Up Close and Far Away: What Giving Birth Taught Me About Vulnerability, Safety and Solidarity

Mother’s Day is for everyone.

Marla Rose
5 min readMay 10, 2024

From my earliest memories, I’ve been someone who loved animals and loathed injustice; these two general threads wove the path for my evolution to going vegan in 1995. I’d already been vegan for seven years when my son was born but the deep challenges around his birth added unexpected layers of depth and conviction to my veganism. I am not claiming that you need to be a mother or a parent at all to be compelled to defend and try to advocate for another being’s bodily autonomy; many of my vegan friends are not parents, but are staunch protectors of the animals. What I am saying is that for me, the circumstances around my son’s birth added layers of immediacy and personal connection that I may not have felt otherwise to my dedication.

Understanding how my life and my son’s life were on the razor’s edge of being erased, but that edge really a wide buffer that I was afforded through the sheer luck of having been born human, was sobering. The distance between observing an experience and being in immediate harm’s way offered an upclose vantage point for closely observing the privileges of my place on the hierarchy of “who matters”. Your body is going through something potentially dangerous but somehow, you’re not endangered. It’s kind of like getting dental work and having your mouth numbed, or plummeting down the highest point of a rollercoaster. This inside-outside perspective, being realistically miles away from true vulnerability and right on the precipice, is something that nearly 22 years later, has remained forged in my mind like a sun print, a leaf taped to a piece of paper that leaves its shadow.

After a healthy, full-term pregnancy that was borderline idyllic, my son’s delivery was opposite in nearly every way. While I was safe and relatively assured of my baby’s safety, it was 52-hours of being stuck in a painful and non-progressing transitional period of trying to give birth. Afterwards, I felt like I’d been in a cage match with Freddy Krueger for months. My son had to spend a week at the children’s hospital, but he was healthy, he was home with me. He was here. I was recovering, slowly beginning to feel embodied again, starting to trust myself with this utterly vulnerable being. I had an engaged partner, we had a support network and system, we were safe.

Being that close in proximity to death, at least theoretically, made me aware of my mortality in a new way and after giving birth, I carried a weight of seriousness with me that was akin to survivor’s guilt. Being so close yet so far also made me acutely aware of the ways in which the suffering and cruelties toward other mothers and their babies had been an abstraction to me. Brushing up against how lucky I was, through the random good fortune of my own status as a white, pregnant woman in the new millennium with good insurance, resources and professionals who were here to reduce my suffering and keep me alive, filled me with a deep sorrow, not gratitude. Sadness because everyone should have this. Everyone wants the best for their babies. Yes, all people. Yes, all species.

I had ointments, salves and painkillers for my injuries. I had time to recover. I had understanding. I had resources. I had friends to talk to about the experience, follow-up visits with doctors and specialists, a baby who was reaching his milestones, whom I could nurse and watch grow. I could ease back into life, now with a baby.

Despite this, and feeling like an ingrate, sadness settling in me like sand. I couldn’t help but think of those mothers and babies not afforded the level of care I received, which should be a birthright but is instead a privilege. For example, have you ever had mastitis? It’s an inflammation of the breast tissue, most commonly happening to those who are breastfeeding. It’s quite painful and with flu-like symptoms. Mastitis can lead to quitting breastfeeding but it’s usually also quite easily treated. Dairy cows who have it are not so lucky, though. It is reported that up to one-third of dairy cows have mastitis that they live with until they are culled for being “problem” producers.

Even more painful than mastitis, though, is the fact that their babies are taken from them, usually just after birth. One thing that got me through the time after my son’s delivery was being able to revel in him: His silky skin; his tiny fists of rage; his tufts of dark hair; his angelic countenance. I could look at his liquid eyes and think, still in disbelief almost 22 years later, “This is my son.” I can revel in his achievements, delight in his talents, console him for his disappointments and losses. I can be near him. I can know him. I can love him.

Cows and pigs just have their unalleviated pain and battle scars to live with until it is time to be forcibly impregnated again and repeat that unimaginably sad cycle or be slaughtered. Chickens laying eggs until their reproductive organs literally spill out, no baby chicks peeking under their wings for a reason to want to live. They are deprived of everything after having barbarism upon barbarism inflicted on them.

You shouldn’t have to experience something to know how it feels, to stand up against the needless pain of exploitation, suffering and cruelty of anyone. That day, June 12, 2002 was when I saw up close and personal how unfathomably hard it would be to have no relief, no empathy, no comfort, no care and then no baby. I already knew but after my son’s birth, it became real and felt on a deeper level.

All mothers and their babies deserve the best. If we truly care, we will include all of them.

Marla Rose is co-founder of VeganStreet.com