Eleven years ago, I was about to become a mother for the first time. I was spending a lot of my time at night, while my husband was at work, reading message boards about parenting. Being the hippie that I am, I naturally gravitated toward more crunchy, granola-type information and that is when I was presented with the notion that vaccinations were optional. Until this time in my life, I’d never heard of anyone refusing a vaccine. So I started reading. And I started worrying.
At first, I never dreamed that my husband would ever go for not vaccinating. But somehow I managed to print out the right information and present it at the right time (maybe when he was half asleep) and got him to hop on board the “not gonna vaccinate our kids” train. I was shocked really. He was so much more “normal” than I was. However, I felt his willingness to support me in my concerns about vaccinations was a sign that we would make a good team. Really, it might have been. We’ve disagreed a lot over the years but for the most part, when it comes to unusual parenting decisions, we’ve managed to stay on the same page.
What was it about vaccines that I feared? Well, for one thing, it made good sense to me that vaccines might be correlated to autism. Not that I was convinced there was a direct causation but correlation seemed logical. When I thought of autism, I didn’t think of it in the way that my whole family is autistic (bunch of weirdos) but rather I thought of my autistic cousin, completely nonverbal, living in a home and a total drain on his mother. I thought of my mom’s brother, dead at a relatively young age with a strange obsession with music and unable to live on his own. I remember my mom talking to my aunt and having her agree that her son’s autism did appear to become visible at about age 18 months, shortly after a round of vaccines. In my mind, I began to see vaccinations as a potential trigger for all kinds of health issues.
Eventually I wasn’t just worried about autism. I felt worried about cancer. What if vaccinations triggered cancer? I thought about mental illness which ran rampant in my family. Wasn’t it about the time of my booster shots when I began battling depression, something with which I struggle today even?
It’s not that I was ever anti-vax. I realized that my children were benefiting from vaccines that other people had received. Never once did I feel superior to anyone else who did vaccinate. Never once did I judge people for not doing things the way that I did them.
I saw things from both perspectives.
Similar to how I see many issues today.
It’s a quality that causes many people to call me tolerant and accepting which also gets me labeled a “fence rider” by other, more fundamental individuals. I do see gray areas, something I was made to feel ashamed of years ago when my husband had decided to marry me and various people in his life were pointing out my character flaws to him. Today, I am a proud of my ability to see gray.
While I didn’t wish that vaccines had never existed, there was small voice that kept telling me not to vaccinate my children. Some might say my gut was talking to me. Others might call it the holy spirit. No matter what you call it, I knew that I wasn’t ready to give my kids shots.
I gave birth to two more children and my feelings didn’t change. Once in a while, I’d check in with my husband and I’d ask him if he still felt good about this decision and he’d give me the thumbs up and we’d keep moving forward.
Then my oldest got cancer. I started to wonder if the not vaccinating thing was somehow related to that. If the vaccines would have made some kind of impact on the outcome of his transplant or treatment. I still wonder that.
About a year ago, doubt began to stir in me. I began to think that, maybe, it was time to discuss vaccines with my husband. But I never brought it up until one day we were talking about some political issues that were distressing to him and I told him that I’d been thinking that maybe it was time for us to consider getting at least some of the vaccines for our children. He said he’d been thinking the same thing. I told him I’d like to pray about it and think on it and I asked him to start reading some things. We talked about it again a few months later. Then we decided, together, that it was time to make the appointments. We discussed waiting until flu and cold season had died down and then we’d call.
It was very interesting timing that the measles outbreak began right around the same time we made that decision. So I have prepared myself for people, who know we haven’t vaccinated in the past, to accuse us of deciding we should get the shots because of the outbreak. But that’s not how it went down. It’s really not.
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of nasty things about people like me… people who don’t vaccinate their children. It’s been hurtful to know that people I love and care for very much think that I’m nuts, crazy, ruthless, and a danger to my society. I know that their reactions come from the same place from which my reactions to the vaccines themselves come: fear. But it still sucked to know the truth about how people really saw me. Most of the time, I learned this through passive aggressive posts on Facebook. This is a great example of the kinds of things I’ve seen over the years:
Then I’d see images like this and think, “No wonder so many folks think I’m kooky.”
Today, my children received some vaccinations.
With an exception of the tetanus shot my daughter received last summer after stepping into an uncovered heating and air vent and being scraped up by nails, these are the only vaccines we’ve ever given our children.
They received three different vaccines, ones that my husband and I both felt comfortable with them having and ones we felt were necessary. There was one more he was considering but I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that one yet and he respected my request to wait. They go back in about five weeks for another round of vaccines.
Will we get more vaccines as time goes on? Maybe. I don’t know. We might.
Now that we’ve changed our minds, do we regret having not vaccinated in the past? No. I have always firmly believed that the answers are there in front of us if we just listen. Clearly, my husband and I were both being moved by the holy spirit, in my opinion, at the same time. I believe my children were better off having not been vaccinated before and are now better off having been. I feel completely at peace with the way that we’ve chosen to handle this matter.
I’m not gonna lie. Today was hard. I didn’t go with my children to the doctor’s office. I asked them if they needed me there and they said no. Doctor’s offices bring up a lot of issues for me, particularly their pediatrician’s office, which is where I first received the news that my son likely had leukemia. So I stayed at home and got some work done. I had some anxiety about the shots, even though I felt it was the right thing to do.
My daughter has felt sorta yucky this afternoon and I messaged my best friend about it. She reassured me, reminded me that I did the best thing for my family and that I’m a great mom. She also said that it’s easy to be paranoid after having read so many horror stories from anti vaxxers over the years. I appreciated her knowing exactly what I was going through without my having to tell her. I felt confident and calm.
Tonight I can rest easy knowing that I made a good choice for my family. I did it on my terms and the terms of my husband. As another dear friend pointed out, I’m able to grow, change my mind, and make decisions that are different than the ones I made before. She was proud of me and I’m proud of myself.
My hope, by writing this article, is that I can help other people, no matter what side of the issue they happen to be on, see that all people who choose to not vaccinate aren’t crazy, reckless, unreasonable lunatics. Instead, I am simply a mother who followed her instincts, made the best decision she could at the time and made a different decision later on when it felt right. There are so many factors making parenting super hard. Being judged for doing what you think is best for your children shouldn’t be one of them.