Perhaps the best antidote to misinformation isn’t better information
Seeds of distrust are easy to sow, particularly in seasons of isolation, vulnerability, or exhaustion.
My oldest son was born healthy and squalling, eight and a half pounds of solid Midwestern stock. He loved me, hated sleep, and detested bottles, so we quickly melded into a single, milk-soaked organism. When the pediatrician noticed my boy’s little twig legs at our one-month checkup, he gently told me to increase nursing sessions if I could.
“But he already eats every two hours,” I said.
“That’s good,” he said.
“All night,” I said.
“It will only be for a few months,” he said.
Somewhere in my delirium of fatigue and dread—I’d be back to full-time work in a fortnight, exchanging cuddles for a pump that made me feel more bovine than beatific—I fell into an adrenaline trap. Even when my son did sleep a slightly longer stretch, I’d awaken with a jolt, my circadian rhythms shot all to hell.
During one of these 3:00 a.m. insomnia sessions, my ear tuned for the next imminent wail of hunger, I began to fantasize about starting him on solid foods. Rice cereal and avocado could bring salvation if I could just survive until that four-month mark.
The glow of Google offered all sorts of advice on ratios of breast milk to cereal, preferred brands, the importance of organics.
Rice cereal is going to save me, I thought. Praise Jesus for rice cereal. I called our pediatrician, who advised starting it at four to six months. I talked to my sister—mother of two—and my mom—mother of three. I spoke with a nanny friend who’d been rocking babies for two decades. “Rice cereal,” they said. “Rice cereal.”
But sleep deprivation had fried my nerves, and I was still nervous. So I began to research the cons of starting solids at four months of age, which is where I came across a blog on infant nutrition.
DO NOT FEED YOUR BABY RICE CEREAL, the author exclaimed. IT WILL ROT IN THEIR GUT AND CAUSE UNLIMITED PROBLEMS. The blogger had no credentials outside her own experience with a single baby. She wasn’t a pediatrician, a nutritionist, or even an academic. But she KNEW THINGS. Things no one else seemed willing to tell me.
Rather than rice cereal, I should find an organic, farm-fresh egg and soft boil it, feeding my infant son a runny yolk.
I know. I know, I know, I know.
But here’s the thing: fear and exhaustion are a powerful elixir, and when taken together they can move us from “I’d never” to “Well, maybe . . .”
Maybe rice cereal was being pushed by Big Pharma to give babies all sorts of medical problems later in life. Perhaps my pediatrician didn’t have my son’s best interest at heart. Wasn’t protein better than empty carbs? Wasn’t farm-fresh better than store-bought?
When my underweight, sleep-striking son turned four months old, I strapped him into his car seat and drove us to a local farm where I purchased a dozen beautiful eggs—brown and grey and light green. I took them home, washed them up, and soft boiled one.
Then I fed it to my son.
I know. I know, I know, I know.
A couple of hours later, he began to cry, a hiccupy, colicky cry. He turned cold and clammy. He began to sweat. I wrapped him in a swaddle and rocked him through the night, my tears mingling with his own, my regret profound and total.
I fed my infant son an undercooked egg. Every menu in the country features a disclaimer about eating meat and seafood and eggs that haven't been brought to the correct temperature. I loved and trusted my pediatrician, my family, my nanny friend. I have two master’s degrees. I spent years teaching research at the college level.
But seeds of distrust are easy to sow, particularly in seasons of isolation, vulnerability, or exhaustion. When I headed down the rabbit hole of questionable information, simple facts—or experts—weren’t enough to bring me back.
The next day dawned and my son rallied. There would be no hospital visit for us, no tearful confession of my trust of a random blogger over the knowledge of experts. I purchased rice cereal and confessed my sins to my husband, who listened, rubbed my back, and asked for us to make these decisions together until I was sleeping better.
“I see you reaching your end, and I’d like to help. I love you. I’m here.”
Perhaps the best antidote to misinformation isn’t better information, but asking whether we are making our decisions based on private feelings of uncertainty, distrust, paranoia. Sunlight is a wonderful antiseptic. Had I brought my husband in on the egg debacle, he would have gently questioned the idea. If I’d phoned the pediatrician, he wouldn’t have hesitated in addressing my concern.
But my story was as old as the garden: I was afraid, and so I hid.
Quiet, private, unspoken fear can fester. Making decisions in a vacuum can backfire. Sitting alone in our distress was never God’s intent.
Excited as I was to get my Covid vaccine, to cross a finish line of sorts after a year of anxiety and grief, there was still a flicker of doubt. What if . . . what about . . . Is it possible . . .?
So I brought it into the light. Spoke that fear to a doctor, to my husband, to friends who’d already gotten their jabs. And slowly the dark shroud of uncertainty lifted, replaced by a community of people who loved me, stood with me, listened to me. Replaced by light.
Cover image by Tanaphong Toochinda.