When your baby is subject to negative comments online
A month or so ago I did a little Instagram campaign for Petits Filous where I had to take a photograph of Rohan eating their new yoghurt and hashtag it to be part of it. I got paid a small amount for doing so, and thought that was it. I don't really do too many paid ads especially on Instagram but was happy to do so. I was happy with the photo. But at the end of last week and over the weekend I've been alerted several times that Rohan's photo had popped up on many people's Facebook feeds as an advert for Petits Filous. I hadn't been made aware that this was going to happen by the company prior to it going live, but since they technically own the rights to it, they are allowed to use it across their social media. I don't actually have a problem with this, as one it's in the small print and two, I like that they have chosen a "real" approach to their campaign rather than a shoot with baby models. The fact that they chose Rohan's photo who doesn't particularly look like your stereotypical model child is also a good thing in my eyes.
My problem is the comments. Now I know all about the "below the line" comments on facebook and I know that they are usually not worth the time to even read, but call me naive, but I in no way ever dreamed that people would have anything negative to say about my baby. Granted a lot of the comments are people jumping on a "they're full of sugar" bandwagon without actually knowing facts, or viewing yoghurts in a everything in moderation stance. But I read on until I found a comment that made my heart stop and my skin prick. And it wasn't the only one.
"He looks unwell"
"He looks allergic"
"Is it me or does he look sad"
"He looks so upset and like he's been forced to eat the yoghurt"
"Why have they forced and distressed him to eat a yoghurt for an ad"
Ah. There are so many things I wanted to say. I replied to one comment and then I stopped myself. I could go and reply to every single comment but would these people even listen? I stayed awake most of the night thinking and going over what I would say to each of these comments, trying to make sense of it all. But I do think I need to address some of the comments here.
Firstly, yes, he was unwell. He is quite often unwell with a cold or runny nose and that all has to do with his genetic condition. Believe me I am aware that my child is unwell. His condition also affects his eyes which mean they are often sticky or wet, especially when he has a cold. If I feel he is suffering more than usual I take him to the doctors, because as I have mentioned recently on my instagram he has been pretty poorly with this most recent cold and he is at a higher risk of catching a chest infection which can be very serious with a child with a heart and respiratory conditions. I am the first to know and react to protect my baby when something is not right. So yes he is unwell, unwell with a cold and in general he is not a 100% healthy baby, something which we have been dealing with since before he was born, and battling every day with all our might to try and make his life comfortable and enjoyable. If you want to know more about what is 'wrong' with Rohan then taking the time to read about him and his genetic condition would be a good place to start.
Whilst I appreciate that many of the comments about him looking like he has a cows milk allergy come from a place of concern or experience, perhaps they weren't put in the most understanding or sensitive way. If my child had a CMPA and I knew about it, then why would I be feeding this to my child? Rohan has been seeing a dietician since he was born, and every gram of food or milk that we feed him is monitored. When we last saw his new dietician a few weeks ago I had to list everything that he regularly eats, which includes the occasional yoghurt. Now Rohan is on a high calorie diet and she encouraged me to add butter, cream, cheese, chocolate and even sugar to his meals in hope that he gains weight. Obviously this is not the normal advice, but his diet is very closely monitored and there is in no way that I would be feeding him something if I knew it would be harming him, much less to then photograph it and put it online. He see's various other healthcare professionals regularly and no one has ever been concerned that he may have a milk allergy. In regards to his eczema, I suffered from it myself as a baby and still do, so it may well have been passed on from me. He also has to wear an oxygen cannula every night which is secured in place by tape across his cheeks which probably irritates his skin (I'd much rather have him a little rash than you know, stop breathing, so it's a side effect worth putting up with.) It's not there all the time and comes and goes according to how well he is feeling too. He's not distressed by it any way.
To the fact that I was forcing him to eat the yoghurt. This is just ludicrous. Why would I force my baby to eat something he doesn't want, and then take a photograph of it? If he doesn't want something he tells and shows, and then I stop. Honestly do people even believe the crap they write sometimes? As regular followers of this blog or my instagram will know Rohan's feeding journey has been a huge battle for us, one which I feel we have done so well with and I was actually very proud of this moment captured. He was NG tube fed for the first six months or so of his life, we started weaning a little later to give him a good chance to be able to do it. We worked so hard to get him to take milk orally and we eventually did it. To know that he wasn't really expected to be able to feed 100% orally but we managed it is a huge huge victory for us. He took to weaning really well too, and whilst he doesn't really manage proper solid food yet, the fact that again he takes all his food orally is massive to us. He also manages to feed himself with the spoon, and really enjoys it. I'm proud of him and I'm proud of us for working so hard. So for someone to say he looks sad and not enjoying the food is a massive hit for me. I dare anyone to try and take a photo of someone eating and look spontaneously happy about it, and see the results. I always try and capture my children naturally without forcing them or telling them how they should look (not that you can tell a baby how they should look!) If Rohan was in any way upset or not enjoying his yoghurt or me taking the photograph then why on earth anyone would think I would just carry on anyway is beyond me. No he wasn't forced to eat it, he was enjoying it. No he hadn't been crying and I hadn't ignored him being upset. No I didn't distress him for the advertisement campaign. He was happy and in no way protested either the yoghurt or the photographs being taken.
