Confessions of a Former Anti Vaxxer

Confessions2

This post is a little embarrassing and frightening to write. I generally try to stay away from controversial topics, but in light of the recent increase in disease, I thought I should speak out.

My History with Regard to Vaccines and My Children

I started out doing everything by the book. My first daughter got her shots on schedule, so did my second child, for at least his first year or so. Around that time, I became involved with a certain breastfeeding organization. I studied hard, and eventually became a co-leader in a group.

As we led the group, we were careful to give good information about breastfeeding and not to allow any group discussions about off topic medical subjects like home birth and vaccines, but in the play group that spawned from the group… we were free to talk about anything. A close friend loaned me her copy of DPT: A Shot in the Dark by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher. To be honest, the book scared my pants off. It is full of heartrending anecdotes or parents watching their children scream for hours, have seizures and become brain damaged.

This was still the pre-internet era, so my research from there on was done through talking to natural minded friends, reading more books and articles, including How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Robert S Mendelsohn, MD. Even then, with just a public library and advice from friends, it was easy enough to confirm my growing suspicions that vaccines were unnecessary and even unhealthful. Graphs like this one didn’t help at all:

graph4

The seed of doubt in the medical community had been sown early in my parenting in my pursuit for an unmedicated birth. That doubt bloomed in full when I had my third child at home with a lay midwife. She received no vaccinations, had no crib, lived in the sling, breastfed on demand… the whole bit. And I wasn’t afraid to tell anyone I talked to all about it. (I’m so glad I didn’t have a blog then, I would have been obnoxious!)

I am thankful that through all of this I had an understanding pediatrician and nurses. They listened patiently to my concerns and did their best to answer my questions. Still, I remained distrustful and would not vaccinate. They continued to care for my children anyway. Had they sent me away, I am sure I would have found myself and my children in the office of a doctor who agreed with me.

Babies 5, 6, and 7 were born at home. During this time, we had stopped homeschooling and put our children in school so the vaccine thing became a real issue every year. I had a lot of children to keep healthy, and decided to take a leap of faith. Looking around me at all the normal, healthy, and intelligent children, in our school and far beyond, I decided that maybe I had been manipulated – emotionally milked by anecdotal stories – for too long. My 7th child was vaccinated on schedule (with a few exceptions, like the newborn Hep B) and I began to get the other children caught up as well.

I guess it wasn’t entirely a leap of faith. I had witnessed long, drawn out debates on parenting message boards and had talked to friends with advanced degrees in different types of science (chemistry for one and biology for another) who had also researched and had a fuller understanding of some of the things they read about vaccines than I did. I had been quietly processing this information and letting my fear die down a bit.

Then my 8th child was born, at home, with a more traumatic birth. This and other situations at the time left me emotionally raw. When she reacted strongly to her 2 month shots, I was scared all over again and resolved that I had been wrong to trust in vaccinations. She received no further shots, nor did any of the other kids.

Parenting is a scary thing; having your heart go walking around outside your body unprotected. I reacted out of that fear. Thankfully, we were spared from the increasing levels of outbreaks that seemed to be popping up more in the media.

I listened quietly, I read, I sought out opinions, facts, and studies from both sides of the debate, instead of just trying to back up my own opinion. Slowly, I calmed down and started catching the kids up again.

Things That Changed My Mind

If I had to pick one thing that was a turning point for me, it was the comparison of some of the graphs. I think the first time around, I had just taken them at face value, the ones I saw were like the one above, comparing the death rates of diseases. Of course the death rate dropped before the vaccine – we were finally in an era of modern medical care, with understanding of germ theory and antibiotics! Death isn’t the only bad effect to come from these diseases. There were graphs like these, which show cases of disease, not deaths:

measles_incidence

There are other contributing factors. My mom told me one day recently about her own experience with the measles at age 12. She told me of friends who suffered through whooping cough, and even had a child die from it. She had told me before, but I had been of the mindset that the diseases weren’t really all that bad. But they were that bad. My mom had no long term effects from the measles, but it was long, severe, and painful. And she was one of the lucky ones.

One day when my daughter got her polio shot, she asked about the disease it was preventing. We came home and did a little research, and found that maybe death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person with polio.

Yet, those people won’t be counted on that graph of deaths from polio.

polio

I’ve recently read some books that told the story of the fight against disease: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, and The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. These helped me to see the development of our medical system, complete with its mistakes and rabbit trails, as one that still has the cure of disease and the helping of people as its goal.

I began by mindlessly doing what I was told to do. Then I wrongly assumed that was what everyone who vaccinated was doing. Now my children are vaccinated and my eyes are open. My purpose in posting this is not to debate the issue, but to encourage each parent to continue educating themselves and understand that changing your mind is not failure or defeat. In each year of parenting we do the best we can for our children with what we have available to us. We have to forgive ourselves past mistakes and move on the best way we know how. I also want to let people on both sides of the fence know that their voices are heard, often by people who aren’t audibly participating in the debate. Be reasonable and respectful, check your sources, and you will be better heard by others. Many who do not vaccinate make this choice out of fear or distrust of the medical profession. It takes more than arguments to move past this.

I want to thank my pediatrician’s office one more time in this post; for caring for my children even when you didn’t agree with my decisions, for answering my questions honestly and respectfully. There are many offices who send non-vaccinaters packing. I’m glad you are not one of those.

Comments

  1. A wonderful piece – thank you for having an open mind and actually doing the research.

  2. Beryl Weidenbach says:

    GreAt writing Jenni! Very thoughtful!

  3. Thanks for writing this! As a 4th year pharmacy student, I have had my own debates in my head and controversies in my soul about this topic. I started vaccinating people when I got certified last year and I kept questioning myself whether I am doing the right thing. Well, hundreds of vaccines later, I don’t think I killed anyone yet, haha 🙂 Plus I learned a lot more scientific and medical facts in pharmacy school that answered my questions and addressed my concerns…And now I know just what tremendous benefits vaccinations provide and what disasters would come about if we stopped vaccinating our children. …and so I will no doubt keep vaccinating my patients and will vaccinate my children when God blessed me with them (hopefully soon!).

    Agnes

  4. Becky Mackey says:

    Well said, Jenni.

    I never questioned vaccinating my kids. My mom told about a summer of polio when she was little. Not sure if your mom was born yet. All the public pools were closed, children did not go to parks. Parents didn’t even want their kids playing in the neighborhood. A girl that lived near them got it and Grandma and Grandpa were pretty worried. You may remember Grandpa’s stories about his brother Vincent dying from rheumatic fever and his other brother suffering from mumps. It sort of scared me as a kid!

    I respect those who choose not to vaccine if they have really looked at both sides and understand the real dangers of the diseases. I have a friend who chose not to vaccinate her kids when they were infants because she had a severe reaction to one as an infant. I totally understand her fears!

  5. I was like you- started out doing vax on time. Then I went to the no vax at all after my oldest had a scary reaction. Then I followed the advice in I think the Mendelsohn book- starting vax after 2, one at a time. I was blessed by doctors who would LISTEN to my concerns and let us do shots that way. God bless them. It works best for us, because now if someone does react, we know what they are reacting to.

    And my oldest got her booster for pertussis- but was exposed at almost the same day, so her body hadn’t built back up the immunity. (she was 14) She suffered for almost a month before we realised what was going on. Its amazing what antibiotics can do.

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