Toward the end of my pregnancy, one of the (many) things my husband and I discussed and researched was whether or not we would allow our baby to be vaccinated.
We had friends with strong feelings on both sides of the fence. Many in the holistic community felt that most, if not all, vaccinations for children were not only archaic, but dangerous. I heard and read about how vaccines can damage children's immune systems, cause allergic reactions and have even been linked to conditions such as autism and MS. Scary stuff.
On the other hand, we had friends who felt very strongly that not only were vaccinations completely safe and effective, they were potentially life-saving.
There was certainly much to consider.
We opted not to have our baby vaccinated in the hospital when she was born. We waited until her two week visit with her new pediatrician to talk with the doc face-to-face the pros and cons of vaccinating before making any decisions.
What we learned is that children in this country still contract -- and even die from -- diseases that are preventable by vaccine. We mistakenly believe that whooping cough (also known as pertussis) and measles are diseases suffered only by children in old movies and television shows (remember the episode of "Little House On the Prairie" when poor Mary and Laura Ingalls got the measles?). In actuality, there has been a resurgence in instances of both diseases in the past few years. In fact, 2011 saw the highest number of measles cases in the US in 15 years.
Our daughter's pediatrician explained that as fewer children become vaccinated, these numbers will no doubt continue to rise. She also said that the parents who opt not to vaccinate their children are -- whether consciously or not -- relying on those parents who do to protect their own children. In other words, as long as the majority of children in this country are vaccinated, we are less likely to have outbreaks of these diseases in epidemic proportion. But what if everyone stopped vaccinating?
At the end of our investigation, we made the decision to vaccinate our daughter. And we felt good about it. At the time we made our decision, I was just a few days out from a major cancer diagnosis and I wasn't in the mood to take chances with anyone's health, especially my daughter's.
A couple of weeks ago, we took our daughter to the pediatrician for her one year check-up. During that visit, she received the scheduled vaccinations for chicken pox as well as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). We were told that some children experience an allergic reaction to these vaccinations; and that if ours did, it would likely occur 10 to 14 days after she received the shots.
Well, exactly 10 days later, our daughter started to show signs that something was wrong. She had a low grade fever and was very fussy. We attributed this either to teething or the cold she had picked up at daycare. However, when the symptoms persisted and she began to develop a rash, we realized that she was likely having a reaction to one of the vaccinations. By the third day, she had spots all over her face and body, and she was miserable (as were we).
We confirmed with her doctor that our daughter was indeed experiencing a reaction to one of the vaccinations she received. I felt terrible, and began to question whether or not I had erred in allowing her to have the shots. I was almost afraid to tell my crunchy anti-vaccination friends about our girl's side effects, as I knew I would inevitably hear some (kinder) version of "I told you so."
As parents, my husband and I made what we felt was the best decision we could make about our daughter's health, based on the information available to us at the time. We did not blindly agree to take a step that would impact our child's health and well-being without thoroughly investigating the facts on both sides of the debate. And I don't regret it. Even though my daughter had a few fussy, blotchy days and I felt terrible watching her experience discomfort, I knew I'd feel worse if she contracted a potentially deadly disease that could have been prevented with a vaccination.
Now, I respect those friends who choose not to have their children immunized, and understand that they, too, are making decisions they feel are best for the future health and well-being of their children. And I would certainly never deride any parent for making choices different than my own.
I'll no doubt get shit for deciding to vaccinate my child, and be accused of exposing her to a virus to which she might not otherwise have been exposed. My hope, however, is to start a respectful, informed dialogue among the mom community. After all, we all love our children and want what's best for them. We want to protect them from harm and sickness and discomfort as much as possible. And we need to stick together, us moms. Because parenting isn't easy.
All of that being said, I'd love to hear from you.
Did you choose to vaccinate your children? Why, or why not? And do you regret your decision?
Images, top to bottom: Brooke Kelly Photography, Joanna Montgomery