Stephanie Laudone is a sociologist and professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College-CUNY. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in sociology from Fordham University and a B.S. in psychology from Eastern Connecticut State University.
Marisa Tramontano is a mother, community organizer, and sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from CUNY Graduate Center with a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as a masters degree in Global Affairs from New York University.
Childhood vaccinations have become the subject of much debate, moving a formerly local and familial conversation beyond the family doctor to the realm of national discourse, involving the medical establishment, politics and popular culture. In this paper, we argue that an exploration of vaccine choice offers crucial insights into both cultural expectations of contemporary motherhood and its place in the larger sociocultural milieu. We suggest, based upon digital observations of national natural parenting pages, local general parenting groups based in New York City, and two groups specifically for parents whose children followed an alternative vaccine schedule (or none at all), some choices not to vaccinate are a manifestation of increasing distrust of western medical systems in pregnancy, birth and childrearing. As mothers struggle to reclaim the lifeworld space of the family from the medical system (Habermas, 1984), through naturalness and an emphasis on intuition and individual choice, exacerbated by the social media echo chamber, they are simultaneously co-constructing and being influenced by a historically and culturally contingent construction of “the good mother.” Today the good mother is a natural mother who engages in intensive mothering. Taken together, ideologies of natural intensive mothering, social media discourse, and a rejection of blind trust in expert systems contribute to the choice to refuse or delay vaccinations.