My Mom Group Turned On Me After I Vaccinated My Kid

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When I think back on the early days of parenting, I remember sitting in the dark with my newborn while she nursed for what seemed like hours as I scrolled through my phone, connecting with online mom friends who were also up in the wee hours. Finding my way into several online communities of moms was a lifesaver for me when I was a new parent. I had a space to ask questions and share cute pictures of the baby and to not feel quite so lonely and overwhelmed. At their best, online mom communities are an amazing source of support, advice, and friendship. But what happens when a community turns against one of their own?

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Gina E. from Chicago, Illinois, knows the answer to that question all too well. She shared her story with me and it is something every mom online needs to read:

It took a long time for me to get pregnant. I actually had several miscarriages before my rainbow baby was born. We were so excited to have our son and I was determined to do everything right, you know? Even before our baby was born, I knew that we were going to do everything organic, do the extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping things, and just be really intentional about the choices we made. I joined an online group that was into the more natural approach to parenting and loved it.

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Pretty much all of the people in the group were strongly anti-vaccines. Before I got pregnant, I hadn't thought that much about vaccines –- other than remembering hating to get shots when I was a kid! But after months of being in this group, I was convinced that they were right: Vaccines weren't natural, they could hurt my baby, all of that stuff. The group was super passionate about this. We were warriors for our babies. People who did vaccinate were "idiots" or "sheep" or just didn't want the best for their baby. Did I want to be a warrior for my baby, the one that I had after so many losses? Hell yeah I did.

Sometimes this group could get intense. Lots of Twitter fights and leaving long comments on the blogs of moms who spoke about the benefits of vaccinating. And when a newbie to the group mentioned anything about thinking of having her kid vaccinated, watch out. There would be a total pile on. The thing is that when you are on the "right" side of those pile ons, it seems so logical. Like, "Yeah, she's wrong! We'll tell her!"

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I had been an active part of the group for over two years when everything changed. I got a call from my sister, who told me that my nephew, then 5 years old, had been diagnosed with leukemia. We were all devastated. I told her that I was going to come stay with her and help, but I was stunned when she said she couldn't let me do that if I was going to bring my son -- because he wasn't vaccinated. 

I was SO hurt at first. But then her son's doctor called me and explained that his treatments would basically kill his immune system and that if my child caught something like mumps or measles, he could basically kill my nephew. The odds were so small that would happen, of course, but there was a chance. 

My husband and I talked about it and we talked to our doctor and our pediatrician and all of them agreed that my son needed to get vaccinated if he was going to be near my nephew at all. So we started an immunization schedule for him. 

At first I was almost ashamed of myself for backing down from my principles. I had a lot of guilt about it, actually. I was struggling with it, so I told one of my online friends about it, in confidence. 

Or so I thought.

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The next day, my inbox was flooded with horrible messages. I had been outed as a vaxxer. I was a "traitor" and an "idiot." The worst ones told me that they hoped my son died or got autism so I'd "learn my lesson." Years' worth of friendships disappeared in a day. I tried to explain my position but that just made things worse. I canceled my account with that site and still got mean messages for over a year from people whom I thought cared about me. One friend confided that she was vaccinating her child too but didn't want to say anything. On the forum, she liked the post that called me out, so she clearly wasn't going to stand up for me. I even had someone call my phone and yell a hateful word at me before hanging up. I had made a few IRL friends through the group and they didn't defend me at all. I cried a lot in those days. 

I ended up locking my Twitter account, unfriending over 100 people on my Facebook page, and basically going dark on social media for over a year. I didn't start going back on until I was sure that I wouldn't open my computer and see something hateful. 

On the bright side, my nephew is doing great and I've educated myself enough to realize that I made the right decisions. Vaccines are safe. Other moms on the other hand -- well, let's just say I'm very gun-shy about getting too involved in any mom groups. The mob mentality is real and when it turns on you, it is awful.

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