Every festival and specially designated ‘day’ presents a shameless commercial opportunity to flood the market with consumer goods and Mother’s Day is no different. The shops are filling up with items targeted at those who gladly embrace this annual occasion to tangibly demonstrate the love and respect that they hold for the mothers in their lives. For some, that Mother is the one whose body created, nurtured and laboured to give birth to them; for others, that Mother is the mother of their children; for others that Mother is the special person who mothered them when they needed mothering despite there being no connection of blood between them. As a mother myself, I can say that motherhood is a role that does not depend on, or even require, acknowledgement or gratitude for its continuing, but deep down we all recognise and appreciate that for many of us, our mother is our staunchest ally, our most fierce supporter, and a steadfast shoulder to cry on whenever the world lets us down.
So for this special day, we eagerly buy what the shops are selling, the beautifully worded cards, the gifts, the warmth and sentiment behind the concept of mothering; the appreciation of which is so deeply ingrained in each of us that although we may seldom express it, our respect and awe of those who have fulfilled this role for each of us is so profound and so heartfelt.
Respect and awe
We celebrate mothers, their mothering and their state of motherhood. Our culture is steeped in esteem for this most noble role.
Or is it?
Let’s just stop there and take a step back from the tide of sentiment that risks sweeping us away with nostalgia and emotion. Let’s really think about mothering and motherhood; not as I have experienced it, not as you have experienced it; just Mothering and Motherhood. Here are definitions from the dictionary to start us off.
mothering: noun the nurturing of a child by its mother. the protective behaviour of a mother towards her child. nurturing or protective behaviour reminiscent of that performed by a literal mother. motherhood: noun the state of being a mother; maternity; the qualities or spirit of a mother; mothers collectively.
That’s what the dictionary says and in our considering of the human mothers in our lives, we’d find little there to criticise. However every single one of us knows that becoming a mother, mothering and the state of motherhood are not a uniquely human experience.
Not uniquely human
Consider the devotion lavished by mothers of every mammalian species upon their newborn infants, borne of the sweat, blood and labour of their bodies, as they are welcomed into the world with tender, exhausted wonderment. Anyone who has watched a birth, may perhaps have experienced a sense of privilege and grace to have been witness to this most timeless ritual; this profound and private experience shared by two individuals whose devotion to each other began long before their bodies struggled and toiled in the wrenching pains of birth, long before their eyes met, drinking in the sight of each other, savouring the scent of each other while their long and intimate bond defines itself anew in raw and painful separateness.
Similar bonds exist between a mother and her infants of other sentient species and these are readily apparent to any observer although the biology of their individual experience may differ from our own. For example, in situations where her eggs are not being taken away for human commercial gain, and where her natural instincts have not been selectively bred out, a hen who has laid eggs sits on her nest all day and night for three weeks, leaving it only once a day to quickly find food and drink water. During this period, and if the eggs have been fertilised, the hen and her chicks communicate with each other with a range of calls. Embryos emit a distress call when cold, for example, and the hen responds to such calls by moving the egg in the nest. Developing chicks also emit pleasure calls when their mother responds.
At hatching, chicks instinctively follow the first moving object they see that in nature will quite naturally be their mother, a process known as imprinting. Their mother directs them to appropriate food items by calling and pecking at the ground, nurturing and caring for them by passing on to her young what she has learned about life and living. Mother hens are renowned for being protective of their young and, if camouflage and other defences fail to avoid detection by a predator or threat, a hen will become raucous and draw attention to herself, willing to sacrifice herself in an attempt to divert danger from her chicks. There’s a very good reason that the term ‘mother hen’ has become synonymous with fierce and devoted care.
Those of us who are mothers, who have felt the agony and the exhaustion, the wonder and the heavy ache of milk that cries out to be suckled, instinctively relate to other mothers as they experience something that was so deep and meaningful for ourselves.
Extending our acknowledgement of motherhood
While we can relate so strongly to motherhood no matter what the species of the mother and her infant, how is it then, that we can use our power as consumers to demand that this sacred bond be severed for our most trivial whims, as long as the mothers and infants are not human?
At this point, how many will feel the need to stop reading, to close their eyes and cover their ears, defensively seeking to preserve the wilful blindness that allows us to spend our consumer cash to continue paying for the wanton destruction of families? How many will suddenly find themselves reflexively shifting from sublime sisterhood with all who have shared the life affirming storm of becoming mothers, back to the myths of our childhood where we cling to the notion that we are somehow different from all other species, somehow so special in a way not manifested or experienced by members of any other species, so important that we may wreak the horrors of the slaughterhouse upon them all without conscience?
While it is relatively easy for us all to see why there is something fundamentally horrifying about using and consuming the bloodied slabs of flesh and muscle that we term ‘meat’ so as to distance ourselves from acknowledging our dead victims, let’s make no mistake, all our use of members of other species is unnecessary and all of it depends utterly on violation of the reproductive functions of mothers of other species. All of it depends on the control, the manipulation and ultimately the destruction of the bonds of shared by mothers and their infants, bonds that are no less powerful because our victims do not share our species.
For example,‘dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction; of forced pregnancy; of separating mothers and their babies, to facilitate the using of their hormonal secretions or breast-milk (commercially known as ‘milk’) as a commercial resource. This resource is sold for profit either as a liquid or as yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.
Every egg use in which humans participate, ensures that because eggs are viewed as an appropriate ‘food’ for our species, there will continue to be a demand for these defenceless little individuals to be born into the treacherous bodies that humans have created for them. It will continue to be profitable to further modify these harmless and innocent creatures by artificial means in order to maximise profits at the complete expense of their health. For every egg that is used wherever and whenever by our species, we are ensuring the continuation of a vile and hidden profit-driven world that ensures that for every single egg laying hen, her own body is her prison.
When we use the skins, the secretions, the body fibres, or other body parts of members of other species to consume, to wear, or for the multitude of hideous purposes that our species has devised, we are in fact pouring contempt on them as individuals and upon the mothering and motherhood that they have had inflicted upon them by the ‘breeding programmes’ of our species, but which their treacherous bodies embrace in the way that nature has programmed them to do to safeguard and nurture their offspring. The torment of having that torn from them time and again is unimaginable.
There is no need for us to do this, none at all. We can thrive, and our children can thrive, without inflicting harm on others. All we need to do is to step away from the myths that we have been taught all our lives, to look with fresh eyes and common sense.
On honouring mothers and the giving of gifts
So this Mother’s Day, when we are wandering in the stores, fondly remembering just how important motherhood is to each of us, let’s pause a moment. Let’s think of the reality behind those gifts of love made from the heartbreak of billions of mothers whose anguish we have learned to ignore. Let’s look with honest eyes upon those gifts of chocolate made from breast-milk, gifts made from the flayed skins of defenceless creatures whose only wish was to live the life they valued so much; gifts crafted and woven from the body fibres of those who were powerless to defend themselves against our shameless use, and ask ourselves if this is truly how we want to honour motherhood.
And then, as so many of us have done already, let’s say, ‘Enough’. Today is a good day to do that. Let Mother’s Day be for all mothers. Be vegan.