Vaccination is a hot topic these days. In Momland I feel like it’s one of those things-of-which-we-do-not-speak if we want to maintain relationships. People have strong opinions and everybody has the facts to back up their side. I want to be really clear about what I hope to accomplish by having a series of posts about vaccination. I am not writing/hosting this series to try and convince those of you who are already firmly anti vaccination. If that’s your opinion I don’t expect to sway you, so you’re free to read but know that if your decision is made in obedience to your convictions I support you even if I don’t agree and I expect you to give me the same respect. I am hoping these posts can be a source of information for those who have questions and who are still making up their mind. There are a lot of us who have tried to do the research, but have felt overwhelmed at the amount of information and wondered who to trust. These posts are for you.
I want to acknowledge that there are friends of mine (and family members, too!) who believe differently than I do on this topic. Passionately. REALLY passionately. That’s okay with me if it’s okay with you. I don’t have less respect for you as a parent, I don’t think you’re necessarily doing something morally wrong (depending on your motivations which could be equally wrong for vaccinating or not vaccinating), and I don’t want you to decide you and I are different kinds of moms because we have different opinions on this topic. Of course, I don’t think we can both be right. At some point we have to decide who we believe and that’s part of what I’ll address in my next vaccine post. I think the only way to help you see where I’m coming from is to give you a little of my vaccination history.
When we first became parents in 2007 I heard rumblings that there was a link between vaccines and autism, but wasn’t sure what that really meant. As we boarded the flight to Liberia to pick up our son, I didn’t have a firm conclusion in my mind about what we’d do when the vaccination question came up. A few days later as we waited in the US Embassy building to meet with the woman who would grant Josh’s visa I found myself bouncing a fussy baby on my hip and pacing around a bustling lobby. I tried to occupy myself by reading some of the information posted on the walls. I came to one wall that had maybe six posters, each listing some pretty horrific symptoms. The title said, “Do you have” and then the symptoms were listed underneath. To make this a little more graphic for you, the words were accompanied by pictures since much of the Liberian population is illiterate. At the bottom was a possible diagnosis and then a number to call for help. These were diseases I had only ever heard about in history books. Not just tropical or exotic illnesses, but illnesses that have been entirely wiped out of the American consciousness because they are vaccine preventable. It was that moment I realized part of my indecisiveness about vaccinations was based on my American luxury of great healthcare.
I am not a doctor. Nobody should take medical advice from me. I have done some research, but the amount of information available is beyond my ability to read during the limited time I have available. I know improved hygiene practices have lessened the spread of disease, but in looking at those posters in Liberia I wondered how long it would take of us refusing to vaccinate our kids before their descendants would be looking at these same informational posters to figure out what was wrong with them. I imagined these Liberian mamas weeping helplessly over dying babies who just didn’t have access to same vaccines my kids will have. Vaccination now seemed like an easier decision to make.
This was confirmed for us in talking with our pediatrician when we brought Josh home. He was a very knowledgeable person and allowed us to ask him any questions. We were confident he was doing ongoing research into this topic and trusted his judgement. Josh was vaccinated with no side-effects other than a sore spot at the injection site. We appreciated the help and input of this pediatrician and were sad when we had to leave his practice because of our move from Tennessee to Nebraska.
Our next two children were wards of the state and as such we had little input in their medical care. They legally belonged to their biological parents and the state of Nebraska, so we took them in for their vaccinations on schedule and each came through without incident.
But then we had a biological child.
There are very few feelings in parenthood that have been different with this child than with my other kids. I have found the love and bond I feel for him is exactly as deep as the love and bond I have with my adopted kids. But when the issue of vaccination came up, I found myself questioning it in a new way. My other children had been exposed to things I couldn’t protect them from. They had legally belonged to someone else until after those baby vaccinations were all finished. I felt they needed protection from situations and environments I couldn’t control so I was 100% in favor of their vaccinations. But for this little guy that I had protected with my very life for his first nine months of existence and then was keeping close to me and in the safety of my own home, I just wasn’t sure this was the right thing.
We chose not to get the first round of vaccinations that happen shortly after birth. We choose not to get the next round either. I told my pediatrician I wanted to wait until he was six months-old. She was fine with that especially since he was breastfed and not in a childcare situation, but I knew at six months I’d need a better reason to refuse than just a stall tactic.
I did research. I read websites both for vaccination and strongly against it. I watched documentaries. I talked to friends about their choices. Everyone had their own set of “facts”. And eventually I realized as much research as I could do in my limited free time I was not going to become a medical professional. At some point I had to trust the opinion of someone with more knowledge on the subject than I had.
I was concerned about approaching my regular pediatrician with my questions. She’s a good doctor, but as a foster parent I felt like the relationship of trust is sacred between us. It is a bit of a pressure I carry into the relationship and isn’t at all a reflection of her. I need to know she trusts my judgement since I may have to bring her children who we have limited medical history on or who come to me with medical problems I didn’t create. I didn’t feel safe coming to her with what felt kind of like conspiracy theories and I also didn’t want to argue with her if I didn’t feel like her answers were sufficient. (I’m going to talk more about the doctor/patient relationship in a future post) So I felt like my safest option was to send an email to our original pediatrician in Tennessee.
This doctor called me on a Sunday (see why we love him?) and let me go through my laundry list of questions about the pros and cons of vaccines. . . again. He listened to all of them and had great answers that helped me feel like vaccinating on schedule was the best option for my son. I appreciated his honesty in saying that it IS a risk, but that leaving our child unvaccinated was an even greater risk.
So now I consider myself a bit of a vaccination advocate and struggle to figure out how to convey my position respectfully, but passionately. I feel like the anti vaccination crowd is attempting to establish a moral high ground. It seems there’s a perception that if we all just educated ourselves we’d see things from their perspective. I struggled with feeling like I must be some kind of sheep to just go along with the pediatrician’s advice, but at some point you have to decide who you trust.
I want to feel like I can control my kids circumstances enough that I’d never have to face those illnesses of days gone by. Those posters in Liberia showed me it just takes one infected person making a transatlantic flight to potentially expose everyone on that plane and everyone THEY come in contact with to something we never would have seen coming. Maybe that day will never come, but once it does it’s too late.
I want to reiterate that I am in no position to give specific medical advice. I also want to say that I enjoy a level of dialogue in the comments section of my posts, but as this is a hot topic I will be closely moderating them during this series. I’m hopeful there will be a lot of respectfully delivered information for you to read and think through.