In my first post, I shared that as a lonely new mom I learned to parent with the help of internet friends and social media which led me to stop vaccinating my children. Then, in my last post I shared how I came to believe that vaccines had caused my son’s autism. But in 2012 there was an outbreak of whooping cough at the school where my husband was teaching. This may have been the start of the tiny thoughts in the back of my mind that my decision not to vaccinate could have deadly consequences for the new baby I’d just had. I’ve now realized that social media had a profound impact on how I viewed vaccines.
Falling Down Social Media and Vaccine Rabbit Holes
During this time I became part of a large local “natural mommy” facebook group.
Disclaimer: I want to clarify that I did not live in The Coastal Bend at the time and that this group is not a group local to our area. (End Disclaimer)
This group was a legitimate source of community for me, a mom who often found herself lonely for friends. It had local meet-ups, supported each other’s small businesses, brought meals to new moms, and truly offered a community of like-minded women. We had T-Shirts and car decals, and it wasn’t uncommon to spot a group member around town with her kiddos. The group promoted out of hospital birth (something that by now I had also done), co-sleeping, not vaccinating, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and gentle parenting, which were all things I cared about. I went to meet ups and met local moms, and that part was wonderful. But around that time, several things happened that made me skeptical of the science behind the ideals that this group held dear, and while they weren’t all directly about vaccines, they made me begin to examine my stance on all the values that this group held dear.
Life and Death Decisions
The first was that a baby died during a home birth (in my actual neighborhood), and the mother and grandmother who were both group members, felt that the midwife had been negligent. Instead of the outpouring of support I might have expected for the mother and grandmother, the group seemed to turn on them and double on its support for the midwife and the virtues of home birth. Then another baby died and the cause was ruled to be co-sleeping. Then yet another baby died, also due to co-sleeping. But when these things would happen, the group members would circle the wagons and insist that the medical community was full of quacks and big-pharma drug pushers. Remember this was all in one local mommy group so seeing three babies die in short order was shocking.
I also began to notice that when studies about these topics would be brought up, and the results were unfavorable to what the group claimed to believe, they would find any reason to discredit it.
Honest, thoughtful discussions about studies related to certain topics like vaccines were essentially not allowed in this social media group.
Anyone who dared go against the group would be warned and removed, which could mean losing your friends and your community. You had to comply with the group-think, or be kicked out.
In July of 2013 something happened that made me question my reliance on social media for child-raising advice and advice on vaccines and made me realize the value of doctors and science. My baby daughter who had been breastfed and raised “toxin free,” tested positive for lead exposure. I shared this story here and here. Many of the members of the group did not take their children to pediatricians. Instead, they opted to use chiropractors or not to see medical professionals at all. I started thinking this might be a good idea.
I have a distinct memory of being on my phone in the waiting room before we saw the doctor, posting on my mommy group:
This was my post immediately after her appointment.
After this appointment I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t taken her to the doctor for this well-check? Thankfully, I’ll never know.
What brings me into the anti-vaccine movement also brings me out
Around this time, in my natural mommy group, I started noticing the posts of another mom who was questioning some of the values the group held dear. She started speaking out about the safety of vaccines. She tried to share some science about the safety of vaccines. She shared a study that showed that vaccines did NOT cause autism. But more importantly, she was thoughtful, she was courteous, and she brought up great points.
And, unsurprisingly, she was kicked out of the group.
Before she left, she mentioned being a member of a group called “Crunchy Skeptics,” and I found myself virtually wandering over to this new group. What I found in this group was a legitimate place to discuss my fears and concerns when it came to issues like vaccines and this directly led me to completely change my mind on my decision not to vaccinate.
Maybe I sound pathetic here, admitting that social media influenced my parenting about something as important as vaccines. But I think it is important to be honest about how much this has impacted me. I honestly think if many moms are honest, social media has dramatically impacted their parenting decisions, too.