This is how anti-vax mothers imagine themselves

Pregnant Woman Mother Character Super Hero Red Cape Chest Crest

A new paper in Clinics in Mother and Child Health, Intensive Mothering and Vaccine Choice: Reclaiming the Lifeworld from the System, provides fascinating insight into how anti-vaccine mothers view themselves.

What brings families to the decision to delay or refuse vaccination? What informs their choices? How do vaccination choices fit into broader trends in pregnancy, birth, and childrearing?

Anti-vax mothers believe:

She is a superhero keeping her child safe from corrupt experts shilling for greedy corporations.

[S]ome mothers “have wrested control of their personal lives away from institutions and experts and others who claim to ‘know best’ and returned it to the site of the individual family…this hard­won control does not rest with the individual; rather, it is surrendered to nature. The natural mothers exalt nature as a force to be trusted and respected.”

Of course we are not talking about all mothers. Privilege is the sine qua non of natural mothering. But for these women:

In our current milieu, the good mother is an intensive mother;… intensive mothers often tend toward holistic, natural styles of care over efficient and scientized approaches to family management and decision making. While not all intensive mothers are natural mothers, we suggest a connection between the centering of children’s needs and desires of intensive mothering, paired with prioritization of naturalness and distrust of the medical system, come together …

As I have argued repeatedly in the past, natural mothering reflects a new domesticity as well as submission to traditional gender roles. The natural mother has no time to work since she has been convinced that her “work” is keeping her child safe in a dangerous world filled with evil experts who are merely shills for industry, engaging in profitable efforts to harm children.

…Natural mothers choose to dedicate their full attention to intensive mothering, but are marked by three specific elements including a commitment to simple living, attachment parenting, and cultural feminist theory. Natural mothers use their “intuition as a practical guide, […] their notions of mothering at odds with mainstream notions about the proper way to raise a family.”.

The natural intensive mother exists in contradiction to the “bad other mother” who “goes with the flow of the mainstream, doesn’t question conventional wisdom, ignorant, duped by powerful, child hostile, expert and institution dependent culture.”. Natural intensive mothers are parenting from an individualist approach; prioritizing their children’s needs within institutions and advocating for them when necessary. To do so successfully, parents invest a significant amount of time into the labor of knowledge consumption and research, talking with friends and family, sharing information online and on the internet, all while centering their children’s uniqueness.

They are heroes!

Though they view themselves as rebelling against “the system,” the truth is that they are merely submitting to a different system, characterized by deeply valued fantasies including the illusion of control of the health of their children and the radical uniqueness of their children, almost always in conjunction with ignorance of science, medicine and statistics.

In the individualist view, “disease prevention is a process of personal risk assessment, lifestyle adjustment and individual choice.” More specifically, risk assessment is an individual choice for each parent for each child, which evaluates benefits of vaccines, and severity of disease (if the parents choose not to vaccinate, and the child does get sick), along with an assessment of vaccine risk informed by family history, views of children as vulnerable and perfect, and maternal instinct or intuition. These risk assessments and vaccine choices are informed by the knowledge gathered from friends and family, advocacy organizations, and natural living publications.

Only they can keep their children safe! They are heroes!!

Parents who choose to delay or refuse vaccination often focus on natural living as a way to prevent illness and keep their children healthy and safe. These practices are time and labor intensive, but mothers view the work as worthy efforts for the benefit of her child. Privileging the vulnerable, perfect and natural state of their child, mothers rely on natural solutions like breastfeeding and good nutrition, a diet of organic and unprocessed foods, and limiting social contact to manage and control risk.

Although anti-vax mothers are viewed, quite appropriately, as anti-science, that is not how they view themselves:

Although anti/alt­vaxxers are often cast as anti­science by the larger pro­vaxx community and within mainstream parenting groups, they do not experience themselves to be anti­science. In fact, many of the conversations we observed, particularly on the anti/alt­vaxx and natural pages, but even within vaccine debates on mainstream parenting pages, mothers who are defending their choice to deviate from the CDC vaccine schedule do so with what they refer to as “evidence based research” and draw from what they believe to be scientific research. In addition to the natural knowledge production raised above, some of the more popular pages from which alt/anti­vaxx mothers draw their sources from include the Living Whole website, the Healthy Home Economist website, the Sears family website, all of which report on vaccine injury, toxicity, and corruption within big pharma. Overwhelmingly, mothers believe themselves to be informed and to be making the best choices for their children, based on evidence­based research and of course, instinct.

Ultimately:

Natural intensive mothering, a distrust of systematized institutions, and the prominence of individualist choice come together as a reclaiming of the lifeworld space of the family from the system: its unnaturalness, its subjugation of traditional knowledge, its corruption, its judgments, and its privileging of the collective over the individual.

