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June 1998
Second Time Around

The Satya Interview


In January 1995, we spoke to two sets of new vegan parents--Erica Lyon and Tom Gullo and Jed and Susan Civic--about the births of their children, Christopher and Aaron. Two and a half years later, both gave birth in the same month to two girls, Francesca and Rebecca. We thought at Satya it was time to check in with them again, and ask them about their second pregnancies and maintaining a vegan household with children.

Erica Lyon

Erica Lyon gave birth to Christopher and Francesca in home births with a midwife present. She was so moved by her first birthing experience that she decided to become a certified childbirth educator (CCE). She now teaches at Long Island College Hospital, New York Foundling Hospital with pregnant teenagers, Wellcare in Manhattan, and at CAMBA House with women from the Caribbean. This month she begins teaching at the Elizabeth Seton Birth Center.

Q: Were there any differences between your second pregnancy and your first?

A: When I was pregnant with Christopher the first time, I only had two cravings. One was for turkey, and I ate vegetarian turkey salad, and it went away. Later in the pregnancy I had a very bizarre craving for Ivory soap, which I obviously did not eat, although I used to lick it as a kid! But that was it, and I had a lot of time during the first pregnancy to cook a lot of really great meals and to focus on my nutrition. During my third trimester I ended up counting every gram of protein I ate every day, making sure I had everything I was supposed to have. My husband and I would come home from work and I would sit down and put my feet up and he would cook me a lovely gourmet vegan meal.

The second time we couldn't do that. There just was not the time, because we were taking care of a child. I got very strong cravings for turkey and fish. I tried a lot of stuff, upped my protein intake. I finally ended up having some turkey shortly after Thanksgiving, and immediately started sleeping better. Somebody told me that turkey has triptophane that puts you to sleep, and that's why everybody falls asleep on Thanksgiving day, but I think that's not true....

Q: Why do you think your craving for turkey was satisfied the first time and not the second?

A: I really think it's because I was not eating as well in general during the second pregnancy. I was taking around a child all the time, I was out for long days with him, I was much more tired because I was working, and I just was not focusing on my nutrition as much. In the first pregnancy, I had a lot of time to focus. Ideally, you should stay focused on nutrition, because obviously that's what is growing the baby. But I did end up eating some turkey and fish and feeling infinitely physically better at the end of the pregnancy. It was interesting. Because I hadn't eaten any in such a long time, I had to stop, and eat it really slowly and say little prayers and thank the fish for dying. It got very weird. It was very intense, but at the same time, I just felt I needed it. Of course, now we're back to normal.

Q: You're saying it's hard to be pregnant and vegetarian and lead a hectic life.

A: Well, it's really hard. I think I definitely could have done it the second time if I had been able to focus on it the way I had the first time. I can't speak for everyone, because people's bodies respond differently. I think some people might go through a pregnancy and just want potatoes the whole time. People really have to listen to what their bodies are craving. There are probably good nutritionists and vegans who could tell me what was going on and what I could have tried, but my life was very hectic and there was a lot of ambivalence about the pregnancy.

Q: You maintain a vegan household. What is you're philosophy outside the house?

A: Outside the house we're still vegan. But Christopher, when he spends the night at his cousin's house, comes home and tells me he ate pork chops and says he likes chicken and turkey. He hasn't accepted the idea that he ate pork chops yet. One of our friends held up a toy pig and told him that pork chops came from pigs, and Christopher looked at the toy and looked at her and just said "Oh my God!" in this most awful voice, like he just realized the horror that it came from a little pig. He doesn't think of himself as a vegan. He knows we don't drink cow milk, and he doesn't like dairy. If he goes out with his friends to get pizza he won't eat it. I once asked, "You don't like cheese, do you?" and he said, "No, I don't like cheese." He doesn't like cow's milk and will often not finish ice cream. I don't feel that concerned about letting him have that stuff outside, because he's already developed a taste for other things. He's the only kid I know that'll eat kale. He'll eat lentils and lentil soup and rice and quinoa. He's the only kid I've ever seen who, when offered fruit and candy or sweets, will eat more of the fruit.

Q: Do you feel it's important for Christopher to make up his own mind as he goes along?

A: Yes. Because kids are going to rebel against you, no matter what you do. I'm controlling in the home. But if he is ostracized from his friends, not allowed to eat pizza or go to birthday parties or not allowed to trick or treat, he's going to be really pissed by the time he's 12. He's already starting to rebel in certain ways. I figure at least he has his options. What I notice is that when he eats well at home, his behavior is different. He's calmer and easier to deal with. When he goes out and spends the night somewhere and eats a lot of crap, he's definitely not as grounded or centered. He's not able to concentrate as much and is more easily frustrated. I think he's noticing already at the age of three and a half how certain foods make him feel. I think that is a huge thing for a child to start discovering.

