We’re coming off a year where, for many moms, just getting through the day was a goal. Keeping up with daily family to-dos that normally would go unremarked upon suddenly deserved a gold star — and if we didn’t keep up? Well, that called for giving ourselves some grace. And Gabrielle Union-Wade is proving to be #momgoals on both counts.
The actress, author, activist, and mom knows that it was a hard year for parents in general — and moms in particular — to keep every plate spinning, which is why her family decided to participate in a public health campaign called Don’t Skip, which is encouraging families to get back on track with well-visits and recommended vaccines for kids.
The numbers are sobering: It’s estimated that 9 million doses of recommended childhood vaccines were missed in 2020, and according to one survey, 40 percent of parents admit their kids missed vaccines due to COVID-19.
Union-Wade spoke with SheKnows about the campaign, prioritizing her family’s health, and what she let slide during the pandemic. Speaking with her even inspired me to prioritize scheduling my own well visit with my GP — and one for my spouse, as well. We’d kept up with our kids’ visits — but not our own. So thank you, Gabrielle!
SheKnows: Given the fear and uncertainty so many of us have lived with over this past year, what was the conversation like in your family about making sure you kept up with normal things like well visits and vaccine schedules?
Gabrielle Union-Wade: Well, during the last year-plus, unfortunately, we had a couple of medical emergencies, so we had to get over our fear of going to the doctor and what that meant. And if we can go in a time of crisis, we can for sure go in to stay on schedule. So we got comfortable by talking to our doctors, making sure that they were comfortable — that their staff and their offices were ready and prepared — and we got that level of confidence to stay on track throughout the pandemic.
With this series of PSAs, we’re really just talking to parents and families and reminding them to get back in the schedule of talking to your doctor, your children’s doctor, scheduling those well-visits if you missed them, and scheduling your doctor-recommended vaccinations. That’s how we’re making every decision in our house. Like, I’m not listening to whoever has the most followers; I’m talking to my doctor about what makes the most sense for me and my family.
SK: Is there a message you want to share with people who did skip visits or vaccines, who may be feeling guilty now that their child is behind? Or maybe they’re just feeling vaccine-hesitant, in general?
GUW: I would just say, it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to feel guilty. It’s okay to feel literally everything that you’re feeling. Today’s a new day. Just take that first step, which is just to reach out to your doctor and start opening up those lines of communication. And the more you talk, the more you build trust and the more you build trust, the more you build confidence with everything healthcare-related.
Coming out of a time of so much misinformation, sometimes it’s hard to know which way is up, but centering healthcare professionals and your doctors and letting them lead, that is what has worked for our family.
SK: What are some of the best sources of education you’ve used to help yourself feel informed about the vaccines your kids need?
GUW: Literally, I just talked to my doctor. We took a lot of time in finding our healthcare providers, especially, Dahveon and Zaya’s doctors. So I felt confident texting them throughout this pandemic [and saying], ‘What do you think? I know you know my health history, my children’s health history, what do you think is best for us at this time?’ And that’s what we went with.
It’s weird to say, ‘Lean into facts.’ But in this day and age, two plus two totally equals five for some folks, and I don’t know what to do about those particular people. But folks who believe in science, facts, figures, I would say, listen to your healthcare provider that is familiar with your health history and your children’s health history. The internet can be confusing and media can be confusing, but hopefully, your doctor can declutter a lot of that and put it in plain language to help it make sense to you.
SK: How do you and Dwyane have conversations about vaccines and preventative health with your family? Obviously, you have kids of varying ages who require varying levels of information…
GUW: We both come from families and [have] loved ones who rarely prioritized their health and ended up dying from things that are totally preventable. Ended up really suffering just because of a fear of going to the doctor, really suffering because they were afraid of a diagnosis. I watched my girlfriend die because she had deprioritized for her own health. I didn’t need anything to have to happen to me because I’ve watched it around me. So, from the time that we got together as a family, we have always centered our health and our wellness because we always looked at information as our power.
I can’t do anything without the information, and we can’t get the information without going to the doctor, taking full blood panels, not skipping out on our annual physicals and our mammograms, and everything else that’s recommended for our different ages. And we’ve just taken that through with the rest of our family. We don’t play around with anything. We are those people that are quick to text Kaav’s doctor, quick to text Zaya’s doctor, quick to text our own doctors to get that reassurance and that information. Because we’ve seen what can happen when you don’t.
SK: So it’s just a daily part of your family life?
GUW: Yeah. You have to completely normalize it. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, in your mind, let’s talk about it, let’s address it now. Whether it’s feelings bottling up or symptoms bottling up, let’s address them when they first arrive. So we want to make sure that our kids feel comfortable, whether something has gone wrong with their friends or with their heart or if any part of their body doesn’t feel right, let’s address it quickly.
SK: You joke in the PSA about letting Zaya skip making her bed. But seriously — what’s something you skipped this year that you really do feel good about?
GUW: We all had to skip some things to make life work during the pandemic. I skipped setting my alarm clock in the morning, doing some of my daily workouts, and putting on makeup, among other things. The problem is, a lot of families have also been skipping visits to their doctor, which has caused a big drop in recommended vaccinations, especially for children and preteens. Sadly, the long-term public health problems that come out of this drop could be major because so many children, preteens, and adults remain unvaccinated against a range of preventable diseases.
SK: We at SheKnows have been hugely inspired by your family’s acceptance and advocacy. What’s your advice for parents looking to be allies/accomplices and truly affirming to their LGBTQ+ kids?
GUW: We’ve learned a lot, but understand that there’s still so much we don’t know. Most parents think they need to have it all figured out, and the truth is, it’s okay if you don’t. The most important thing a parent can do is to be there for their child and support them in every aspect of life.
SK: Finally, congrats on Shady Baby! What’s it been like bringing that project into the world?
GUW: It’s been amazing. Inspired by our daughter, Kaavia, we wanted to create a children’s book that not only had a little Black girl as the main character but to also give the word “shady” a more positive association, using it as her superpower, moral compass, and inner strength. As a family, we also understand the platform that we have and the importance of doing right for our community. That’s why we get involved in various initiatives to help give back to our community, whether it’s LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, or our Don’t Skip public health campaign.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Before you go, check out our gallery on Cute & Stylish Kids Face Masks.