This is a guest post by Emily of Life a Study!
“No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.”—Thomas Carlyle
“I could never do that to my child….” It cut like a knife and deeply hurt me. I don’t think my friend meant it like I felt it, but it did make crystal clear how she and many of my other friends were feeling about my and my husband’s choice to not vaccinate our children. My friend was reacting to the idea of exposing our kids to chicken pox on purpose, to get natural immunity. Hardly a new idea … our grandparents were happy to get chickenpox out of the way in one fell swoop, and most of our parents were exposed .. to siblings or friends who had this “childhood disease,” if not “on purpose.” then certainly without grave concern.
I have never been someone who followed the crowd or listened to ‘the establishment.’ I was raised to question authority. I was not raised to be obedient, and that respect is earned. I was taught that you ‘aren’t living if you aren’t learning’, and to think responsibly. No one narrowed my mind down, and I never felt the need to grow a thick skin. But never once in my life had anything felt as venomous as that one friend’s reaction to a child-rearing choice we made.
I knew that when we had kids there would be some difficult decisions to make. But never during all my thought, study and research, did I think that our decisions would be of such concern, cause so much drama, be the root of so many arguments and hurt feelings, cause so many negative reactions, and OFFEND so many other people … people who have little or NOTHING to do with our children. In fact I always felt that all the thought I put into making those decisions was something to be proud of. Little did I know that our commitment, combined with my propensity for being vocal, would have such an enormous impact on our social lives.
It started at pregnancy: ”Natural childbirth?! Are you crazy? Labour hurts! Just take the drugs.” Then breastfeeding: “It is sooo much easier to just bottle feed.” And food choices: “Well I just don’t have that extra time to do all that cooking.” It only got worse from there: Snide, rude, condescending and patronizing comments in response to my posts about vaccination on Facebook, awkward moments of silence with long-time friends whenever the topic of children’s health came up and, for a short time, the need to convince our parents that we were doing the right thing when it came to vaccination. So I looked for ‘community’ and support elsewhere. As I made like-minded contacts, it became evident that parents who take the road less travelled are a small and usually heavily abused community. It seems that we are all getting the same response everywhere we try to find information, share information or find camaraderie.
Never once have I heard or read an ‘anti-vaxer’ abuse another parent who chose to follow the vaccine schedule. Never have I said to friends who scheduled c-sections, “Geez you really copped out on that one,” or responded to someone who thinks breastfeeding is ‘gross’ by suggesting that their choice to bottle feed is unnatural. But the vitriolic abuse of those who have the *audacity* to doubt the safe practice of multiple vaccinations, or who truly believe that ‘breast is best’ and that c-sections are for emergency situations, is everywhere. Intelligent, legitimate questions posted on highly respected medical websites are repeatedly met with disdain, condescension, insult, and personal attacks. At a different stage in life, or on any other forum, it would be considered bullying. But in the case of birthing and raising children, to deviate from general medical practice is apparently to sacrifice not only your credibility, but also your right to choose how to think and how to live.
Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food.”—Hippocrates
We chose to choose our food carefully, which apparently merits an on-going debate and even an element of alienation between ourselves and the general population. This seems to cause the most trouble when it comes to feeding the kids. Especially on family holidays, when I end up helicoptering around the kids table removing endless cups of milk, chocolate milk, soda pop and countless numbers of prepared ‘kid friendly’ dishes from in front of my kids. I turn down offers to make plates for them, and I offer to sit at or near the kids table to ‘supervise’.
The kids are older now and have started asking their own questions about what we eat, especially around other kids at mealtime. This has put me in the bumpy position of explaining to our kids, in front of the other kids and their parents, why we are eating one thing and not another. I have managed to avoid any hurt feelings and have had to stumble through a few awkward moments of trying to explain what we are trying to accomplish nutritionally, but ultimately I end up trivializing the choices we made so thoughtfully, just so they won’t be offended by those choices … and I hate doing that.
So between defending my choices on forums and trying to explain them to friends and family, I wonder: How are our positive choices threatening everyone so much? What causes people to take offense to our deviating from the norm? Why can’t I state “this is what I do” without offending someone? If they want their kids to eat hot dogs, why would they care if I don’t want mine to? If they are so sure of what they are doing, why do they feel any need to even have an opinion about what I do? While we don’t attack or even comment on their ways of doing things, are our health choices construed to be a judgment of what they are doing?
“The highest order of information is for it to become knowledge, and that knowledge to become wisdom.” – My stepdad when talking to him about this article.
How do you find the fine balance of sticking to choices as a family while still making it possible to have an easy and pleasant social life? I asked my mom, a single hippy mom, who with the advice of the pediatrician selectively vaccinated me (where are those doctors now?), and fed us as much real food as possible, how she handled it. She said it never really happened and what little she did deal with wasn’t anywhere close to as nasty as what I am currently dealing with. There was a more ‘live and let live’ mentality. So what changed the playing field? Is it our easy access to information? We now have the opportunity to educate ourselves on subjects without the information being directed through a teacher.
Or is it our exposure to so many people with so many different ways of doing things? Either through the internet or in our cities full of people from every possible cultural background. We now have so many more ways of doing things, looking at things and feeling about things than when my Mom was raising me. So much more choice and I’d guess, so many more ways for us to think others are doing it wrong.
This road less travelled life isn’t easy on any of us. None of us would change our minds or make alternate choices, but it doesn’t mean that this isn’t hard.
Thanks, Emily! Stick around, you’ll see part II coming up soon!
Emily Martin-Johnson is a work at home mom to twins Gabriel and Beatrice, who are three, and wife to Michael. She has always had a passion for cooking which then became a passion for feeding her family healthy ‘real’ food. Emily is a MommyBlogger and you can follow what’s happening with the twins and in her kitchen at http://lifeastudy.blogspot.com/
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