Pause

I don’t often offer my opinion publicly; it makes me nervous. My heart beats live and let live, my fingers usually pause over the keyboard when I see an emphatic rant on facebook or the newspaper comments section that I disagree with. So what I’m about to share is only the state of my own quaking chest right now.

If you have a small child, please strongly consider vaccinating them. The claims that they harm more than hurt have been debunked several times over. The childhood diseases that used to yank children away from their parents before the children learned to speak, or worse, after they learned to walk and talk and have sweet personalities, are starting to come back. This makes me feel so, so sad. I think of children in polio sanitariums, iron braces around their small legs. I think of children struggling for each breath. The reason these diseases aren’t as prevalent now is because of the herd immunity that we carry around with us, a shield of bubbling armor that for the most part keep us all healthy.

What has me thinking about this again is that just yesterday my son received the flu mist at his doctor’s office. He missed the clinic at his school because he was sick that day with a small cold. The county we live in provides free vaccines to all children under eighteen, so the FluMist cost nothing, even in the doctor’s office.

I also just stumbled upon this photo on Shorpy, and can feel the grief that the boy in the photograph’s parents must have had shivering in their blood. My God. Let’s listen to our elders, who remember when babies were buried and their mothers hid away their small sweaters and booties. The pain would always be raw. The loss would always be real. Real as their child’s skin, once warm, then cold. In many other places other than the West this pain is an hourly occurrence. There are mothers who travel through dirt and death and danger and guns so that their children can be inoculated. They don’t care that there’s a shadowing chance that the inoculation will make their child autistic. What’s immediate and real is the threat of dehydration, of crippled legs, of collapsed lungs.

Winter can be dry, and dark, and cruelly cold. We’re lucky now, we’re lucky here, that it isn’t always so deadly. And summer is usually so bright and blue; mothers don’t have to keep their children tucked away, safe from the swimming pools that hid polio beneath the sunlight-dappled water. Let’s not go down as the generation that feared the unknown and the possibilities and the what if’s so much that we take away the strength of all that’s good in medicine. Vaccines are safe, and they’re usually free. We are so, so fortunate.

Ask your grandparents (or great-grandparents)what they remember about before children were routinely protected from measles*, mumps, rubella, polio.  Ask about the children born and lost before 1920, before antibiotics, when the life expectancy was fifty and children prayed for their souls to be kept safe if they drifted away while they slept.  I can guarantee you that in a family grave-site there are dozens of small, sad little headstones that will tell you what our world was like without vaccines.

* The resurgence of measles is especially concerning. It’s a hugely contagious and sometimes deadly disease. 

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9 thoughts on “Pause

  1. I thought these same things living in Haiti as a cholera epidemic ravaged the country. What mothers there wouldn’t give to innoculate a child! Thanks for sharing this message–one only mothers in the West would need to hear.
    Kathy

  2. Kathy,

    Thank you for that perspective! That’s what I just can’t understand…how could someone not inoculate a child when so many go without? What would you tell a mother in Haiti the reason why you didn’t allow your child to have a vaccine? Because you were frightened of a possibility?

    I hesitate to share this thought sometimes, because I don’t like to talk about controversial topics (especially parenting related). But I felt compelled. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Hmmmm. My daughter Sophie developed seizures within a week of her first vaccinations at two months old. While we don’t know if they were a catalyst for an underlying disorder or the direct cause of her seizures, we decided not to vaccinate our sons. Most of the media coverage of vaccinations is wildly simplistic, pitting hysteria against hysteria. While I’m not against vaccinations, I am highly suspect of the pharmaceutical industry and wonder whether the hideous diseases of old have been replaced by new, virulent diseases of the auto-immune system, neurological disorders, diabetes and the like (not to mention an increase in the milder infections of the ears and asthma.) Certainly, the work of the anti-vaccine movement has done much to improve the SAFETY of vaccines — the DPT shot that damaged my daughter permanently is now an improved and safer one. The fact that Big Pharm is constantly working on improving vaccines is proof, to me, that much work remains to be done. It’s a business, though, and a hugely profitable one. I don’t believe for one instant that there’s any altruism in it.

