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It's so easy to say what everyone else should do with their children, but the realities of raising children isn't nearly so cut and dry. Having a child changes you on a deep and profound level that can't be fathomed by non-parents. Before I had a kid I was a private school teacher, a preschool teacher and a nanny. I was pretty damned sure exactly how I would parent and how I would handle certain situations. Of course my baby was going to sleep in his own bed and of course my husband would take one night time feeding, to facilitate paternal bonding. Of course I'd stop nursing between six months and a year, of course he'd learn to sleep through the night by crying it out. Of course he'd go to preschool and then I'd go back to teaching private school and he'd attend. Of course, of course, of course!
The day I brought my son home from the hospital, I realized I didn't know jack about parenting. The thought of putting my baby, the being who shared a body with me for 3/4 of a year, in a crib in a separate room felt alien and wrong. The thought of him so far away was more than I could bear. When he cried at night and my husband was preparing a bottle, the thought of an artificial nipple in my boy's mouth disgusted me. When he was six months old and still nursing every single hour, the thought of weaning him seemed all wrong. When he was nine months old and refused to sleep for fear of missing something cool, letting him cry it out felt like torture. When he was three and his friends started heading off to preschool, I realized he was still so little and he still had plenty of time for education. When he was five and his friends headed off to kindergarten, I couldn't stand the thought of him being inside all day while the weather was warm and there were hikes to take and ladybugs to examine.
I have become a parent that I never thought I would be. My ideals and beliefs have changed massively, just from becoming a mother and now I know that I'll never really know anything, especially how I will feel about any given situation. Of course I started out gung-ho on vaccinations. What irresponsible parent wouldn't want to protect their child from disease? But as my son grew, so did my perceptions of the world. I started to question what our doctor said. I began to question what my grandparents and parents thought, and "everyone does it" or "it's just what's done" stopped being valid reasons for doing anything, including vaccinating. My husband was still very pro-vaccine, but I questioned him and expected intelligent dialog with him. Before I became a parent, I wasn't a Christian, but I believed in some form of god. When my son was born I started questioning faith, god, and yes, science. He received all his vaccines until he was four, but after that, I stopped them.
When he was five, I intentionally exposed my son to chicken pox because that was one vaccine that was too new for me to allow. That vaccine felt more like a ploy developed to drive the economy than for the health of children. My husband never got chicken pox and when he found out I successfully exposed our son, I thought he would divorce me...He was that pissed off.
The turning point for my husband happened when my son was six. We had a10 year old, indoor-only cat who somehow got an eye infection. We hadn't given him his rabies vaccine in years since...well, he was an indoor cat with no exposure to other cats. We took him to the vet, they gave him some antibiotics and steroid cream, and his rabies booster. They also did blood work to verify he didn't have something worse than just an eye infection. After the vaccine, but before the treatment, he got lethargic. We gave him his antibiotics and called the vet. They suggested we wait a day or two to let the reaction of the vaccine wear off before we give him another dose of antibiotics or steroids. 24 hours later he was walking in circles. 12 hours after that, he couldn't walk in a straight line at all, just in circles. He stopped eating. He stopped bathing. He refused to drink. He lost weight like crazy. Again, the tests showed he was healthy...it was just an eye infection. I had to carry the cat to the litter box, but he stopped peeing and pooping. I had to buy a syringe and force him to drink water round the clock. After about two months and two different vets, we took him back to the original vet and had him put to sleep. She, the vet, attested that yes, it was a rare reaction to the rabies vaccine that caused our cat to get sick and die a slow and very painful death. That was also the opinion of the other vets we saw.
It is one thing to say "everyone should do X, even if it poses a very minimal risk", but when that rare and minimal thing happens to you, all bets are off the table. When it's your cat who has a very traceable reaction to a vaccine and dies, when it is your child, your mother-in-law, your nephew, herd immunity ceases to matter. All anyone can ever do is to make the most informed and rational decision they can.
As a parent who turned atheist, I question everything and that puts me in a strange place. I don't believe in god, yet I also don't deify science. I will put my eggs in the science basket over the god basket every time, but I don't think science will ever have all the answers; and when it comes to the health of my child, I refuse to take blind chances on either end.
We can keep thousands maybe even millions of people from getting sick and dieing or suffering permanent injuries from easily preventable diseases if people would realize that the risk of negative side effects from a vaccine is far less than the risks of taking your child on a hike. Yes having a child changes things, things you never thought you would change but I don't think you or any other parent has the right to put my child or any other person's child at risk. That's what the vaccination debate is about... who's rights are we going to uphold? Are we going to uphold your right not to vaccinate and lower the herd immunity and potentially expose or sicken other people's children or are we going to uphold everyone's right to be healthy and safe from easily preventable disease especially when the risks of vaccination are so extremely low? As stated before I live in a community with low herd immunity and numbers of sicknesses that were for all intents and purposes non-existent not that long ago are now inching up.
I don't have children.... but! I do have children in my community that I deeply care about. I have cousins and a brother and sister. It isn't just the heart of the parent that is broken when a child dies. The siblings are effected almost [but not quite] as powerfully.
I do know that in rare and tragic cases, individuals will die from a horrific result of a vaccination. Usually that result comes because the person or animal had a compromised immune system and no one knew.
Case in point... The first dog that I ever felt was mine [though techincally it was my mother's] was my puppy, Sophie. She was tiny and beautiful. But something went horribly wrong.
The puppy was the runt of her litter. She also had a basically non-existent immune system and no one knew that. When they attempted to innoculate her to Canine Distemper, they unknowingly gave her the nearly always fatal puppy disease.
We picked her up in June 2007 when she was 8 weeks old. 2 days later we had admitted her to one of the best animal hospitals in the tri-state area. In the late afternoon the next day... we said our last goodbye before she was put down.
Sophie was an extremely rare and sad case. When her fate was visible, even the nurses were crying. But, it was an annomoly. The VAST majority of puppies go through that vaccine without any complications.
And this incident hasn't shaken my confidence in vaccines, because when it comes down to it... when making a decision such as this... you have to way the statistical factors without allowing your emotions to get in the way.
Statistically... an unvaccinated human being is FAR more likely to contract an illness and die than the chance of a vaccine going wrong.
I don't understand what it means to be a parent... but I do know this... Your son is depending on you to protect him as best you can.
Since he made it through the MMR vaccine it is unlikely that his immune system is compromised... but I'm not a doctor... DEFINITELY talk to his pediatrician! He or she can tell you better whether your fears have a foundation or not.
Secondly... know this... an "active" vaccination [one involving an alive but weakened bacterium] is more likely to go wrong than an inactive one [one that has been killed.]
Best of luck...