A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
Parents today are faced with an almost overwhelming array of options. On the one hand, this is wonderful, freeing, and enriching. It’s an embarrassment of riches that make living in this day and age a blessing. On the other hand, the choices we make force us into pre-fabricated parenting categories, creating imaginary dividing lines and pigeonholes that threaten to alienate us from one another. And they invite judgment. Lots and lots of judgment.
Are you a natural childbirth person? A baby-wearer? An attachment parent? How long did you nurse? Do you nurse in public? Do you make your own baby food? How do you feel about working? Are you like a tiger mother? Or are you more French maman? Do you adhere to the “no screen time before two” rule? When did you try peanut butter? Do you use natural diapers? Plastic bottles? Microwaves? Oh, I see. Sure, sure, that’s cool. Lots of people do things that way. Some of my best friends are like that.
I try not to judge most people’s parenting choices, as I hope other parents I meet will attempt to refrain from judging the things I do. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I don’t even pretend that all the things I do are based on a whole lot of thoughtful reasoning. I’m largely winging it. I regularly make compromises I didn’t anticipate making. I choose the easy route sometimes. I rarely cook anything from scratch. Whatever other people are doing is fine with me, as long as what I’m doing is fine with them. Live and let live. To each his own. It takes a village. Hakuna matata and kumbaya, and all that.
Except when it comes to one thing: vaccinations. Specifically, those who are against them. I won’t come right out and ask a new mom friend whether or not she vaccinates, but I deliberately ask leading questions that will clue me into whether there can be a second “date” or whether we’ll forever be “nodding in passing” acquaintances. I don’t care about your religion, your sexual orientation, your discipline philosophy, your views on abortion, whether or not you swear or drink or smoke too much or read books I don’t like or hate movies I love. Disagreement is not a friendship-killer, by any means. But this is a deal-breaker.
The original research that linked vaccinations to autism has long been debunked. The author has been exposed for having used unethical methods and his license to practice medicine in his native UK has been revoked. A litany of articles refuting his claims have been published. Public health initiatives have been launched to undo the damage. But the myth persists and worsens because fear is more motivating than reason, and because apparently people like Jenny McCarthy are more convincing than a gajillion medical doctors. Now, a sweeping new study has been released, definitively reassuring people that there is no link between vaccines and autism and that serious side effects are extremely rare. Again. But this time, with feeling.
I vaccinate my child. I vaccinate myself. I want her to be protected from the new and entirely unnecessary outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough which have seen resurgences due to the proliferation of the anti-vaccination movement, which is based mostly on fear-mongering and the willful ignorance of a maddening amount of scientific research. I just can’t be friends with a person who chooses to disregard the avalanche of evidence out there and put other kids at risk. Because it isn’t just about their own children being exposed, it’s about all the children who are too young or who are immunocompromised or otherwise medically unable to receive a full course of vaccinations against a host of potentially fatal illnesses. I hate the idea that my young daughter—or a genuinely, chronically ill child—could catch the measles sitting in our pediatrician’s waiting room because of someone else’s selfishness.
This issue drives me bonkers. I hate that we’re still talking about it, and that the conversation doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I think about the fact that my uncle was born profoundly deaf because my grandmother contracted Rubella while pregnant, and it seems insane that we would willingly turn back the clock to a time when our babies’ wellbeing was so vulnerable and precarious.
I hope that this big, mainstream, new study is the one that finally gets through. But maybe we’ll just have to wait for a B-list celebrity to speak out about her child’s struggle with whooping cough before any sea change can take place. Either way, I’m cautiously hopeful. And in the meantime, my sneaky mom-interviews continue.
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!