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When Your Extended Family Is Anti-Vaccine

When Your Family Is Anti-Vaxx

By Amalah

Amalah,

I LOVE your Advice Smackdowns and am reeeaaally hoping you can address my question!

My baby girl is due in just two weeks. Between our families, my husband and I have four nieces and nephews, all 3 years and younger. And it seems like at least one of them always has some sort of sickness (my sister’s two daughters tend to be the worst, I’ve caught bugs from them at least three times).

My sister and I have a close, great relationship. And she’s our nearest relative (an hour’s drive away). I LOVE my nieces and hope that they and my daughter will be best friends. But how do I limit contact while my baby’s so little? I want to tell my sister that the nieces can’t hold my baby yet, but my sister is VERY laid back and will probably think I’m insane if I set a rule like that. (Plus, her oldest is 3 and is so excited about meeting her baby cousin.)

Also, my husband and I are planning to vaccinate, while both of our families are very anti-vaxx, so I can see this becoming an ongoing issue. I’m just not sure where to start. How do I protect my baby without hurting any relationships?

Thanks!

Sometimes I do this (annoying) thing where I start writing in my head before I even finish reading the question. Because I’m so overly confident in my powers of deduction and ohhhhhh, I know where this is going and I’ll just queue up my default answer so I’ll be ready to just dive in and start typing right away and then…

/RECORD SCRATCH

The question suddenly veers in a completely new direction with a casual information-bomb dropped into the final paragraph.

That’s what happened with this one.

So, when it comes to colds and general germs and newborns, I’m a pretty laid back sort of person. Anyone who is actively sick should refrain from holding/kissing the baby, anyone just getting over something should wear a mask and wash their hands (with soap, not just hand sanitizer), everybody else needs to wash their hands, cover any accidental coughs/sneezes, etc. I never had any rule about my small children not being allowed to hold their baby brothers unless they fell into the “actively sick” category. Germs are part of life, exposure to bugs builds strong immune systems, I was always breastfeeding and passing along my own antibodies, I took them out in public places anyway, blah blah blah. Basically, I didn’t really sweat the whole common cold/run-of-the-mill virus thing too much. You’ll be fine! (OBVIOUSLY this advice does not apply to premature babies or newborns with underlying immunity/illness concerns. I’m only talking otherwise healthy and full-term newborns/infants here.)

THAT SAID.

If your older child is not vaccinated? Your child is not allowed near my unvaccinated newborn. Full stop. Non-negotiable.

A three-year-old with a gross runny nose? Whatever. That’s not a big deal. But an unvaccinated three-year-old who might have been exposed to the measles or whooping cough? That’s something to be fearful of. THAT’S something to kick a fuss up about, family relationships be damned. I will risk hurting someone’s feelings over that, because unfortunately, the consequences of the anti-vaxx movement are finally here and real and happening. Outbreaks are happening. Preventable diseases are coming back. And babies are dying because they’re too young for the vaccine and can no longer count on herd immunity to protect them in the meantime.

And since you mention BOTH of your families are anti-vaxx, well. Crap. That’s not much of a herd at all. The odds of exposure to something serious but preventable will be pointlessly higher, just by having all those unvaccinated nieces and nephews walk through your door.

I know this is (uncharacteristically…?) harsh for this column, but I have zero patience for anti-vaxx nonsense, I don’t want to scare you with a ton of links and YouTube videos, but unfortunately there are plenty of very scary, very sad stories out there as a result of this exact situation. An unvaccinated older child contracts whooping cough and survives, while someone else’s too-young-to-vaccinate newborn does not. Your families want to roll the dice with THEIR children’s health, fine. (No it’s not REALLY fine, but whatever.) They cannot force you and your vulnerable newborn to share that same risk. I know you love your family and this is a crappy, stressful situation to be in, but they’re the ones who made a dangerous, selfish choice.

Talk to your pediatrician ASAP — even if your baby isn’t here yet — and tell them your situation. Ask for advice. Talk to them about the vaccination schedule they follow and at what age your baby will be protected from the most dangerous diseases (and ones that are unfortunately making the strongest comeback). Find out what other precautions you should take around your family members.

You’re going to have to make some tough decisions and yes, have some very tough conversations. You can certainly be more polite/diplomatic than I’ve been here, but know that you are entirely justified to make whatever rule and build whatever buffer zone you need to protect your baby. They likely will think you’re crazy or overreacting. But when the herd in general starts making reckless decisions because of debunked science or a flawed view of how deadly serious things like measles/whooping cough/mumps/etc. can be to the most vulnerable people around them, well… It’s up to the rest of us to be the grown-ups who DO take this shit seriously.

Photo source: Depositphotos/muha04

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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