I consider myself lucky that my children don’t go to the doctor very often. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve taken either of them to the doctor for something other than a routine well-child check. Of course, I’ve probably jinxed myself now, and will endure a long string of ear infections, cuts and strange rashes as a punishment for bragging about that.
But even the well-child visits are stressful for me. Cordy’s visits always start with a full-blown meltdown because she is terrified of the doctor’s office. Thankfully, those are only once a year now. For Mira, however, my stress results from the mental preparation of what will happen with each visit.
I took Mira to the pediatrician for her nine month check-up the other day. The first part of the exam went relatively well: 20 pounds, 29.5 inches long. Cordy may be the Amazon warrior princess, but Mira is proving to be an Amazon in height as well. (But not quite at warrior weight.) She charmed the nurse and charmed her doctor, babbling at both of them, waving her arms and flashing wide, scrunchy-eye grins.
Then the doctor got serious, and the discussion about her vaccinations began. Mira is on a delayed schedule for vaccines, and needed one shot that day. But the one year vaccinations are looming three months in the future, and I felt we needed to establish in advance a schedule we could all agree on.
I’m not against vaccinations. I know how important they are at providing herd immunity against a collection of diseases that once claimed so many lives. As a student nurse, the logical side of me knows they are relatively safe and effective. A couple of months ago, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philly. He explained how today’s standard children’s vaccines are safer than years ago, and that no study has been able to prove a conclusive connection between vaccines and autism. The logical side of me nods in agreement. After all, I had all of my vaccinations as a kid, and I was fine.
But then the mom in me says wait. Something feels off. While there is no definitive proof that vaccines cause autism, I am still hesitant. I remember the smiley baby who babbled and chatted and acted like every other baby three years ago. And I remember how, between 12 and 18 months, her personality shifted, ever so slightly, and she slowly pulled inward, became more difficult to interact with, and developed the series of traits that would eventually lead to a school psychologist asking me if I had heard of autism spectrum.
I don’t think vaccines cause autism. At least, not entirely. There is a genetic component – there has to be to explain how one child, raised in a manner similar to his/her peers, with similar exposures to environmental toxins, can develop autism while another child experiences a typical development pattern. That genetic defect is the underlying condition, but I think there has to be some sort of trigger also. And I can see how vaccines, or mercury in the water, or BPA in plastics, or phthalates in baby shampoo and lotion, or some other environmental toxin could provide that trigger that activates the genetic problem.
I’ll admit I’m doing it all differently with Mira. I breastfed her for eight months. (Cordy wasn’t as into breastfeeding.) We use BPA-free bottles now, and she eats mostly organic foods. For vaccinations, we’ve taken it slowly, with only one or two vaccines at a time.
So when her doctor mentioned her one year vaccinations coming up, I carefully explained that I didn’t want her to have the MMR vaccine at that time, and that I saw the Hepatitis A vaccine as an unnecessary vaccine. I also mentioned that I’d rather try to get her exposed to chicken pox on our own before considering that vaccine. After I expressed my preferences, I held my breath and waited for the lecture in return.
Surprisingly, her pediatrician looked at me and said, “That’s fine. I’m OK with delaying the MMR. It’s not like there has been a measles outbreak in this area. If there was, you can bet we’d call you to revisit this discussion. As long as she gets it before school, she’ll be fine.”
Whew. She understood my conflicted feelings on vaccines, and together we worked out a long-term schedule to follow. I want Mira to be protected, but I also want to take it slowly and not overload her system.
It’s a completely emotional response, and I know that. It’s possible Mira’s genetics are such that she will never develop autism. It’s also possible that no matter how different I try to make things, she will still succumb to it. Trying something different gives me hope, though. It gives me something to control in this sea of uncertainty, and I’ll cling to that hope for as long as I can.