There’s a new Gerber baby and some parents are crazy

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Kelsey O’Hagan first heard about the Gerber photo search from a nurse during a doctor’s appointment for her 12-month-old son, Everett.

“She said, ‘Oh my god, you have to submit him, he’s so cute, he’s got such a good personality and you could win $25,000,'” said Ms O’Hagan, a 30-year-old resident. -stay-at-home mom from Methuen, Mass. As part of the application process to be the baby food company’s new “spokesperson,” she sent in a photo and video of Everett, taken in April.

“I knew he wasn’t going to win – not because I don’t believe in him, but I just felt like it was impossible,” she said.

His instinct was correct. May 4, Gerber announcement the winner of her 12th annual Gerber photo search: Isa Slish, an 8-month-old beauty with light blue eyes, long lashes and a charming smile.

On the show “Today”Isa, who was born without a femur or fibula in her right leg, a condition known as congenital limb difference, delighted the hosts while her mother, Melissa, said the money would be ‘set aside’ for her daughter’s surgeries .

Isa has prevailed over more than 225,000 entries submitted since Gerber announced the competition a month earlier on April 4.

Perhaps it was the speed of the announcement (previous competitions have lasted two to five months) or the fact that many of this year’s cohort of eligible “babies” – a term used loosely – are born into a world shaped by Covid-19, but this year’s announcement prompted more than a few grumbles online. It happens a lot, but this year the response on social media like Instagram has been much sharper than usual.

The original Gerber baby, a 94-year-old charcoal drawing of Ann Turner Cook, who died Friday at 95, carries a certain cachet in the parenting world, but the current Gerber Photo Search, which was introduced in 2010, is much younger. .

The contest, said Shannon Frieser, a representative for Gerber, “allowed us to learn about the hopes, dreams, challenges and diversity of babies and families from many different backgrounds.”

Over the past decade, the number of entries has also varied greatly, from 110,000 in 2017 to 544,000 in 2019. The winners reflected the experiences of children across the country, including an adopted child, a child with Down syndrome and a ‘miracle baby’ born to a mother unsure of the impact of her cancer treatment on her ability to conceive.

The prize money has ranged from $25,000 to $50,000 and the last two winners have also been named “Chief Growing Officer”, a job that seems to require showing off Gerber foods on social media.

On Instagram, comments on this year’s winner had an advantage. The more insensitive comments were deleted, but two arguments, in particular, remained: How was the contest decided so quickly and why do toddlers never win? And with that hindsight, the comments section turned into meta-discussions of pointed criticisms and defensive justifications.

But there was also frustration underlying the comments. “They picked the winner, and she’s adorable, but I thought it would be cool if even on their stories, they showed the second, or the top three, or whatever,” as proof that other babies were taken into account, Ms. O’Hagan said.

She recalled a response to her own comment on Gerber’s Instagram that said her son never had a chance and that Gerber had already picked a winner before the contest started.

The response, which she said was quickly deleted, claimed that Gerber was working with an agency for the contest. (Gerber’s response: “Gerber does not use an agency to select the photo search winner. Our judging team is made up of Gerber employees.”)

Brittney, a 23-year-old stay-at-home mom from Sikeston, Mo., shared the frustration. “This year I was quite disappointed,” she said. “And I noticed a lot of other moms were too. It’s not that the baby they chose is a problem. She’s a beautiful baby girl.”

“It gets a little sketchy every year,” she added, because “I know Gerber needed to collect at least hundreds of thousands of photos and videos, and it didn’t take long for them to pick a winner. ” She asked to be identified only by her first name out of concern for her children’s privacy.

Gerber said in a written statement to The New York Times, “Each year, Gerber’s spokesperson is chosen by a diverse panel of Gerber employees who ensure that all submissions are carefully reviewed. With more than 225,000 submissions this year, we expanded our panel of judges who carefully reviewed all entries to identify children from birth to four years old who best demonstrated bright personality and expressiveness.It is important to us that we give each submission the chance it deserves. Rest assured, we didn’t miss a smile.

Kevin Wagner, a 24-year-old father from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, entered the contest because people said, “You look like baby Gerber!” to her 2 year old daughter. “That’s what really drove us to try to do that, isn’t it, to get our shot.”

But he was also disappointed. Babies have an advantage, said Wagner, who works as a mover. “That way they can test baby food,” he said. “They didn’t really pick a 2-year-old, 3-year-old, when it goes up to 4. It says it’s a cute baby contest, not a sad story contest,” he said. declared.

In 2011, the competition’s first winner, Mercy Townsend, was 2 years old, although every winner since has been less than a year old. toddler spokesperson for baby in the future.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all parents entering the Gerber Photo Search. Brittney, for example, gave birth wearing a mask. And the frustrations of pandemic parenting continue: a child care crisis; women are leaving the labor market in droves; the fact that children under 5 are still not eligible to be vaccinated.

And now the massive shortage of formula — a slow-motion disaster starting with a recall in February and compounding pandemic-related supply chain issues — is the current stressor, and Brittney, along with other moms, is driving hours in different stores just trying to find a box of formula.

“With the recall of the formula, I feel like that’s when a lot of parents got desperate,” she said, “for the Gerber research money,” adding that the problem was broader.

“For formula, nappies and wipes, it was difficult when people were hoarding toilet paper and even the older generation were hoarding baby wipes. It’s a dangerous situation and you have these angry moms. The pandemic has really affected parents more than anything else. It hit them hard.

The outpouring of emotion online has made it clear that a contest with a slim chance of victory is also a pivotal point for frustrated pandemic parents to share a bit of their story. They have worked and suffered with very little institutional support, and they want to be seen and recognized for their efforts.

When Ms O’Hagan’s son was born in June, instead of going home with her when she was released, he had to spend three days being cared for in the neonatal nursery for further testing and monitoring . She went to visit him and asked if there was any possibility of getting a room for her to stay with him. The nurse said no, she said, citing new pandemic protocols.

It was tough, she says, going through this as a new parent, but Everett has since been doing better. “We don’t go out and socialize a lot. We will see a handful of people we know. It’s a different life. There is a lot of emotion. »

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