantities of hormones that are taken in through not only beef, but chicken as well. As I kept reading, I stopped eating my chicken nuggets.

It took less than a month to go from eating anything that tasted good, to a vegetarian diet. I continued to eat eggs and drink milk, but even those were in smaller quantities. The following few months I dropped 40 pounds, going from the heaviest I had ever been, to the skinniest. A year later my weight had balanced out at the lower end of what is considered average for my height. As I gained energy, I also began feeling better about my body and made other choices toward Eco-friendly living. While my initial reason to become vegetarian was out of personal health, I began seeing how small changes can have big effects and began caring more about Mother Earth. I became more conscious about recycling and using biodegradable products. I tried to wear 100% cotton clothing and, when I could afford it, buy only naturally dyed clothing. After years of being a vegetarian, I still have a horrible time backing away from leather items, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

Then I became pregnant. My doctor was aware of my vegetarian diet and had supported it for over four years, but when I became pregnant it was a whole new ball game. Not only were my prenatal vitamins of utmost importance, taking in enough protein and calcium were vital to my baby's development and a vegetarian diet just wasn't going to support us both. Angry and frustrated, I did what I do best--I began researching. I not only found wonderful vegetarian recipes specific to pregnancy, but also found research that supported that a vegetarian diet might in fact be optimal to a growing fetus. Dark greens, beans (especially soy), yogurt, and nuts became much more important to my daily intake, but there really weren't many other changes. Being a vegetarian already gave me a fairly healthy lifestyle.

In the easy marriage of vegetarian and pregnant, I realized how my view of feminism had been far too narrow for too long. I had come to feel that being vegetarian was very much a part of my feminism because it encouraged a respect for Nature that I felt was innately feminine. What is more natural to the female body than pregnancy? Nature, much like woman, is cyclical and ever changing. Spring is all about birth and rebirth from the long winters. Pregnancy and birth are therefore what links us at our core to Mother Nature. Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen no longer became such an awful phrase, instead it rang with beauty and comfort. Modern feminism is, or at least should be, about the ability to make choices. Being barefoot is the only way to go when you are pregnant, in fact I enjoyed my naked body much more while I was pregnant because I no longer felt trapped by media images of what femininity should look like. As for being in the kitchen, when you are pregnant food is your best friend, and because of heightened senses you have to really choose the food you eat to match how you feel. The negative connotation comes from the expectation that a woman is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen because she is a slave to her husband--having his children while cooking his meals, shoes unnecessary because she won't leave the house--but as a feminist I believe in exercising free will and that includes the will to cook (or bake) naked while pregnant if a woman so desires.

Finding renewed confidence in my Nature-friendly decisions and my body lead me to make another big change: saying goodbye to my doctor and hello to a midwife.

2 comments:

Truth Be Known said...

Sasha wants to be a vegetarian because of the cruelty to animals, but I feared being a vegetarian would be unhealthy for her since her weight in below average. After reading your educating piece, I fear I may have been nieve in my assumption. I've always been eco-friendly, but didn't realize the health or enviromental facotrs of eating meat. You and I should definetly meet up so you can teach me more.

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