How it all began (Find Madelief here on Instagram)
It started nineteen years ago when I opened my eyes to the world. I don’t remember many complications during my childhood. I have always been a healthy girl and birthday parties were never an issue – my parents were vegetarian.
My mother and father did not teach my older brother and me to drink milk. She used to do it in our teas and coffee and of course recipes like pancakes or dinner.
We had eggs from our own chickens and my parents cared for animals long before I was born. Several times they took in stray dogs or lost cats that we cared for. I can say that I learned a lot of compassion from my parents – especially my mother, who has a deep connection with nature and taught me not to harm.
I have always cherished a love for all that’s alive in this world. They haven’t shown me one religion but showed me there are truth and goodness in every single one nonetheless.
I started saving their lives
I have always had a special love for sheep and when we moved to our second farm, it was finally time for one of my many dreams to come true.
We weren’t farmers, but we lived on one to care for our animals, three horses, a lot of cats, one dog, two rabbits, and chickens. It was a dream of my parents to have all our animals together, this first farm was the time we moved from The Netherlands to Belgium.
I was bullied because of my Dutch accent and have always received stares and hurting insults because I was a vegetarian.
But my love and my ethics are greater than anything anyone can ever say to me; love and compassion so big it will never die.
But when we moved to our second farm after five years, we lost a lot of animals already. It’s like we had built this amazing big family, but slowly it all started to wither until there was almost nothing left. On the second farm the owner of the house we rented, was a sheep farmer and so you can guess he was a stern man who cared more about money than anything else. This was the time we bought a half-year-old lamb from him. I had always dreamt of feeding little lambs, but she was too big for a bottle – even though she didn’t have a mother anymore.
She was very shy and I went into the flock every day to go to her and try to make a connection. After two weeks every sheep would come to me, some trusted me more than others and I could even cuddle them, but she, Lana, was the most headstrong and special character of them all.
She was like a sister to me, how finally one day I could touch her. When one year later two little lambs were ignored by their mother (which is very common with keeping sheep), I adopted them. My father paid for them, even though we have never been a rich family and have lived through a lot of hard times.
I remember almost every moment I had with them, I built a little corner in the sheds for Lana with my father and another one to keep the little lambs when they came.
I had to go to school every single day, but I still cared for them. They were everything to me, they were like my babies, like my sisters. They were equal in every way I could imagine. They had such characters of their own as they grew up. We would play, they would run like dogs and jump and were so curious when I went to sit at the waterside. Being a highly sensitive teenager, going through a lot of hard times, I could always cry out with them. They would come to me and look at me like dogs would.
Maybe non-vegans would say it is normal because they saw me as their mother, but it wasn’t at all like that. The white one, Gwynnevere or Gwynne, became shy and didn’t like to be touched as much as the other two did. I didn’t even raise Lana, I had to make a connection with her to let her trust me.
Animals aren’t stupid, most of the time they even have a better intuition than we do.
Grief out of Love
When two of our horses died, my father took another that was destined to go to slaughter. We saved her and so they were with two. A lot of our chickens had died due to a fox attack before we moved to our second farm, and a lot of cats had run or passed away.
In February 2017, our beloved golden retriever Tommy passed away. He was fifteen, which is quite old. He was a stray who had been on a metal chain on a Farm back in The Netherlands. He had followed us when doing a picnic along the river. After a year or so, he had followed my brother again after his sports practice and when the owner showed he did not care about the dog at all, my parents decided to keep him.
I remember going downstairs one morning and my life had changed forever. We already had a dog, but Tommy changed my view on all animals.
He had broken his hip at a very young age and endured so much hatred at that man’s farm, but he would never bite or be aggressive, instead, he was always thankful for everything and he would comfort me when I needed to cry. If he would be here now, he would do it still.
I have seen a lot of animals die in my life. We had a cat that we saved because a girl was drowning him in a ditch and my mom and I walked in on it when walking the dog. One morning, when I was nine, we were waiting for someone to pick me up for school when he came to us and cuddled. But instead of crossing the road a second time (which had made us very scared), he had stayed where he was and he knew. He knew it was his time to go and I saw it all happen.
Animals are so smart and so sophisticated that even they can attempt suicide or feel depressed.
Away from the pain
After my parents had divorced, I went to boarding school for a year. That year I learned my Lana had died of an illness that was common with sheep. It destroyed my world, but luckily my other two little ones saved at my father’s house. They are still there today and I barely see them because it’s in the middle of nowhere. But one day I will have them with me and I will love and cherish them even more.
That time at the boarding school, I had a lot of mental illnesses to endure. It started with an eating disorder that I had begun one month before Tommy died when my parents started their fights.
The eating disorder took so much from me and literally ate me alive, but physically it was never so bad that anyone worried, only some people noticed that I lost and gained weight quite often. This was the first time I started to look at food and what I was actually eating.
Veganism was a cure to me
I was obsessed with food in a bad way. When I found out a lot of anorexia patients that I talked with had gone vegan to feel less guilty about what they were eating and because vegetables didn’t contain many calories, I started thinking about it.
I had always been an animal rights activist even before I knew they existed and I had never ever in my life eaten an animal.
After going to live with my father for my last year of high school, I had a lot of pressure on me. I did meet my first true love (we are still together after almost two years) and I played a lead in a musical, but my mental health only went down and down.
When I committed a suicide attempt at the age of seventeen, my whole life had changed for good. I wasn’t yet vegan at the time and I didn’t have the energy when I dove into a depression that became the worst, horrible time of my life.
After five months, when I had a little strength again, I decided I wanted to be cured of my eating disorder, which I had been having for three years.
And so, I went vegan officially.
The beginning was hard
After everything that I had been through, I had to find a feeling of inner peace and strength that I would never ever be able to lose again. After many failures, my eating disorder started to fade away into nothing when I had decided I wanted to be vegan.
I didn’t feel any guilt anymore when I had to eat and I started to see how cruel animal agriculture actually is. It had changed my view of the world for good.
I had been part of a lie and I needed to change.
Who am I now?
Today I am nineteen. I know my values and worth. I know the strength of self-love and how far it can take you out of the worst moments of your life. My story is a story of hope and how to be your own hero.
I have always had big dreams for myself and have never stopped accomplishing them. Today, I have my first novel ready and have started the search for an agent. I have been accepted into one of the best acting schools in the world and am still together with the love of my life. I may be still fighting every day, but at my own pace and today, I might say that I am fighting for others as well and I always will.