Given that pretty much all pregnant women are faced with at least some unsolicited advice and judgment, it makes total sense that being pregnant in the public eye can at times feel completely overwhelming. In an Instagram post Thursday, former reality star Kat Von D hit back at online critics who felt entitled to judge her pregnancy choices, and initially, her fans were totally supportive. But while listing the things she intends to do as a parent, Kat Von D said she won't vaccinate her baby, and while Von D's rep did not immediately return Romper's request for comment, an awful lot of former fans are now very unhappy with her decision
In her post, the first-time mom-to-be shared a photo of her growing belly, and wrote about the "backlash and criticism" she and husband Leafer Seyer were getting as a result of "[being] open about [their] personal approach to ... pregnancy." Von D wrote that in addition to being an "openly pregnant vegan on Instagram," she was planning to "[have] a natural, drug-free home birth in water with a midwife and doula," and that she "has the intention of raising a vegan child."
And honestly? Although all of those options might seem a bit unorthodox to some people, Von D's followers did seem to mostly agree that she has the right to deliver and feed her child as she so chooses. But when she also noted that she planned to forego vaccinations, things really began to unravel.
Von D made it clear in her Instagram post that she had no time for anyone's criticism or opinions, and urged those who disagreed with anything she was posting on social media to just go ahead and unfollow her. The makeup mogul also wrote that she was already more than comfortable making "life choices that are not the same as the majority," and said she felt her opinions were based upon "actual research and educating [herself]," which made her confident she was doing what she thought was right.
In general, that all sounds fantastic, and even straight-up empowering — after all, no mom should have to endure backlash over things that are nobody else's business (as long as your child is safe, who am I to comment on whether you want to give birth in water?). But the problem, of course, is that Von D's post suggests not vaccinating your child is just as personal and individual a decision as choosing a midwife over an OB. And as many noted on social media in response, well, that just isn't the case.
For one, while a couple's decision to have a home birth or eliminate animal products from their family's diet has absolutely no bearing on anyone else's life, vaccination is a choice that literally affects everyone. Not only does the medical community overwhelming endorse vaccination as the best way to protect the population from preventable and potentially deadly diseases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is also no credible evidence suggesting that vaccination is unsafe for anyone who doesn't already have a contraindication. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's website, Vaccines.gov, notes that not only are vaccines rigorously tested for years before they even become available, they are continually monitored by a national system that is "one of the most advanced ... in the world for tracking vaccine safety."
In other words, it's hard to imagine how Von D could have found legitimate research proving that the risk of vaccination would outweigh the benefit — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most likely side effect of immunization that parents can expect by far is localized soreness or redness (aka your child's arm might hurt because they just got a shot). And while there is a low risk that some children will develop a rash or a fever, which would be unpleasant, the effects of catching the disease itself by going unvaccinated are definitely much more severe (and can even be fatal), as the CDC notes.
Even if we were to give Von D the benefit of the doubt here though, and assume that her baby won't actually get the measles or mumps or whooping cough or chicken pox (all preventable diseases that both children and adults are still totally at risk for, thanks to insufficient immunization rates), the reality is that other people's children would still be at risk because of her decision.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, infants require the protection of herd immunity (that is, when enough people are vaccinated against a disease that those who can't be vaccinated are safe) until they are old enough to be vaccinated themselves, and without herd immunity, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals (such as cancer patients, or those battling HIV or AIDS, or similar diseases) are also at risk. In other words, when you get vaccinated, you are protecting everyone. And when you don't, you're potentially putting everyone in danger.
Honestly, as much as social media can be pretty brutal, Kat Von D would likely be hard pressed to find a mom who doesn't agree that the world would be a much better place if people just minded their own business and stopped holding women to such high expectations when it comes to motherhood. There are an infinite number of ways to be a good mom, after all, and the more women are encouraged and supported instead of criticized, the better.
But when it comes to issues like vaccination, treating it as though it should be a personal choice is dangerous, and leaves people vulnerable. So as much as her fans will likely totally root for her as she strives for an unmedicated water birth, unless she's able to consider all the implications of her anti-vaxx position, it seems unlikely that they'll be willing to let this incredibly important debate go.