Anti-vax mothers imagine themselves as superheroes!

  • dawna eastman-gallo

    Lifeworld space???? What the heck does that even mean?

  • Russell Jones

    Indeed. It takes a special breed of sociopathic shithead to risk sacrificing one’s own flesh and blood on the altar of preventable illness just to maintain some kind of feel-good fidelity to the “natural” or whatever.

    • AnnaD2013

      Sorry did not mean to down vote! Here here I agree with you heartily!

  • rational thinker

    They love treating whooping cough with natural remedies. That one idiot heather I forget her last name she let her 3 kids get whooping cough that she “treated” over six or nine months with natural remedies. So she could experiment on them and post her “findings” on the internet. Its amazing those kids survived I think one was a baby.

    • AnnaD2013

      Goodness that makes me want to cry for her poor children!

      • rational thinker

        dr tuteur had a post about it you should read it , but I cant remember the title

      • rational thinker

        she said they vomited after coughing so hard every time they coughed

        • Who?

          My mum had whooping cough in the 1940s. She said my grandmother made two pots of soup for while her children had whooping cough-one with not much goodness in it, which she fed them if they hadn’t coughed for a while and were hungry, as she knew they would soon cough and throw it up. The other was full of good and delicious things, which she fed them after they had coughed and thrown up, in the hope they would keep it down for a while and get some goodness out of it.

        • AnnaD2013

          Those poor children. That makes me shudder.

    • Cristina

      I remember that one, it was horrifying. And it was all about her staying up all night and not sleeping because she was tending to them. I think one was a baby too because I seem to remember her being so proud for breastfeeding during it.

      • rational thinker

        she is a sick fuck I don’t know how she got away with it someone should have reported her to her states child protective services department

      • mabelcruet

        I remember that one too. She was full of self praise about how she found the strength to stay awake all night to look after her child. If she hadn’t tried to kill him in the first place, she’d have got a good nights sleep. That poor baby could have died, he’s certainly had months of pain and misery and his fuckwit egg donor thinks that’s OK.

        • rational thinker

          Yeah those kids were probably close to death a few times, but the most important thing to her was me, myself, and I. poor heather

        • Eric Bohlman

          Let’s not forget “I learned that the best way to clear the lungs is through the rectum.”

          • mabelcruet

            Don’t forget the Fat Man’s rules-the House of God’s law no. 6: There is no body cavity that cannot be reached with a #14G needle and a good strong arm.

            So basically, if you shove hard enough and deep enough, pleural drainage could technically be achievable per rectum…

    • The younger two would have been spared if she’d gotten the oldest antibiotics. Horrible.

  • MaineJen

    The reason we think “suffering builds character” is that suffering (particularly from disease, and from the pain of childbirth) USED to be unavoidable. Now that we can avoid the suffering and still grow into adulthood…something is missing? I don’t happen to think needless suffering adds anything to our lives, but then again, I don’t have a martyr complex.

  • Sarah

    Think of Roald Dahl’s promotion of the measles vaccine. He talked about how he couldn’t provide it for his daughter and thus couldn’t save her, but now parents can.

    • Merrie

      I didn’t have any of the diseases that are currently vaxed against, except chicken pox, because I came down with it riiiight before the vaccine came to market (like literally the same month, not that I’m bitter or anything). I didn’t have any complications or anything, but it sucked and I’d rather spare it to my kids.

      Wanting to spare your kids pain is a cornerstone of parenting.

      BUT these people are totally convinced that getting the illness naturally is better than getting the vaccine and that they’ll spare their kid pain in some other way through this strategy. (Avoid the vaccine side effects, avoid the risk of getting vaccinated and not developing full immunity and then getting the bug anyway, and I think some other stuff.) Their calculus of the risks and benefits is different so they don’t respond to the material we are putting out. If we’re going to make any headway with them we have to address the arguments they are making on this.

      • Who?

        I think you’re right, but the challenge is you can’t reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into.

      • Sarah

        The difficulty is, I suppose, that when herd immunity is high enough, they’re not necessarily wrong. If enough others do vaccinate and the disease becomes sufficiently uncommon, their child can freeload off the vaccination of others. Polio for example. I’m worried that it might take this no longer being the case, especially for some of the more gruesome diseases, for some parents to make a different risk benefit calculation.

    • AnnaD2013

      Exactly!!!

  • Mike Stevens

    …Educated enough to use the internet and browse trendy websites, but not educated enough to understand what they are reading nor to apply a modicum of critical thinking.

