Co-sleeping, Vaccines, Circumcision, Formula…and every other Mom Shame.

Back in those glorious pre-baby days I thought I knew a lot about kids. I worked as a pediatric nurse. I was asked parenting advice almost daily in my job. I listened to other nurses I worked with who were moms and I learned and I gave the best advice I could at the time.

I certainly recall having some of my own thoughts about parenting though. Including being sort of judgmental about co-sleeping families, very judgmental about families who were anti-vaccines, and having zero opinion about breastfeeding other than I didn’t need to see it happening as frequently as I did working in pediatrics.

I joined a few mom groups on Facebook after I had the boys. I had a lot of time sitting on the couch or bed with two babies breastfeeding and then sleeping on me. I spent a lot of time on my phone. They also didn’t sleep, ever, other than on us, so I was looking for some magical answer online for this horrible period of time with no sleep and aching nipples. What I found were sometimes caustic and judgmental mom’s/women who would literally tear each other down for asking a simple question about whether they should co-sleep or which formula to use or when to give baby cereal or should I do a delayed vaccination schedule…etc. I quickly exited these horrible spaces. I have to say the only group where I didn’t get disgusted by drama was a lesbian mom’s group that I am still a member of.

Somewhere in my sleep deprived brain I thought, women have been doing this Mom thing with less than my wife and I have for centuries. We got this.

That’s not to say I didn’t want support. I did. But I got it from my friends and family who were not going to judge our decisions. And sure enough we have two healthy and happy two years who could give two flying fucks about when we started them on cereals and if it was rice or oatmeal.

So here’s what I learned.

Co-sleeping- didn’t work for us. Works for some people. If we had one baby it may have worked. But two was too many. They also LOVED to nurse. If my boobs were around they wanted to be on them. Being in my own bed was sometimes the only break I got from nursing in those first eighteen weeks. I’ve had some clients over time ask me abashedly about their child usually between ages 5-10 who is still co-sleeping. They can barely make eye contact as they wait for me to pass judgement. I ask three questions- Are you sleeping? Is your kid sleeping? Is it affecting your marriage? If the answers are yes, yes, and no, then I smile and say carry on. Then they worry that their kid is too old to be co-sleeping, and I’ve come to reply “Do you hear of any twenty year olds who still co-sleep?” They usually laugh. “No you don’t. Look it’s your bed, if you’re ready to make the transition the start working toward it. If not, just do what’s best for your family.” They all visibly relax. Who am I to tell someone how to be attached to their kid? Who are we as a society to tell a family how to create warmth and an emotionally secure attachment between parent and child?

Next topic. Vaccines. I’m not going to get into a debate on here. Your body, your decisions. I’m going to talk about one vaccine in particular. Tdap. Also known as Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis. Most of the vaccinations sound like something foreign and distant because we haven’t seen them in my generation. Perhaps chickenpox will be like that for my kids (because of the vaccine for it…). But I’ve seen pertussis up close and personal and it’s not pretty. I’ve never seen measles, mumps, rubella, (probably because of the vaccine) I have seen patients with hepatitis and meningitis and pertussis. All three of these illnesses are ones that I would literally do anything to have my child avoid.

Here’s the story- I worked in the pediatric emergency department for roughly 6-7 years. In that time I took care of maybe 5 babies under the age of 12 weeks who ended up with a positive pertussis. One died. Now that’s not a lot. But I can tell you I wouldn’t want to be the mom of that one. Because the illness and the death is horrendous.

The coughing, the tiring out, the skin color, the suffering. It’s a horrible illness to witness. I have memories of caring for babies with it for only 3-5 hours who were then admitted. I can’t imagine being parent to a child with pertussis and watching them suffer for days, and potentially die. I got a TdAP shot when I was pregnant, even though I was up to date on it, and I did not let anyone in my home while the boys were under 12 weeks if they had not been vaccinated. Yes I was that crazy mom. But it’s because I literally saw a baby die from it. The risk is very real to me and I would never wish it on anyone. So yes, live and let live, and if you don’t “believe” in vaccines fine, whatever. But know the vaccinations are protecting us from real and deadly illnesses- well I’ll vouch for the Tdap vaccine at the very least. My last side note about this is that most private colleges will not admit kids without a full vaccination history. I went to Yale for my masters and they said either provide proof or don’t come. So eventually, if your kid wants to go to a private college, they may end up needing them down the road anyway because with a private university there is no religious waiver.

Circumcision- ugh. So tough. Permanently altering a child’s body. Again this is a personal decision and one we made based off my wife’s and my background in healthcare and bad cases we had witnessed. That’s all I’m going to say about it because I don’t feel strongly one way or the other.

Formula- it’s not going to kill your baby if you can’t breastfeed. Let go of the mom shame and the mom guilt and if you don’t want to breastfeed or you just can’t physically do it, just give them formula. Seriously. I did breastfeed twins for a year and honestly my first year would have been much happier and less stressful if I hadn’t.

These are all hot button issues. I feel very strongly since becoming a mom that I DO NOT have the “right” answers. But I have the answers that worked for my family which may not work for other families. I think my biggest issue would be with anti-vaxxer’s if they haven’t given their kid the Tdap. But otherwise do what’s right for you. Don’t let anyone shame you into a decision that doesn’t feel right for you. Struggling with these decisions is not a bad thing, it means you care about your kids and you want to do what’s best. I would suggest all Mom’s just keep your mouths shut about your decisions in these areas because if you say what you are going to do you are going to hear about a hundred differences of opinions and some of them will be shaming and judgmental. That shouldn’t be the way but it is right now. Instead seek out your own tribe of non-judgmental women. They exist, I promise, but you may not find them on Facebook. Go to Mom support groups in your community, don’t isolate yourself, and know that being a Mom is hard but if you are reading this and remembering or experiencing the struggle of difficult life or medical decisions for your child then you are doing the right thing. Decisions for our children shouldn’t be made lightly or without serious thought. But once made, they also shouldn’t be shamed by others for not being the decisions they would have made.