White mother holding her son, who has cystic fibrosis, while both wear face masks; yellow starburst behind them

Cystic Fibrosis and Masks

I was recently scrolling through Instagram and a post caught my eye. It was made by someone with thousands of followers and said something to the effect of how sad it was for her to see stores selling masks for babies and little kids with cartoon characters printed on them. She feared masks will leave some sort of traumatic mark on kids. While some of the comments on the post disagreed with her sentiment, most of the respondents agreed.

I found this post to be extremely triggering to me as a CF mom. I’m not really one to comment on Instagram, particularly on larger accounts where my voice is just one of thousands of others, but I felt inclined to say something and then to create a longer post on my own account.

Mask wearing is a CFers reality

In a nutshell, this is what I said: For kids with additional medical needs like cystic fibrosis, wearing a mask is a part of their lives. They wear them during flu season in busy public places. They wear them to the doctor’s office and on airplanes. These masks keep them safe from germs, just like washing their hands.

As a parent to a young child with cystic fibrosis, I have encouraged mask-wearing in high-risk areas since my daughter was about one year old. I took the time to explain why we need to wear one and what it protects against. My husband and I would wear one with her, and we’d provide one for her stuffed animals.

Masks are a safety tool

Yes, it took time and practice. She fiddled with it, she took it off, she played peek-a-boo with it. But slowly, she began to understand and comply. Today she is three and can tell you that it protects against “the germs.” She wears a mask to daycare every day and gets to play with her friends, who are also masked.

In my comment and on my post, I added that my daughter, and others who have compromised immune systems and are more vulnerable than the average person, will be wearing masks long after COVID-19 is finished. I said I wished they would gain perspective on what is “sad.”

What I didn’t say is how sharply this post hit me as a CF mom. That what I perceive as a helpful tool to protect my daughter, someone else considers sad and traumatic.

Normalizing masks

I don’t know if others saw my comment or if it made the slightest difference in the broader conversation, but I received positive feedback on my own post. Other CF parents saw what I wrote and echoed my frustration. It seems like I’m not the only one who has heard similar comments throughout the last eight months.

In my experience, wearing a mask is not traumatic for children unless they are told it is. For a child to perceive it as anything but precautionary is because their parents have pushed their own fears and feelings onto the children. This is especially important for parents of children with disease, disabilities, or other additional medical needs not to do.

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