    • They’ve re-defined “research” as “reading unsourced internet claims” and not “reading peer reviewed science.” The latter is now “letting other people think *for* you, while listening to anecdotes from strangers online is thinking for yourself because…. I have no idea.

      • space_upstairs

        Because science is a Big Corrupt Institution except for the few voices who disagree with the consensus, because the Rebels are always right and the Empire is always wrong.

  • Hannah83

    The superhero picture is accurate. All the cool moms at my son’s daycare have very cool and super individual vaccination schedules because they are “educated”. I’m tired of getting the “Oh, so you are a reckless shit mom who doesn’t care about her kids” – looks for having my kids vaccinated according to boring medical recommendations.

    • demodocus

      My kid is on an individual schedule, because she’s the individual who’s birthday is in June, so she gets her shots in December and June, except for flu shots in October. 😉

  • Sullivan ThePoop

    This sounds like me as a teenager

  • Mel

    I can’t bring myself to give someone kudos for forcing themselves to follow their own uneducated beliefs in the face of information to the contrary given by experts.

  • namaste

    Okay, I am actually quite pissed off. These spoiled, overly privileged twits are allowing their kids to spread dangerous pathogens, putting us ALL at risk, for no better reason than a massive ego trip. Thanks a lot.

    P.S. I love how she claims to “Trust and respect nature.” Those who respect nature don’t trust it, and those who trust nature don’t respect it.

    • Mike Stevens

      There is too much trust in “Nature”.
      Nature is a capricious and evil beast, and is just waiting for the slightest slipup on your part before it will grab your baby and dash its brains out against the nearest mother earth rock.

      • space_upstairs

        I think a lot of this nature-worship comes from the feeling that something important has been lost in today’s consumer society, and the loss of that something is responsible for the bulk of our continued suffering. Where I think the mistake is made is blaming that loss on specific lines of mass-produced products and services we use to physically take care of ourselves and our families, which are blamed for directly causing our physical and mental chronic ailments, and seeking the solution in a more “natural” line of products and services. Personally, I think the problem lies more in how we relate to our families and others in the wake of economic instability, extreme individualism, and hyped-up expectations driven by ubiquitous and targeted marketing (like, for example, the expectation that we should not suffer any kind of chronic ailment if we only use the right products and services).

        • demodocus

          that last attitude is so annoying when your chronic ailment is began in early childhood. My Dem has glaucoma not from lifestyle choices but as a complication to his cataract surgery. Before his first birthday. The cataracts were from congenital rubella, but they’ll blame that on MIL’s “unhealthy lifestyle” for catching German measles in the first place.

          • space_upstairs

            As a troll…erm…visitor or two might have claimed a while back, if only the child’s mother had been on a Paleo diet, she might not have gotten ill, because infectious disease was apparently not as much of a problem before civilization and its grains, beans, sugar, and milk. Tempting to think that, until you or someone you love is the victim being blamed for making the wrong market choices.

          • rational thinker

            Speaking of that paleo guy did you see his posts after we all stopped responding to him? Its the first 2 posts right after the article I read them and they are very long and disturbing. It read like its his blog and its basically a long disclaimer I think he has some serious problems.

          • space_upstairs

            I just checked it out, along with various other things posted after I admitted my impure motives (seeking a “good enough” rather than optimal approach to health) and folded. I have respect for how clever that guy is, but I have to wonder what he would find if he had examined his own motives as I did mine. Why the passionate crusade for optimizing health and countering anyone who questions his pet hypotheses? Why, as a selectively informed layperson, does he harbor such confidence that no actual scientist could ever refute the scientists he cites or have a better understanding of the nature and politics of science than he does? Why such enthusiasm for “challenging the mainstream”? Why such bewilderment at people who read him as making a geekier version of overhyped sales pitches and respond less geekily?

          • rational thinker

            What I got from it was that he felt personally attacked by the article therefore anyone who agreed with the article was attacking him and that wasn’t the case. We were all civil to him. He just started to insult everyone that didn’t share his views. Perhaps he just took the post way too personally.

          • space_upstairs

            I actually do agree with him that the tone of the post and some of the replies was a bit harsh. “Sucker” is no neutral term. But he clearly doesn’t have as thick a skin as he boasts if he must counter-snark and logic-spam any text that does not concede the probable superiority of old-fashioned food and its potential for a key role in alleviating chronic illness.

          • Who?

            And also the labelling-surely a rose is a rose, whatever you call it, but he was adamant things had to be ‘called’ whatever it was he was nominating.

            I don’t think he was smart (necessarily) and in any event intelligence, like all talents, is not worth praising. But he was extremely focussed, maybe a little more than is generally useful.

