You may recall that I have this project I call Secrets of Ag. It’s a place where people in agriculture can go and anonymously unburden themselves by sharing their secrets. Most of them aren’t truly secrets. So far, no one has admitted to murder or any major jewelry heists, but they’re the things we’re afraid to say out loud. People admit to their deepest worries, fears, and insecurities. They share the thoughts that they’re afraid will ruin relationships or make them seem “less than” in the eyes of the people who love them.
A while back, I received this secret, and it really struck a chord with me. Obviously, I am not a medical professional, but I think the sentiment rings true to certain aspects of farming, too.
I'm in a profession (medical) where it seems like everyone around me is in a constant state of anxiety and worry about their patients and everyone suffers from imposter syndrome. But I don't. Sure, sometimes I lose sleep worrying about particular patients, and I often consult with my colleagues when I'm unsure of something, but the fact that I seem to be the only one who doesn't take on crazy emotional burdens or constantly second guess myself makes me feel like something is wrong with me, like I'm an arrogant, unempathetic sociopath. I do my best, but mistakes will happen, and I refuse to beat myself up over them. I belong where I am. I worked my whole life to be here. Yet, I feel like the odd one out for these feelings, and if I say it out loud, my colleagues will think I'm just cold, callous, or full of myself.
After my mom had brain surgery, the lead surgeons called us into a small private room to update us and let us ask questions. They answered us professionally and abruptly. One of my brothers made a remark about how unfriendly they seemed, and they were. But I didn’t need the neurosurgeons to be friendly; I needed them to be good at their job. They did two more surgeries that day, and I imagine those families felt the same. If you were to personally care for every single person (or animal) you took care of, you wouldn’t survive. If turning your feelings off is the way you cope, do it. Love and worry about the people in your life and let your patients’ families love and worry about them.
Here’s a truth bomb for you: I don’t miss every cow we cull. More than once, I’ve been happy to see a cow go, and I’m sure I will be again in the future. That doesn’t mean I don’t take good care of them while they’re here. That doesn’t mean I hate cows. It means that farming is extraordinarily hard and feeling every single loss would break me. That doesn’t make me, or you, a sociopath. It makes us human.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.