The Sistah Vegan Project

‘Vegan’ shaming pregnant women for being ‘irresponsible’ for eating a well planned vegan diet

Yesterday, I received an email from a very frustrated pregnant vegan.
She gave me permission to share it. I invite you to read it and then read my response because I know this woman is not the only one who has dealt, is dealing, or will deal with such ignorance and ‘vegan shaming’ during pregnancy.

From: “L——-
Date: Jun 14, 2013 6:44 PM
Subject: Vegan Pregnancy
To:

Cc:

Hi there –

I found your information while doing some stress-googling related to my experience of being nutrition-shamed by midwives today. I’m a long-time vegan, and I want to have a homebirth. I have never, ever been as food-shamed as today, when I interviewed midwives, and I used to weigh 100 lbs more than I do now.

I knew I was getting into trouble when I walked in the door and saw a Weston Price book on the coffee table, and should have walked out right then and there. But I live in a relatively small community, and there aren’t many options for homebirth midwives, so I went ahead, and was told I was intentionally putting myself into a high-risk category by not eating animal protein. Not just told, but grilled, accused, shamed, demeaned, patronized, ridiculed, and dismissed. Not just by the first midwife. But also by the only two others in town who do homebirths. Got the trifecta! Like I said, I used to be fat. I have been fat-shamed with the best of them. And nothing, nothing at all has made me feel worse than that did today.

If the midwives are this bad, an OB/GYN will be worse. What can I do? What can I say? How can I defend myself and my diet and my choices? Do I have to move? Do you have any tools to use against this, or am I getting sent all the way out to vegan pasture to have an unsupervised homebirth?!

Your writing has made me feel much better today, and I appreciate you eternally for it.

Many thanks,
L——

——–

Dear L——

I am very sorry for such a dreadful experience. Their response is simply a reflection of ignorance and fear. I am just wondering what the midwives based their ‘information’ on, about the ‘dangers’ of vegan pregnancy. Did they hear about that one case that makes it in the news each year, of some vegan mother’s baby ‘dying’ and therefore, they concluded that it must have been the vegan diet? I have met so many people who ‘get off’ on these stories when they hear about them, emailing me the story as if it’s ‘proof’ that you cannot successfully have a vegan pregnancy or raise a child on a plant-based diet.

How can you defend yourself? I don’t think you really need to, and it is unfair that you are bullied and put into that position– especially since there are enough research and published materials that prove a well planned vegan diet during pregnancy is more than adequate for mom and baby. If they still bully you and shame you, despite this data, then they are being absolutely unprofessional. I am just wondering what they would say if you showed them Reed Mangel’s Vegan Pregnancy book or research that shows well-planed vegan pregnancies are fine for most women.

I wouldn’t assume all midwives and ob/gyns would have the same reaction as your first encounter with midwives did. It just depends on what practice you go to. My midwives had no problem with me doing a vegan pregnancy. My homebirth with my daughter was six hours long and baby was 9.5 lb. Why would my holistic diet of kale, hemp seeds, spirulina, algae based DHA, nettles tea, chia seeds, avocados, legumes, soy yogurt, quinoa, tempeh, walnuts, almond butter, collard greens, coconut manna, and vegan prenatal vitamins INCREASE my risk and the baby’s risk of having problems!? Such a diet is a powerhouse of protein, vitamins, EFAs, and minerals. To need to argue this with any supposed ‘professional’ midwife or a ob/gyn  practice is fruitless. If they are unwilling to realize or understand this, despite being shown the nutritional scientific breakdown of these foods as “stellar”, then it is a waste of time. They are filtering their reception of this information through layers of ignorance, fears, and anxieties that most of us in the USA are taught about anything that strays from eating animals. As a matter of fact, most allopathic practitioners are not even trained in more than 3 hours of nutrition during their entire med school experience, so by default, I don’t even take their ‘nutritional’ opinion too seriously when it comes to my dietary philosophies. Most won’t even support alternative parenting decisions such as using herbal remedies, questioning the efficacy and safety of vaccines, or even supporting a client’s decision to do a home-birth versus a hospital birth. My first ob/gyn dumped me during my first pregnancy during my 2nd trimester. I had told her that I was seeing a midwife as well and was pretty sure I wanted to do a homebirth; that the midwife had been practicing for over 20 years with excellent results. Instead of supporting me, she just guilted me by telling me how her best friend tried a homebirth, ‘things went wrong’, and now her baby has cerebral palsy. (sigh). At least she didn’t care I was vegan, but still, she released me from her practice, unwilling to accept that I wanted to work with both she and the midwife!

What to do, you ask? Well, where do you live? You spoke of maybe needing to move to find a more supportive practice. I am not sure where you live or what your options are. I know I had it easier since my midwives supported my vegan pregnancy and I live in the Bay area of California. Could you try finding a ob/gyn practice first that supports your vegan lifestyle and then go there with ‘evidence’ (nutritional science articles, books) that show how babies and moms are okay on a well-planned vegan diet? I am not sure what else you could do if that doesn’t work, as you should NOT have to move just to find a practitioner who supports your choice. Perhaps people reading this blog post can offer some useful tips for what they did and how they successfully found the support they wanted. I don’t know where you live and if you could be ‘reported’ or get in trouble. I don’t know how far someone would go to think you are ‘endangering’ you baby and report you. 