That is also another point, anyone who knows Rohan or has spent more than two minutes in his company will know that he is anything but a sad child. In fact the one comment above all that we receive is that he is so happy. He is calm and content and will always give people a true and happy smile. I have so many photographs of him looking happy, and maybe this photograph doesn't show him beaming, but he was happy. This photograph captured his face in about 1/100th of a second, it doesn't capture all of his character, or even his general mood at that time. To me he doesn't look sad or upset (I do believe it or not I know how he looks when he's upset, and it's not like this!) he just looks like he's looking at me and intrigued by the camera, which he often is.
But the real point is, is that I shouldn't having to be even defending these points. Yes I share my children's life online but I never thought that this meant it opened them up to be discussed, criticised or told by people who have no idea of our story or situation that they look or feel a certain way. I have never encountered it before, and I'm not shy of sharing "real life" moments. My feed or blog certainly isn't full of posed, curated whimsical photographs of my children (not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's your thing) it is just of them growing up and our telling our story alongside it. Perhaps that's why I've never had anything negative before, because my pictures are always posted from me, their mother, alongside our story to a community who has followed along for a reason.
Rohan's little face has never been put out there before out of context, without my name along side it, for the whole world to have an opinion on. That's what upset me. The fact that people are so quick to judge, to criticise and comment on a picture of a baby. A baby for goodness sake. To say he looks sad is a direct comment on my parenting. To say he looks unwell is a direct comment on the fact they think I'm doing a bad job. Except they're not saying it to me directly. They are saying it in an open forum where perhaps they think I wouldn't read it. I know for a fact that if I was feeding this yoghurt to Rohan in a cafe, and he had his eczema on his face, a snotty nose and slightly watery eyes that no one would come up to me face to face and say "Excuse me, but I think your child has an allergy to cows milk." Or "Excuse me but your child looks upset and it looks as though you're forcing him to eat that yoghurt that he clearly doesn't want". Or "Excuse me but your child looks unwell and you're doing a terrible job as a mother and you don't know anything about how to raise your child or what's best for him, but I do, a perfect stranger viewing your life for a minute or so".
But somehow this is ok online? No my name wasn't attached to the picture, but it's a baby and that would surely mean that somewhere his mother/father/carer/family member would be aware of this photograph or adverts existence, and would therefore read the comments. Yes some people were trying to help, but was the picture asking for help? Was I posting it asking for a comment on whether it looks as though he has an allergy, and that I was concerned? Was I asking for an opinion on whether he looks happy feeding himself a yoghurt? No I was not. The photo was taken to show my child enjoying, yes ENJOYING, this yoghurt. He was, so I took the photo. I submitted it, they used it in their advert. That is all. No advice needed or asked for.
Is this what is to be expected though, my punishment for sharing my children's lives online? Am I supposed to just shrug and accept that people can say what they want in totally insensitive, judgemental and wholly unhelpful ways? Am I supposed to grow a thick skin, to not feel sick that my child is being discussed in such a way. I am a mother, my main and most important instinct is to protect and that is what I felt. To protect from these people with nothing better to do with their time than hang out on a yoghurt companies facebook page commenting on a little's babies face and trying to justify themselves in the process. The ones who think they're helping but really know nothing and are hiding behind their protective phone or computer screens. What is wrong with people?
Since our journey with Rohan began, before he was even born I used the internet and my small following as a place to go to for support. It became therapeutic to share my thoughts, worries and fears and updates of our journey too. In that time I've been contacted by various people who are following a similar journey and I know it helps us all to share. It's a place where I feel I can speak my thoughts honestly and a place to work through my emotions. If I need advice or help then I ask for it, for me it's the same in real life.
So to those who are concerned about the wellbeing, happiness and whether he has an allergy to dairy, I hope this has cleared things up a little. And to those people may I share with you a little advice before you go and comment on another baby's natural picture (or anyone else's for that matter) :
T - True
H - Helpful
I - Inspiring
N - Necessary
K - Kind
Hopefully with this in mind it may eliminate some of those comments that yes, do actually hurt when you read them. Remind yourselves, and your children of this and hopefully the internet can be a slightly (I'm not holding much hope because man, the internet is a mean place sometimes) kinder place to be.
Edit: I just wanted to say a huge heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you that has commented in our defence, to try and highlight some of the reasons and give context to this picture. For all those who can see Rohan's beauty through his snotty nose and rashy face and to Petit Filous for choosing to show a real baby, whatever else he may have going on, doing a normal baby thing. Eating a yoghurt. That's it.