    When people ask me why I didn’t vaccinate my sons, I tell them that if their fate were like their sister’s I would drive a car off a bridge with all of us in it. I’m not kidding. I’d tell the mother in Haiti that as well. Death from Cholera? Is it any worse than a lifetime of constant seizures, an inability to talk, go to the bathroom, walk unassisted, run, jump, laugh, cry, participate in the world around you? I realize my response is an emotional one, but I made these decisions with a lot of agonized thought and research. In the meantime, my two sons have had the customary childhood infections, including chicken pox, have never been on an antibiotic and remain, knock on wood, healthy boys. I am perfectly aware of the luxury of living in a country where much disease has been eradicated, but I refuse to be swept up in the hysteria of flu epidemics, etc. We do many things to increase the efficacy of our immune systems with supplements, diet and regular visits to an osteopath and homeopath. Our pediatrician is very supportive of our decisions, decisions that were made with much thought.

    Is my daughter’s fate the necessary sacrifice to ensure the good of the larger community? Perhaps it is, but this is the question that should be debated and not the simplistic ones that we generally hear.

  4. Elizabeth,

    First, thank you so much for sharing your words. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been when Sophie became ill. Please know that my words are simply the outpouring of what I was feeling in my heart, and I meant no offense by them. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you, please know that.

  5. I went into a coma when I was given the whooping cough vaccination at a very young age.

    They’ve since changed the vaccination to remove the cell wall, leading to few if no serious issues such as I experienced.

    And still, I cried when the doctor explained which vaccination she was about to be given my son. She looked me dead on and said, roughly, “I want you to know that I have seen no deaths to vaccination since I began practicing a few years ago, but that I have already seen too many where vaccinations would have meant life.”

    That was all that need be said. There are consequences to everything in life, but sometimes the consequences of one are much, much less serious than the consequences of not pursuing it.

    I love this, and will share it this afternoon if I remember. Which I hope I do.

  6. No offense was taken! I look on it as an opportunity to present the other side — without all the usual hysteria. Like your other commenter, I, too, had a negative reaction to my pertussis vaccine — a fact I wasn’t aware of until five years after it damaged Sophie. I think it’s naive to believe vaccines are as safe as they can be — the genetic component to reacting negatively to them is only now beginning to be understood. There have been few, if any, long term studies on unvaccinated children — and at risk of seeming to be a conspiracy theorist, I’d wonder what the public implications might be if the vaccine industry were to “discover” that vaccinations — in their entirety — do play a role in the epidemics of auto-immune disorders and autism. I think it would be an impossible situation — and much like the tobacco industry, we’d see decades and decades of obfuscation, denial and even lies as interests and enormous amounts of cash are protected. I admire those that demand safer vaccines for their children IN ADDITION TO BETTER OVERALL PREVENTIVE CARE. It’s so very American, I think, to bomb and then spend inordinate resources to clean up.

  7. My son had only a mild reaction to DTap and PCV shots at 2- and 4-month vaccination appointments. It took a whole lot of stepping back from the scare tactics and the health of my baby to realize I was contradicting my beliefs and parenting style by blindly following my pediatrician’s words: “If it were my grandchild, I would give (them) these because these can save lives.” That did it for me and my husband, but I still beat myself up.

    I have made the decision to discontinue the shot series and to keep my baby healthy through breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and proper hygiene. The polio scare doesn’t show that there are survivors who grew up unscathed because the sad, little pictures of sweet little kids in leg braces resonate more than a healthy survivor. The less than 1% chance of paralytic polio is the “risk” I’ll take knowing that I’m doing my best in everything else right.

    Great blog post because I see where you’re coming from as a mother! 🙂

"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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