Let’s clear something up from the start: I did not vaccinate my kids after birth and I don’t really fit neatly into a pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine box. As toddlers, my kids are “caught up,” but only because I slowly started forcing myself to chill out about vaccines. Honestly, I was so terrified of vaccinating my babies that I said no for several months after they were born.
When each of my daughters were born, I wasn’t sure I would vaccinate them at all. I said no the the standard newborn shots. Our pediatrician was kind and patient, telling me we could talk about whatever questions I had and then presented me with some scary looking release of liability forms to sign because I said no. Every appointment that followed, I never felt sure I was making the right choice, but I kept saying “not this time,” and putting it off. But eventually, with the help of my very patient pediatrician, I started navigating alternative schedules until my kids met the minimum requirements to go to daycare and to be ready for school. She never pressured me or threatened to fire me as a patient, she just told me fully vaccinated kids would be safest in school, but that as their mother, I had the choice to say no.
I don’t know exactly why I am so afraid of vaccines. I think it's a combination of growing up in a homeschooling community where denying routine vaccines was pretty standard, and never feeling like I was given enough information about my kids’ shots and what risks were associated with them. Every time I got online to do research, I was wading through extreme opinions and information on both sides of the argument. While many parents were arguing that vaccines could cause Autism, the research seemed to show that this wasn't true at all. (Ten of the 12 co-authors of researcher Andrew Wakefield's infamous Autism study retracted its conclusion after finding that Wakefield had manipulated data and tweaked timelines to show increased links between Autism and vaccinations.) It was clear to me that vaccines played an important role in eradicating childhood diseases like polio and measles, but I also had a lot of questions about the potential side effects. One minute, I was scrolling through pictures of vaccine-injured children and the next, I was reading a horrific story about a woman who lost her kid to the flu or some other preventable disease.
I felt like I could have been attacked for having questions about the safety of vaccinations and if I questioned the safety of saying no all together.
No matter what your opinion of vaccines, I think most parents can agree that the dialogue on both sides of the matter can be really extreme. I’ve seen name-calling, shaming, and fear mongering aplenty from both the anti-vaxx and pro-vaxx communities. This climate makes it really hard for parents who simply have questions to get the information they need. Personally, I felt like I could have been attacked for having questions about the safety of vaccinations and if I questioned the safety of saying no all together.
I feel I made the right choice for my family.
I hate parenting out of fear. Every time I'm faced with a decision, whether it be about what type of school my kids will go to, or their healthcare, or even who they'll hang out with, I try to avoid any decision that's driven by something I'm afraid of. This made choosing to vaccinate my children endlessly frustrating. I felt afraid of the vaccines and I felt afraid of my kids being unprotected from common childhood diseases. Eventually, I made the choice based on what I was most afraid of and decided to vaccinate my kids at my own pace.
Looking back, I don’t regret my choice to vaccinate my kids. I feel I made the right choice for my family. I do, however, regret that I felt like fear was so much a part of my decision making. I wish this wasn’t such a difficult topic, not just for me but for parents everywhere.
Motherhood is full of so many really hard, and sometimes scary, decisions. Women with kids should feel free to raise their questions without fear of being attacked or their pediatrician firing them. I am so grateful for my pediatrician, who was patient with my questions and helped me sort through my fears, but I know many offices won’t see children unless they're completely caught up on their shots. Honestly, when you're terrified of vaccinating your baby what you really need is someone to understand your fear and help you make the decision, not to strong-arm you into making a choice you're not ready to make.
I understand the desire to protect children from preventable diseases, but I find myself wishing there was a more open and understanding conversation happening in our society about vaccines. I wish more parents and doctors were working together to encourage open communication and access to research about one of the biggest medical decisions we make for our brand-new babies instead of trying to take the other down.