Sometimes emotions can lead you to make certain decisions, even when your own conscience, and those who love you, are asking you to make the opposite decision. My decision not to vaccinate my children made me feel two things: safe and special.
You might wonder how I could have possibly felt safe leaving my children unvaccinated. There is a kind of asceticism to the ideas and feelings of some people who reject vaccines for their kids and themselves. It’s a feeling of staying clean from things that pollute the common people. This can sometimes go hand in hand with idea of “being awake” to important information that has somehow been hidden from the masses. This is meant as an observation, not a putdown—after all, I am speaking about myself! The truth is that non-vaccinating parents are very much convinced that by withholding vaccines they are doing the absolute best for their children. I sincerely feared that maybe one day a health care provider would vaccinate my child by accident if I did not remain vigilant. I thought this potential accident would, without a doubt, negatively affect my child’s long-term health somehow. (Of course the exact mechanics of how this harm would occur I did not understand.) Just as many alternative medicine remedies are touted as curative for a multitude of ills, vaccines are often thought of agents that cause a myriad of problems.
So, in other words, I felt safer by leaving my children unvaccinated because I believed that if this substance that I did not understand and which I did not consider “natural” never entered my body or the bodies of my children, then we could stay “safe” and “clean.”
The other feeling that kept me a vaccine rejectionist was that feeling of being special.
In some circles, keeping your kids “vaccine-free” entitles you to certain bragging rights. You are told that you are part of an elite, enlightened club. Even the phrase “vaccine-free” has that whiff of health and purity—almost like saying “drug-free.” I was convinced that I was part of a brave minority that had uncovered knowledge of how to keep my kids healthy and “clean” (there’s that word again) without those authoritarian medical and pharmaceutical professionals.
Then I ended up moving to another state, where I had the opportunity to visit one of the greatest children’s hospitals in the world. I was working as a contractor on a project at the hospital, and in the process began to see how modern medicine really worked. Intrigued by what I’d witnessed before my very eyes, I started reading books about medical history, like Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen and the work of Paul Offit, who is so adept at simplifying things for the lay parent. I was blown away by the reality of humanity’s horrific struggle with infectious disease. The seeds of doubt had been planted.
(It’s important to me to point out the irony of the vaccine-rejectionist community’s criticism of Dr. Offit’s development of the Rotavirus vaccine, for which he was, of course, remunerated. It’s ironic because while this community is quick to discredit vaccine pioneers like Dr. Offit and pharmaceutical professionals because they are paid, they do not see anything wrong with the huge profits made by the natural health gurus and corporations selling them organic food, supplements, devices, and “therapies.”)
About two years later, my children contracted chicken pox. My daughter had a particularly severe case, and I was devastated when the doctor told me there was no getting around the fact that my teenager would have permanent scarring on her body as a result. But it wasn’t until I became pregnant with a long-awaited third child that my feelings on vaccination began to change. I had had my first two children while in my early twenties, and parented them with the optimism and feelings of immortality that come with stubborn, inexperienced youth. I thank first the Lord and second the herd for the fact that my older children are healthy. But now pregnant with my third, and with years of experience—and some new information—under my belt, I took on the task of catching my teenager and preteen up on their vaccines, the ones they should have had as young children.
As I did this, I thought of the joy my new baby would bring me, and then how I could help pave the way for my future grandchild’s health by getting my older kids their MMR series. That first shot in my daughter’s arm was nerve-wracking but groundbreaking. However, my old paradigm of fear was so strong that I ended up delaying my new baby’s shots until she turned six months old. One saying common in the vaccine rejection community is “take your time: you can always vaccinate later but you can’t un-vaccinate once it’s done.” But the other side of that idea, I finally began to realize, was that once your child contracted a vaccine-preventable disease, and possibly spread it to others, you couldn’t undo that either. And finally, slowly, the paradigm of fear began to fall away.
Mary Miller is the mother of three children living in the rural midwest. She considers herself old-fashioned and believes our country needs to be unified, especially where our children are concerned.