There is a lot of discussion these days about whether or not to vaccinate young children, and with the recent outbreak of measles – a disease I never thought I would see again—this discussion becomes more and more volatile. I am not writing to add to the arguments; I am going to write here about my experience in the decision-making process nearly thirty years ago.
When I was pregnant with Kyle in 1986, the discussion as to whether to vaccinate infants was provocative, especially with the DPT vaccine. I was wrestling with the decision and reading everything (keep in mind, this is before the internet!) that I could about it. Coincidentally, a well-meaning friend gave me a parenting book that she felt addressed the topic in a way that she thought I would like.
This book, which I purposely will not name here, was written by a gown-up hippie, on the cusp of the New Age, couple who were the parents of one child. As a grown-up hippie myself, I was ready to read it and hoped to find some form of camaraderie in what they had written. Unfortunately, as all good New Agers seem to do so well, they took pieces of good ideas that they had heard about and carried them in to a whole different direction. Keep in mind that I had had a good part of the child-rearing responsibility for my younger sister and brother starting when I was not yet seven. Granted, my mother’s laissez-faire attitudes were not what I wanted to model, but despite the lessening of my childhood, I had been given the opportunity to learn through experience, and most of what this couple were writing just plainly did not make sense. They also wrote of not vaccinating their daughter, and yet they never seemed to be able to state a solid reason for having made that choice. It seemed that they had not done it merely because it was the anti-establishment thing to do.
I did like it that they were trying to be very conscious of not losing their spiritual practice in the overwhelm of being parents. The problem was that instead of seeing the spiritual practice of being a parent, they were trying to cling to what they had been doing before they were a family, and failing miserably at it. The frustration that the mother was feeling was always apparent, and it came to an unbelievable height when her daughter was in the throes of whooping cough. Here, this mother wrote of the anger and impatience she held against her young child because the constant coughing was disrupting her meditation time.
I stopped reading the book at that point.
As October approached, I knew that I had to make the decision to vaccinate or not, and I had to make another decision as well: whether or not to circumcise my boy child. This, too, was a hot topic in those days. And, yes, so was nursing; but on that topic, there was no discussion. (I was once directed by a grumpy old guy in a restaurant to go nurse my baby in the ladies room. I told him that I would, right after he went in to the men’s room to eat his brunch.)
As I went from one pediatric office to another, interviewing potential doctors for Kyle, I opened with questions about these issues. The pediatrician that I chose said that vaccinations were necessary, but not so much on the rigid schedule that was being recommended. I could start a bit later and still protect Kyle from the diseases that I had suffered through as a child. As for the circumcision, he said that he did not have the patient’s permission to operate. He followed that statement up with medical and hygienic reasoning, but I had already chosen him as Kyle’s doctor for his honesty and his willingness to let me know that Kyle was his patient, not me. He later proved himself over and over as he would talk with me and answer all of my questions as he held Kyle and got him comfortable before he did any examination of him.
When Kyle was born, I hemorrhaged and needed to spend the night in the hospital on an IV and then a week on bed rest at home. Mike had taken paternity leave, which was a very new thing in those days, so he was able to take care of me while I took care of Kyle. One day, as I was lying in bed watching TV to relieve the monotony of being still, a well-known pediatric doctor was doing a show about circumcision. He had multiple boy children and had not circumcised any of them which was pretty radical, especially since he was Jewish. When he showed a video tape of an actual circumcision being performed, I became a sobbing heap of relief that I had not put Kyle through that.
The memory of the poignancy of that moment is tempered by the memory of the look on Mike’s face when he walked in to the room to find me with tears streaming down my face and milk spurting from my breasts in sympathy, rocking Kyle in my arms as though I were protecting him from all the evils in the world. His look of “what just happened?” was priceless.
When it came time for the first round of vaccinations, Kyle had a reaction to the Pertussis part of the DPT and so he never became protected against whooping cough. He’s in his late twenties and still I feel compelled to remind him to take care when I hear of a whooping cough outbreak. But I don’t have to feel the fear that he will ever get measles and suffer the horrid effects that nearly killed me when I was a child. And that’s what matters to me.
I listen to the discussions and the news reports… and the arguments…and I think of how I struggled with the decision and am happy that I made the choice that I did. Kyle is, too. About both of them.