Posted on May 07, 2020
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Pushed off the truck with hundreds of other cows, shoved through to a holding pen. It is noisy, smells foul, and we hear the agonizing cries of other cows in the distance. We know we are defenseless, with no one to help us and nowhere safe to go. My belly heaves with contractions. I would be laying down in normal circumstances, but today I must walk through the pain as I am not being allowed to lay down, nor do I have a soft bed to lie. I stand on hard, filthy concrete layered with the invisible hoof prints of other cows no longer of this world. The agony buckles me to my knees, but I dare not lay down for fear of being trampled by all the others. I cannot believe this is where I will have my baby, giving birth before we die.
Any mother has so many fears and responsibilities when her baby is born, hoping she is healthy, wondering how to keep her safe, praying there is food, and enjoying each quiet moment where we can bond, and she can caress her baby and gaze into her eyes. But how do I defend and provide for my baby in here, in the darkest place on earth?
We are ushered to a stall by ourselves and I am deeply relieved. Alone I can finally lick her clean and dry her off. She can struggle to stand and learn how to walk. She figures out how to nurse and finally drinks her fill. At least I have milk to give her! I am sickened that she must lie on hard concrete, but at least for now, she is safe. I don’t know what will become of us, or how long we have together. I cherish each and every second I have with my last baby girl. So many have been taken away from me before, while we screamed for each other. The ache in my heart and the unbearable swelling of my udders are as familiar to me as life itself. But I have this baby now, and I must live in the present moment, that is all I have left.
During the course of five days, while all the others were ushered through to their deaths, while I heard their cries and felt their hopelessness, we have been left to stay in our stall. And on the fifth day, we were ushered on to a trailer and driven away from this place. After an hour we were gently urged off the trailer and into a large pen with fresh food and clean water. I have never felt a bed so soft, eaten grass that is so rich and tasty, or drunk water so clean. The people look me in the eyes and talk directly to me. They sing to me. They don’t come near. They don’t shove me or take my baby away. Dare I feel hope? Dare I trust them? Dare I dream that humans can be kind? Dare I imagine what it would be like to raise my daughter until she is big and grown? Dare I think that life could ever be good for someone like me?
Each day I soften a little more. Each day I trust a little more. And they even feed me cookies! I have seen the worst of humanity; I am relishing the chance to see the best. The possibility of raising my daughter in a world where she will be loved and seen as the miracle that she is is just too delicious and tempting for me to resist. And each day in that world makes me ache and yearn for more. Will I finally get to celebrate Mother’s Day with a child who was not taken from me? Will I finally get to be a real mother and give her bedtime baths each night and sleep by her side? Will I get to teach her to play, and run, and dance? Will I be able to share stories with her? Will I learn the sound of her voice and her mine? Will I get to see her personality unfold? Will she be shy or bold? Will she be a strong warrior or an introverted healer? Will I get to spend my life with her by my side? Will I be able to nurse her for years until she weans herself? And will I be able to gaze into her eyes when I leave this earth and pass my wisdom on to her?
On behalf of all mothers everywhere who will never nurse or raise or play with their babies, who’s babies were stolen without thought or consideration, who are seen as objects or property, I hope I get that chance to live a gentle life, for them.