I don’t usually give caveats before posts. I try not to because in a way it’s like when you say to someone, “Not to be nosy but…” or “don’t take this the wrong way but…” which only sets you up to appear nosy and have them take it the wrong way. The reason for this caveat is that I do have a number of friends who I like a whole lot who choose not to vaccinate. They do it for a variety of reasons and I do respect that. I felt the need to put this up this week though in light of the recent measles outbreak. These are my regrets. I can only speak to my own experience and my own reasons for doing what I do as a parent. Make of that what you will.
I am a little crunchy. I admit this.
I had my kids at home, on purpose. I home schooled my kids for a number of years. I eschewed the norms where processed food and standard parenting was concerned, letting my children “be children” for as long as possible, letting them run “Lord of the Flies” like at times and explore nature and learning and life. We were free spirits! Life was good, until the lack of structure and oversight started to me into the controlling and fearful person I had always hoped to avoid becoming. We made some changes- big changes- and we’re all catching our breath again, getting into the rhythm of things and enjoying the absence of the stress that plagued us while we were homeschooling in those final years. All that said, I don’t regret the homebirths, the homeschooling or the alternative parenting.
There is only one part of my crunchy history that I do regret. I regret not having my kids immunized sooner.
The decision to avoid immunizations was one that bothered me more often that it comforted me. Our health providers back then were also crunchy, always putting the ball back in my court about the shots. They never pushed one way or another where immunizations were concerned and I appreciated that. I do think it is important for the parent to have some degree of control over this. Ultimately, we are responsible for the care of our children, after all.
It was the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the grass-roots, crunchy movement against immunization was growing strong. Studies were cited in groups I attended about connections between autism and vaccines, chemical contamination and vaccines, government plots and vaccines and while I didn’t buy into all of the hype, it had an effect. Becoming a parent was difficult enough, making far-reaching medical decisions for each child and the battery of shots they needed was overwhelming and frightening. After a great deal of research and thought and worrying, we opted to wait on the shots. Because we were homeschooling there was no outside source (i.e. the school system) pressing in on us to immunize.
We changed our health care provider because it was no longer a part of our insurance network after our youngest child was born. Our new doctor looked at the children’s charts and asked about the absence of immunizations. As I tried to explain my position to him he listened attentively. He was affirming and understanding even as I struggled to articulate my objections to the shots. He did not argue the points with me but rather offered insights into the research. He also offered medical studies and articles I’d not seen before. “It’s up to you,” he said, “but really, there’s no research that supports your fears about immunizations.” That information combined with my children’s’ entrance to “real” school prompted us to get caught up on all the shots finally.
It was the words of a close friend that finally drove home the reality of how my decisions affect the people around me. Her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She is more susceptible than other children her age to disease. The lack of immunizations on the part of other parents is not simply an “alternative choice” to her family. It can mean life or death to her daughter.
I regret that part of my crunchy parenting. The thing is, that I don’t regret waiting on the immunizations because something awful happened to my family as a result. It didn’t. My children to date are quite healthy and have remained healthy. I regret the decision to wait because it will always make me wonder if I was, at that time, part of the problem we see rising now- measles in New York, mumps in Ohio, polio or something like it, in California and now the recent breakout of measles that stems from a trip to Disneyland. With new outbreaks of diseases we thought were held in check it makes me now question everything I believed when I was a newbie, crunchy parent.
And this is the hard thing, choosing to reexamine previous strong held beliefs and let myself shift into a new perspective. The hardest thing about changing my view on this vaccine thing was the blow I took to my ego as a parent. I admit that. It is hard to say that maybe I got it wrong but in the long run I can only subscribe to a path toward becoming wiser for it. In the long run I have to be able to be open-minded about how I understand the way the world is shaping up and I have to pay attention to how it’s shaping up. I am a part of that shaping. On this point, where immunizations are concerned, I now believe I had it wrong.
We are responsible to our children to do what we feel is best for them of course, it’s important to remember though, that we are part of a bigger picture, a larger community. What we do affects us all.