Why I Stopped Vaccinating My Kids. (And Why I'll Probably Start Again.)

I think of myself as a smart person. I can recite the 48 prepositions in a rapid-fire list, a holdover from my seventh grade English class.  I listen to This American Life like a fiend.  I can figure out percentages in my head when faced with a good sale.  I read books.

I also have an Ivy League intuition.  I've come to rely on this inner knowing as my primary guide in decision-making situations, and feel grateful that this wise, magical thing just appeared one day; there is no intuition school.

As a person who stands by and trusts an un-provable thing, I've learned to seek out sources of information - knowledgeable friends and professionals; books; and websites, the latter being the easiest and most questionably reliable way to secure myself some credible facts to spout.  I have friends who are midwives, doulas, homeschooling parents, lactation consultants, organic farmers, restaurant owners, teachers, energy-efficient contractors (I make out with that friend), farriers, child-wearing experts, and marketing executives.  (If I've forgotten your profession, please do let me know, as I'd love to wrangle some hard-earned knowledge from your generous brain).  Instead of heavily researching each of these widely varied and equally interesting subjects, I constantly pester these people with questions.  "So, tell me again how to get the best latch?  And I can call you anytime over the next three weeks or so with all manner of parenting questions?  Fantastic.  Thank you."  "If I were  to teach my children at home, can you just - quickly, because I don't want to take up too much of your time - tell me about all of the regulations I'd need to adhere to in Massachusetts?  You're so lovely."  My friends and acquaintances appear to be comfortable with this arrangement, at least to my face.  

And so when it came time to decide whether ir not we wanted to vaccinnate our first child, I was ready for my midwives to play along, gamely telling us what we should do.  Considering they were the professionals.  Considering the fact that I'd just had a baby  and really could have used some help with these bigger decisions.  I mean, come on , right?  Instead, we were given facts and figures, pros and cons, and told about this really great new book that had recently come out that would help us make an educated decision about what was right for our family.

My baseline personality - the one I fight against every day - is one of fearful people-pleasing.  I know this might surprise you since I can seem self-assured and like I care not one bit about pleasing you.  But trust me when I tell you it's true.  Every time I go to work I'm certain my lovely and tolerant boss is going to pull me aside and lead with, "So, this just isn't working anymore."  When I get an e-mail of any length more than three or four sentences, I scan it quickly for trigger words like 'ashamed', 'bad', and 'opinionated', sure that I've offended anyone who sat down and took the time to write so much.

And so when I needed to decide about vaccines, I was in a bind.  I'd recently discovered this whole other kind of love, the kind that really mattered , and I didn't want to do anything wrong to the tiny person who'd brought me that feeling.  But I also didn't want anyone to get mad at me for not vaccinating, didn't want the general public to pounce on me and call me a horrendous mother, every new mother's constant fear.  And so I just stopped thinking about it.  I made no decisions.  So when I took my tiny, perfect baby for a well-child visit a couple of months into our tenure together and the I'm-open-to-all-vaccination-choices-and-schedules pediatrician nonchalantly said "We'd just do a couple," I began to sweat.  I wanted to please her, didn't want her to be mad at me (think I need therapy around this?  Yeah, me, too.)  and didn't want to - didn't know how  to - defend my questioning position articulately.  And so my baby got vaccinated.

We both cried. 

Later that day, she broke out in a horrible rash.  Her little body was covered from head to toe in raised red bumps.  She didn't seem to mind, but I was on the edge of lunacy.  I called the pediatrician, who doubted it was a reaction to the vaccine, but still thought we should come in.  She looked at her, mystified at what was causing this sudden rash in an otherwise and until-then healthy baby, and sent me next door to the dermatologist.  "It's got to be a reaction to the vaccine," he said.  "No, it's definitely not a reaction to the vaccine," she said. 

And so that was that, I was officially terrified of injecting my daughter with anything else.  I watched her closely, just to make sure that she kept being the same happy girl, and ended up feeling like we'd dodged a bullet once her rash faded to nothing.  I found a new pediatrician who assured me we could treat our girl with likely success if she ever contracted one of the illnesses we vaccinate for.  We moved forward, year by year, with a blessedly healthy child.

And then last week I heard about the measles outbreaks that have been popping up.  I thought about the fact that largely non-vaccinated populations - like the one we happily live in here in the hills and valleys of Western Massachusetts - are more likely to contract and spread this virus than vaccinated populations.  I thought about my girl, who's now 5.5, about how her body is surely more able to handle the poisonous vaccination (no matter which side of the room you're on on this issue, it's almost impossible to validly argue that vaccines aren't made of questionable ingredients).  And so I made a mental note to talk with Tim about whether or not we wanted to start vaccinating our now-older children as a public service, kind of like jury duty.

And then wouldn't you know, yesterday, some people I love got into a heated Facebook debate about this very issue.  I didn't join in, and instead just read the comments.  After sitting with the feelings of "Am I a terrible mother?  A sinister member of society?", I closed my laptop.  I decided that it was time to go and get some opinions of my own, to define for myself what I stand for.

So far here's my list: 

1). Love. 
2). Honesty.
3). Vulnerability.
4). Tolerance.

I'll let you know what else I come up with. 


I know this is an incredibly hot-button issue.  Please remember that list up above as you comment, both here and on Facebook.