Originally, despite all the crunchy tendencies we had, there was never any question for us about vaccinating our children. With G, our first, we truly had no idea what we were up against. Back then (all of four years ago), when he was born, it was still okay to give pain killers before vaccinations, and although it seemed a bit odd, neither Hubby nor I really thought much about these routine childhood shots. We were under the impression that there were no risks, because surely if there were our healthcare providers would have been more up front with potential adverse reactions and what to watch for. Instead, we were assured that there was nothing wrong with having three or four different vaccinations given at a single appointment, and had a small packet of papers shoved at us every time highlighting why childhood vaccinations were so important (and leaving potential allergic reactions, symptoms of adverse reactions, and other vital information to the very back page in small print). We figured that by aiming for intervention-free births, keeping our boys intact, making the change to natural and organic foods, and using cloth diapers, that we were doing the utmost for our children.
Even after we became aware of some of the true potential problems, the possibility of tie-ins with debilitating disorders, we still smiled and nodded because the idea of having our children catch whooping cough or measles or whatnot was more frightening than what seemed to be the far more remote possibility of a problematic reaction. Issues related to vaccines seemed to be so few and far between, while every year or two pertussis cases would suddenly appear in our local hospital, often unreported until weeks after the outbreak, leaving us paranoid as to whether or not we had come into contact with someone who had pertussis before they had shown symptoms. Our paranoia outweighed our ability to seriously look at what we were dealing with, and even the beloved comedy duo Penn and Teller seemed to further justify my thoughts that vaccinations were typically nothing to be feared.
There were other things, too, that eased my worries. Neither of my children ever had a visible reaction. Fevers afterwards, with or without Tylenol beforehand, were rare; both are rambunctious, friendly, creative boys who have been either right on time or ahead of where they should be developmentally. Neither has given us any real reason to worry about a physical reaction to their vaccinations; even the possibility of allergies made no sense to me because my mother, who was vaccinated back in the 60s when not even half as many vaccinations were given, has allergies, as do I. To me, it's unrelated, and a lack of negative reactions in my children and (to me) a lack of proof that vaccinations were linked to any one of the numerous childhood problems that affected families seemed to tie them to justified vaccinating both on schedule. We just always skipped the flu vaccinations because they seemed unnecessary.
But every once in a while, when discussing vaccines with parents who were vehemently against them, I'd have an odd comment made to me: "You're really, really lucky." We're what? How on earth are we lucky? What, our children aren't autistic or delayed, didn't have an allergic reaction to an ingredient, and that makes us lucky? I didn't understand in the least. But it was an unsettling thing to hear, and it made me wonder.
The occasional references to doctors - legitimate medical doctors with experience in their fields - who were completely against vaccinating young children with so many different vaccines bothered me as well. I typically tried to find ways to discredit their commentary, by seeing what other things they had done or said that seemed overly radical or was specifically tied to anti-vaccinating groups or organizations. It made me feel better to be able to shake my head and laugh at these silly radicals, without realizing that I was the same - an intactivist, a lactivist, a natural birthing advocate - on other subjects where I was probably looked at the same way by those on the other end of the spectrum. When I realized that, I started being nicer to anti-vaxxing parents, aware of what they were feeling and thinking to a degree, and how it felt to be ridiculed and argued with without having their position considered or even being labeled as potentially legitimate. I figured out nicer ways to disagree without figuring out why I still hesitated when it came time to vaccinate.
Where am I going with all this?
I wonder, now, if I did the right thing. If the choices we made as parents were the right ones, if we should have more seriously considered the potential of vaccine injury. I wonder if, by making what we thought was the right choice, we completely risked the lives of our children. I wonder what we ought to do in the future with any subsequent children we have; if we should assume that they won't have a reaction either and fully vaccinate on schedule, or change things by delaying and selecting vaccines. I wonder if we risked the health of our boys, or what we would do if we changed how we vaccinated (if we did at all) next time around, and what would happen if one of our unvaccinated children became seriously ill, while our vaccinated kids were able to fight off the illness faster and easier because they had gotten the vaccine.
The more I see and learn, the more I question our choices. The more confused I become about what options we have, and the "truth" behind what keeps going on with the medical community, the government, the CDC and the ever-increasing list of childhood vaccinations. I'm posting this because I know I can't be the only parent who is wondering if they did the right thing, but it's really hard to step forward and admit because it means there is a possibility that you didn't make the right choice and potentially risked the health of your child or children. It's okay to be worried and wonder, as long as you're also willing to learn more and take into consideration all possibilities.