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:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]She is a superhero keeping her child safe from corrupt experts shilling for greedy corporations.[/pullquote]

[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.


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!