Overall, this just sounds like something no person should go through, when choosing to practice a diet that has been shown to reduce animal suffering as well as reduce a lot of diet-related illnesses and diseases associated with the consumption of animal-products. Those women’s responses to you just reflect an overal problem in the USA (and I’m assuming you’re speaking from the USA) in which structural speciesism is the norm. Unless you were born into a vegan household that emphasized compassion for animals, most of us were raised to believe the myth that we humans can only live if we eat animal products; that animals do not really ‘feel’ pain; that when a baby cow is taken from her mama, that mama cow is ‘just a mechanical animal’ and she has no feelings and won’t miss her child. I thought that way 15 years ago. It just seemed so ‘natural’ to think this way! I thought vegans and vegetarians made no sense!

Even though I had supportive midwives, I understand what you are going through, as I constantly have to listen to people- usually people who barely know me– tell me that my alternative pre-natal nutrition regiments, natural parenting style, nursing  on a vegan diet,  home-birthing, etc are all ‘dangerous’. Yet, my babies came into the world happy, healthy, and fine. Weight was always in the 95 percentile or higher. Had full term pregnancies. Never had hemorrhoids, gestational diabetes, calcium deficiency (#2 was born with 2 teeth!!!), iron was stabilized through plant-based iron sources, never had lactation problems (I was like a fountain), never had swelling, never developed hypertension, and even nursed my son until I was 35 weeks pregnant (I was ‘warned’ I’d develop osteoporosis if I dared to nurse while pregnant, despite me explaining to a practitioner that I have about 1200 mg of plant based calcium in the diet). As a matter of fact, someone who read my posting about vegan pregnancy posted that vegan pregnancies are ‘fine’, but homebirths are ‘dangerous’… and then they sent me a link to prove how dangerous it is. Once again, pure ignorance, even though the intention behind it was supposed to ‘protect’ me.

It”s all relative. Some women just have to do a hospital birth, due to their own unique situation and risk factors, while other women are fine with doing home birth or even unassisted birth. You just have to research everything well enough to know what is the BEST for you. And yea, that’s difficult when you don’t have the support you need from your own local community. I know you ask about resorting to an unassisted home birth. I cannot tell you what you should or should not do. However, I have an inspiring story for you. My friend is a vegan. His wife too. They both have two daughters: 2 and 3 years old. Both were not only home births, but the couple delivered their own babies at home. So, not impossible, but he and his wife researched and prepared to do this.

Here are some older blog posts from my site, and other, that may be useful:

  1. http://sistahvegan.com/2012/06/06/another-answer-to-nina-planck-reed-mangels-phenomenal-vegan-pregnancy-guide/
  2. http://sistahvegan.com/2011/06/22/part-ii-a-vegan-pregnancy-is-selfish-you-will-kill-you-baby/
  3. http://sistahvegan.com/2012/04/24/vegan-diets-can-be-risky-for-babies-and-kids-in-response-to-nina-plancks-nytimes-article/
  4. Preparing for a Vegan pregnancy: http://www.theveganwoman.com/preparing-for-another-vegan-pregnancy/
  5. The Vegan View: http://www.vegfamily.com/vegan-view/vegan-pregnancy.htm
  6. Our Vegan Pregnancy: http://ourveganpregnancy.blogspot.com/

If folk reading this article, or other work I have done, if it has helped folk, your organization, your students, your family, etc, and you want to see it go to the next level of a non-profit social justice organization, please contribute what you can by clicking on the GOFUNDME Link below. My non-profit will offer webinars and literature about reproductive health that are holistic and plant-based. If you do not want to use this method, but prefer paypal, click on the link on the right upper corner of this blog page to donate via PAYPAL.

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or certified practitioner of health. Please consult your practitioner before trying anything on this suggestion list.

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One thought on “‘Vegan’ shaming pregnant women for being ‘irresponsible’ for eating a well planned vegan diet

  1. Greetings, I want to chime in with my experience and a bit of advice. I’m a birth doula, and a mother of 3. My last pregnancy was completely vegan, and I had a homebirth. It has been my experience as a birth doula that a midwife is there to guide you during your birth and provide you with prenatal care; you can have a homebirth with the midwife and take her ‘animal protein’ advice with a grain of salt. If you are vegan, there is no need to feel ‘pressured’ into feeling guilty for eating plant proteins. Nutritionally, you can stick to your guns on eating plant proteins and ride the waves of the ocean. There is no reason to flee to an OB for prenatal care, unless you just want to forfeit having a homebirth (afterall, Obstetricians do not attend homebirths). Second to this, find a doula or a sister friend who is also VEGAN who can stand by you to support you during your prenatal period. Traditional homebirthing midwives mostly gauge nutrition from a traditional standpoint; finding one who is vegan or raw is like finding a needle in a haystack; finding one who supports you without judgement is less, but it happens and in your case it happened. Third, just know that women have been birthing at home with or without midwives (unassisted; this might also be an option for you, if you wish) since the beginning of time. So if you’re determined to have a homebirth as you envision it, Make it Happen, and set aside the midwife’s inability to grasp plant proteins as a way to get nourishment to you and your baby. Afterall, its your body, your baby, and be confident in who you are!

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