          • rational thinker

            If we did not agree with him we were “attacking” him. Ive seen that kind of behavior first hand from cultists.

          • Who?

            It must be hard and exhausting to feel so persecuted.

            He was evangelising for a particular eating style.

            The manifesto is surely for the true believers, as it is likely to scare off interested passers-by.

          • space_upstairs

            Smart or not, I felt bested in the debate as a debate (though still not convinced I was wrong, per se) due to my unwillingness to go as far as to look up specific articles to refute his finely picked scientific cherries and inability to deny my own emotional reasoning. The internet is a wild and crazy place, and if it’s true my general workload is about to increase at my job just when I’m on the eve of new parenthood, I think I’d be better off staying away from these fascinating wrecks, working hard and smart and setting a good example for my daughter in terms of how to spend one’s attention. I hope she doesn’t join a diet cult someday, but there’s only a tiny amount a parent can do to influence a kid long-term.

          • Who?

            Fair enough.

            For my money he was, as you put it so well ‘finely picking scientific cherries’ and then reeling back the minute anyone picked him up on it. The ground he was standing on was getting smaller all the time.

            Once he started with that-rather than holding his ground-I lost interest.

            I’m sure you’re right about where best to put your time and attention. And children do see what you do and take that in far more than what you say, particularly when the two conflict. Your daughter will be great, and so will you.

          • space_upstairs

            Aww…thanks. If I need confidence boosters or good takedowns of sociological phenomena, I can find them in books and e-books from now on. I have Dr. Amy’s book on my Kindle along with many others, and I just read Laura Hirshman’s “Get to Work,” which was highly controversial for taking down housewifery in general (not just the crunchy kind) in the Bush Jr. era and which gave me hope of being a good influence and mother. I have basically followed Hirshman’s life advice out of a mix of personal preference and circumstance: dedicated myself to a career that earns enough and is what I studied in school (and even dumped an inflexible bf for it!) and then married “down” to a guy who does his own housework and is cool with “one and done.” At least one person says this approach to work, marriage, and parenthood can be good for society…as long as I put a bit more juice into the “using one’s maximum abilities” part, which I now feel more ready to do than I have in a while.

          • Eric Bohlman

            Eric Hoffer famously observed that the zealot’s primary goal is to convince *himself* that he’s made the right choices. Thus someone who follows a self-imposed regimen that’s inconvenient, expensive, and requires a lot of sacrifice pretty much has to view those who don’t as evil and/or inferior in order not to see them as signs that “you don’t really need to do this”.

          • space_upstairs

            I bet he would have denied being a zealot (and accused opponents of being mainstream zealots), just as he denied the paleo diet was expensive and sacrificial or that he was making claims it could cure diseases. But the sheer verbiage devoted to the cause and the compulsion to respond to any hint of snark with more snark showed he had some powerful emotional reaction to any challenge to his pet hypotheses, even while admitting that the original take-down post was evidence-based.

          • namaste

            I just took a look at it. It reads like the Unabomber’s Manifesto. Honestly, anyone getting that butthurt over an article on a blog and who is so invested in what other people eat is clearly a few beers shy of a six pack.

          • Juana

            There is really no limit what they will blame others for, is there? Just because they need to eliminate any notion of “bad luck” from their fantasy world of “that could never happen to me”.

    • mabelcruet

      Most of humankind’s history on this planet was primarily focused on how to stop Nature killing us. The farther away from nature we are, the safer we’ll be!

  • Cristina

    I’m really starting to hate the phrase “evidence-based research”

    • AnnaD2013

      Me too!!!

  • rational thinker

    I think they have some level of narcissism about themselves. They often think they are better moms than everyone else and they get it reassured to them by other anti vax morons. If they want to be even more all natural they should go move into a cave or build a mud hut somewhere. Then (gasp) give up their internet which seems to be more important to most of them rather than their child cause there is no internet in nature, or organic supermarkets.

  • space_upstairs

    Insofar as elite niche markets are the R&D branch of mainstream capitalism rather than a true alternative to it, they are not even in a “different” system. In fact, as the notion of niches being pseudo-rebellion or defanged attempts at rebellion implies, they exemplify many of the values of the regular system taken to extremes: individualism, promotion of the self as a brand, extremely high expectations of personal salvation through products (albeit with the ability to deny they are products due to their “natural” origin).
    As for the reversion to pre-feminist values, I have a hypothesis that such a reversion also serves mainstream capitalism. What customer is more insatiable than a child, and what better way is there to make a better customer of a woman than to convince her that she must go to any length possible to satisfy her child and maximize his or her market value as a future worker and elite consumer, or else she doesn’t love her child and can hardly call herself a woman?