If you're in the midst of navigating how to provide a vegan diet for your child that's still jam-packed with all the nutrients they need to grow up healthy and strong, Lily Yanka may be the inspiration you need. As a vegan mum, Lily has dealt with the opinions, controversy and backlash from others who disagree with the idea of raising a child on a vegan diet, but has learnt to stand up for herself and stay true to her beliefs.
We reached out to Lily to ask her about her experience, how her life has changed since pregnancy, and the advice she can give mothers who are standing in the same position she once was.
Q: What was the biggest source of emotional support for you during your pregnancy?
A: I was lucky to have had a really easy and enjoyable pregnancy, although my husband might say otherwise! I was very comfortable and still exercising daily, right up until the last week or so. I didn’t feel too different during pregnancy and I didn’t feel as though I needed much additional support, aside from my husband at that time.
However after my son was born, it was a whole different story! We lived in Perth, completely isolated from any family. We didn’t even know anyone who had a baby, so we really felt the effects of not having a tribe close by for support. My husband was always my rock but I also had to search for additional support through like minded mothers groups. I took to social media and searched for groups, particularly vegan ones. I was lucky to find some great mothers who were in similar situations to me and we became each other’s support.
For anyone who is interested, I am starting a new project to support new and expecting mothers which includes yoga, mediation, and women’s circles. It has been a vision of mine for a while now. Find me on Instagram and Facebook @open_heart_mama.
Q: Have you ever felt pressured to include animal products in your son's diet from health professionals, family or friends?
A: Yes, a few times. During the early months I was seeing a government-appointed child health nurse who tried to encourage me to switch to formula instead of breastfeeding as I was having some difficulty on my breastfeeding journey. She also advised against feeding my son, Fox, a vegan diet. I cancelled my appointments with her shortly after.
Over the years I have had a few family members, friends and acquaintances try to influence what I have fed my son, but I have become used to just ignoring it as I know in my heart he gets everything he needs. I even had one acquaintance say she was going to call child protective services on me because I fed my son a watermelon cake for his 2nd birthday instead of a cake filled with sugar and animal products!
In the beginning, I was anxious and vulnerable about every little thing I did as a mother, but I began to stand up for myself as time went on. I researched thoroughly before and during my pregnancy and found many health officials agree it is more than possible to raise healthy babies and children on a vegan diet. Now it simply doesn’t bother me at all. There will always be people who don’t agree with how I raise my child, so I choose to not let it affect me.
Q: Were you ever bullied for your decision to raise your son vegan?
A: Was I ever bullied? Yes. I have been the victim of bullying as a result of my lifestyle and the way I choose to raise my son. I have even lost several friends along the way. I’ve received many rude and hurtful comments, such as the one about child protection services. I even had a hate group started in my name, which was made by a few of my ex-friends. The group was on Facebook where several of my old friends would mock me and call me names for being vegan. I heard about it through one of my real friends who got invited into the group.
Q: Do you have a happy memory that stands out to you from your pregnancy experience?
A: I have so many happy memories from my pregnancy, from the day I first found out I was pregnant to the time I first felt flutters and kicks, to hearing his heartbeat and seeing the ultrasound images. The most incredible part for me was seeing that my body was capable of, growing a whole human: expanding and changing, birthing, producing milk, then going right back to before. Our bodies are truly amazing!
Q: How has your life changed since having your son?
A: Soooo much of my life has changed since becoming a mother! In fact, I hardly recognise my life or who I was before. My outlook on life in general has changed as I now get to see glimpses of the world through the eyes of a 3-year-old.
My lifestyle changed a lot as I began placing more importance on healthy eating, exercise and self care. I have grown a deep understanding of how quickly time can move, and the importance of practising mindfulness and presence.
My values have also changed. I now place much more value on quality time, togetherness, community and family. My abilities to adapt, empathise, persevere and remain resilient - as well as juggle 4 chores at once with a baby strapped to me - have all improved. My sleep patterns have certainly changed!
Q: Having gone through the experience, what words of advice would you offer to new vegan mums out there who are just about to start their journey?
A: The biggest advice I have to give is to surround yourself with a support network, even if you don’t anticipate you’ll need it. The first year (and even beyond) can be extremely taxing, both physically and mentally. If you don’t have friends and family close by, then make your own support by joining new social media groups for parents, employing a postpartum doula and night nanny... anything you can to make sure you have help. As we had no family close by, we hired an au pair, which was an absolute game changer.
I also encourage you to do your research. There are so many options when it comes to birth, feeding, sleeping, and beyond. Work out what aligns with you and go with your gut. Have the research and facts on hand if anyone tries to bully you out of your choices and stay strong in your conviction. Your baby, your choice! Most of all - and you hear it all the time, but it’s so true - savour EVERY second. The days and nights are slow, but the years are fast. Before you know it, they’re an independent pre-schooler! Remember: nothing is permanent and the hard times always get easier.