parenting styles

In The Story Of Vegan Mom Who Lost Custody, Everybody Is An A-Hole

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This is one of those stories where nobody knows what is really going on because everyone is too wrapped up in their own feelings to be straight about the facts. It involves a mother and her newborn, veganism, religion, and child neglect. In other words, this story is a perfect storm of judgment, ignorance, and bad information. Let’s dive in, shall we?

veganBack in June, Sarah Markham took her twelve-day-old baby to a doctor’s appointment. Her doctor found that the newborn had lost 10% of his body weight since he was born. Markham, who had been breastfeeding, was told to take her child to the hospital immediately after the appointment, and that they would have a bed ready to treat her son. Here is where things get screwy. Markham, who is a vegan, did not take her son to the hospital, but instead went to Whole Foods and bought soy formula. Her plan was to try supplementing her breast milk with the formula and see if that worked before taking her baby in to receive formula made with cow’s milk. She is also a Seventh Day Adventist and prefers holistic treatments.

When Markham didn’t arrive at the hospital, police and CPS staff were sent to her home. She refused to open the door. After an hour of trying to talk to her, they forced their way in, arrested Markham, and charged her with child neglect. CPS took her son, and she now sees him once or twice a week in supervised meetings. She is fighting to regain custody and has a hearing today.

Naturally, the internet is all in a tiffy about this. Most of the criticisms sound something like this, taken from local station WFTV’s Facebook page:

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Great. Thanks for helping. You can also see the prevailing attitude about holistic medicine in this report from another Orlando station where the reporter uses air quotes when talking about the “natural” doctor Markham went to for a second opinion. Come on, folks. We aren’t talking about what Gina wore to prom, here. Let’s be grown ups.

Let’s start by assuming that Markham wasn’t being neglectful and refusing her son needed care. The trigger words “vegan” and “holistic” are all many people seem to need to demonize this woman and call her neglectful. I’m not vegan or a believer in holistic medicine (give me a steak and all the vaccines), but that also isn’t my house or my baby. Every parent makes choices for their kids based on their personal preferences and beliefs, whether or not they make any sense to other people. It’s easy to judge people whose choices are in the minority, but it’s no one’s business as long as no one is getting hurt. And THAT is where there may be a cause for concern here.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s normal for newborns to lose 7-10% of their body weight in the first week or so after birth, and most regain that weight by day ten. Going by those parameters, Markham’s baby was at the high end of normal but should have been regaining some weight by day twelve, when she saw the doctor. What none of us know except for the people directly involved is, how badly off was her baby at that point? The fact that the doctor told her to go straight to the hospital makes it sound like he was not doing well at all. The fact that the police and CPS were called leads me to believe that the child’s life was in danger. Given all of that, that woman should have gotten that baby to the ER pronto quicktime I mean right now.

Is it possible that the doctor made the assumption that Markham wasn’t going to make the changes needed to help her baby? Did he or she believe that, for this mom, her commitment to her veganism outweighed her commitment to her child’s health? I suppose that’s possible because they are crazy people out there (e.g. those who want to cure their child’s cancer with prayer), but I hope that was not the case here. My hope is that she was an overwhelmed new mom who was doing the very best she could for her baby while also honoring her deeply-held beliefs. I don’t think that the fact that she wanted to try supplementing with formula first was a bad idea at all, unless the baby was already past the point where it was okay to “try” anything else. In which case, she needed to get over herself for a hot minute and take care of that baby.

The bottom line is, we don’t know Sarah Markham or what happened in that doctor’s office. It’s easy in a society where we praise the selfless martyred mother to judge someone who made a decision for her baby that was in line with what she wanted, and not the norm. However, if what she did was put her baby’s life at risk for a lifestyle choice, then she is out of her mind. The good news is that her son is now healthy and Markham has complied with all of the court’s requests (mental health evaluations, drug tests, etc.). If the court chooses to keep the boy from his mother, my guess is that it won’t be about her veganism, but about her ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of her son.

(Photo: Twitter)