Q: Do you see a natural empathy between him and animals?

A: He loves animals. He's really into frogs. He knows what amphibians are, and he loves to go to the Museum of Natural History and the zoo. He doesn't really understand yet about zoos, but one time I explained to him that zoos make me feel sad. He said, "Do the people care for the animals?" He's trying to reconcile, I think, some of the things that he feels with what he sees.

Q: How do you educate him about veganism or respect for animals or the environment?

A: I'm trying to explain the idea of fresh and whole food, and food without chemicals. That is something he picked up on early and understands very well. And sometimes when I say that we're not going to buy a product, he says, "Why, because it has chemicals?" He knows that it's not good to eat things with chemicals. As to the animal issue, I will talk about how we don't need to eat them, that we can get food that tastes like meat and that does the same things without having to kill the animals. I think I'm going to wait until he's a little older to start explaining environmentalism. He's really young for that.

Q: So, talking to him now about killing you feel would be inappropriate.

A: He understands that they kill animals to eat them. One of the ways that I feel like he's too young to take it in, is that when he sees a dead bird outside or a dead mouse he thinks they're sleeping. I'll say "No, this little bird is dead or this little mouse is dead." He says, "No, it's not dead, it's sleeping. Its mommy and daddy are going to come and get it." I don't feel this is an appropriate age to start going on about how cruel and shortsighted humans are.

Q: What is your view of nutrition and pregnancy?

A: I've noticed that people who make conscious choices about what they're eating will often make conscious choices about what is better for themselves and their bodies during birth. I'm dumbfounded by how little obstetricians know about nutrition. I often get women late in their pregnancies who have too little nutrition information too late. I can emphasize really basic stuff like getting enough protein in your last trimester, whatever the source may be, and making sure they have enough iron and vitamin C, because you lose blood when you give birth and vitamin C and iron help all the tissues stretch. A lot of what women consider normal symptoms of pregnancy like hemorrhoids, heart burn, constipation, headaches, and varicose veins can be addressed nutritionally. I didn't have any of those in either pregnancy.

Q: What do you suggest for those symptoms?

A: I suggest cutting back on the dairy or, if the person's willing, to cut it out. That would mean that they'd have to be committed to finding alternative sources of calcium--although calcium is poorly absorbed with dairy. I usually have to have a very long conversation with them if they want to cut it out entirely, but I recommend cutting it back, and trying more whole grains. Most people are eating white rice instead of brown rice, they've never even heard of quinoa, and they've never eaten bulgar in their lives. A lot of times, you have to be very realistic. I teach people who ask, "What fast food should I eat? What's better: Taco Bell or McDonald's? Cheetos or roasted peanuts?" I say, "Take the peanuts over the Cheetos. When you go to McDonald's get a salad and the fish or the chicken instead of the burger. Grilled cheese is really not good, cut back on the dairy and increase your fruit if you're constipated. Try watermelon. That helps flush everything out and it's high fiber." I try to emphasize a whole diet, the less processed the better. Going out and buying kale and Swiss chard is not something that enters into their existence right now. They need to find more acceptable green vegetables. For people who really want more details I tell them to visit a qualified nutritionist.

Q: What about nutritional information for breastfeeding?

A: Your body is making milk out of whatever you put into it, so if you're eating Coca Cola and cheeseburgers then that's what your body has to draw from to make the milk. If you're eating brown rice and tofu and broccoli and kale, then that's what you're body has to draw from. If you're a vegan I would encourage you to get B12 because when you are nursing it's easy to get your B12 depleted, and you start to feel tired. You should not eat a lot of sugar because your nipples can get sore. A lot of women call me and say, "My nipples are sore but the baby's latching on to them correctly, so the nipples shouldn't be sore." I say, "I bet you have a yeast infection," and they ask me how I knew. I say, "Because the yeast goes on your nipples as well, and then it goes into the baby's mouth and you just keep giving it back and forth and your nipples get sore from that."

Q: Is there a difference in attitude between older and younger women about birthing?

A: Although there are always exceptions, in general I find that the older the woman is, the more afraid she is to give birth, and that younger women are more receptive. I think it's because the older a woman is the longer she has had to listen to stories of how birth has gone wrong, and the longer she has had to deal with the fear of giving birth. It’s one thing when you’re 25 and have only had maybe five to 10 years of your life thinking about what having a baby might be like. It’s another when you’re 35 or 40, and you’ve had 20 years to think about it. You’re afraid, you’re told she is high-risk. You have nterventions and become more afraid. Also, the older a woman is the more high-risk she is considered. It becomes a cycle. I think it’s all about fear, and confronting it.


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