I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, and I think I’m finally ready. It took me years to really figure out how to state my “position” on this controversial topic, mostly because it took me years to know what my position is. I think it’s important to quickly establish my “natural mom street cred” before I explain why I vaccinate, and how I do so. I know this topic turns into mud slinging faster than a presidential campaign, so I’m going to try to cover all the bases.
I am a doula, and support natural living/birthing, and extended (like three years) breastfeeding. If you look under my kitchen sink the only chemical cleaner you will find is Dawn and a biodegradable dishwasher soap. Everything else is homemade spray bottles of vinegar and essential oils. I treat my kids with homeopathy and rarely take them to the doctor if I think we can cure ourselves at home with some rest and a good diet or homemade soup. I don’t own any bleach. I don’t dye my hair with anything but a natural henna mixture. We buy organic produce. I almost owned backyard chickens (but we had to move to California before we could bring our pullets home). I take my kids to Monsanto protests and to support tree-sitters. Basically, I’m super granola, and I’m that way because of my own research.
But I did vaccinate my own kids. I’m not going to persuade anyone who’s done the research and reached the conclusion to avoid vaccines. And honestly, that’s OK with me. I believe we all have the right to make that choice for our own kids. This post is NOT an attempt to change anyone’s mind. I delayed vaccinations with my kids because that was my personal conviction, and if someone had tried aggressively to change my mind it wouldn’t have worked.
So, why did I vaccinate? I believe in the theory of herd immunity. The group as a whole needs to have some percentage of immunity so that any potentially harmful diseases do not have a large vulnerable population to spread through. It’s the same reason I got my own boosters after my third was born. There was a whooping cough outbreak in the local high school that year, and one of Rob’s sisters attended college at a school with a mumps outbreak. I didn’t want to take any chances catching the diseases when the baby was still too young for the vaccine herself. Also, my grandmother was undergoing Chemotherapy at the time, and she caught whooping cough. This was all in the same year, after I had already decided to vaccinate, but it furthered my commitment to doing so.
So, what about the risk? Well, I don’t believe that there is a link between autism and vaccines. The major research on that was debunked by the author of the study himself admitting it was falsified. Is there risk that I do acknowledge? Yes. Big yes. I think that the vaccines which we have at this time are less-than safe. There is too much we don’t know about the side effects concerning asthma, allergies, and behavior issues. And drug companies are not to be trusted, in my opinion. But the alternative, of allowing our weakest populations to suffer diseases and even death because of these unknown fears seems worse to me. I’d rather face the unknown possibility of harm than the known harm of preventable diseases.
So, how do I approach vaccinations as a naturally minded mom? First, I delayed all vaccines for the first 6 weeks so that I could establish breastfeeding successfully and get to know my newborns as they were before adding any chemicals to the mix. Next, I ate as cleanly as I could while breastfeeding. This wasn’t very clean when my first was a baby because I didn’t know as much then as I do now. But avoiding toxins from food sources to reduce the load on my babies’ system from the toxins in the vaccines was a good balance for our family. We avoided plastics, avoided synthetic chemical cleaners, and avoided being around any smokers or other environmental toxins.
I went to a talk by a local acupuncturist recently. He described the human immune system as a sort of bucket. Each enemy of your health is like a cup of water being poured into the bucket. Allergic to pollen? Pour a cup of water in the bucket. Dairy intolerance? Water in the bucket. Exposure to common cold virus? Water in the bucket. Too much estrogen-mimicking chemicals in your cleaning supplies? Water in the bucket. Vaccines toxins? Water in the bucket. Too many of these exposures and the water overflows the bucket and you have a system response with symptoms of allergies, or disease.
That explanation really resonated with me. Some of these toxins I can’t control. There is air pollution that I can’t avoid unless I stop breathing or move to the top of a mountain away from any other humans. There are toxins in the water supply that I can only filter so well. Sometimes we are around sick people and we don’t know it. I can’t control those things. I chose to vaccinate knowing that there would be exposure to toxins for my family. So, what environmental toxins are we exposed to that I can change? Where can I put my efforts so that the bucket doesn’t overflow? Those are the things I changed, and I have had a very good experience with that approach.
My kids are 9, 7 and 4. They’ve all been almost fully (we declined a few of them) vaccinated. They are old enough now that I could tell if they have had any unintended immune responses to the vaccines. I am glad to report that we have no real allergies to speak of (one of us is allergic to hazelnuts and we have regular seasonal allergies). There are no symptoms of autism, adhd, behavior problems, or anything else. We are almost always healthy, and only get sick once or twice a winter, but even less now that we’re in California and can keep getting outside in the winter.
We did catch whooping cough this past winter, even though the kids are vaccinated. We went on a round of antibiotics and it cleared right up. And our symptoms of the cough were very very mild. If I hadn’t known that it was going around in our community I may not have even known why the kids were coughing so strangely at night. My youngest had it the worst. She had barky coughs, punctuated by little gasps all night long. I controlled the symptoms of the cough with eucalyptus oil in an infuser in her room and on the soles of her feet while we waited for the antibiotics to kill the germs.
People who are against vaccines might say, “see the vaccine didn’t work, you didn’t stop them from getting it.” Well, sure. Some of the people who got the same disease had much scarier manifestations in their children. And it lasted much longer. I completely respect their choice to approach disease this way. I respected their choice to hang out at home until their family wasn’t contagious anymore. I feel that these families handled their exposure responsibly and the end result for them was the same, their kids are healthy again. But I am still glad we went the conventional medicine route for our family. It was the right choice for us.
So, why am I even writing this post? Am I just trying to add fuel to the fire of the mommy-wars? Am I trying to shame or blame non-vaccinating families? Not at all. As a natural mom, one who moderates a board for other women who choose to live holistically, I know that we cruchy-vaccinaters can feel left out. It seems like not vaccinating is the norm in our group. But I’m finding out that it’s not. I don’t have a statistic because I don’t want to alienate anyone by asking their families’ vaccine status (it’s none of my business). But I know that in confidence a lot of moms have told me that they actually have vaccinated but didn’t feel comfortable sharing that information out of fear of being brought into the argument that just won’t end.
I’m sharing my stance because I feel that those of us who are vaccinating families who choose to live holistically need to be sharing with each other our tips for weathering the exposure to toxins. We need to able to speak up without the argument happening. Just like non-vaccinating families have the right to choose, so do we. We just happen to be straddling two worlds: conventional and holistic medicine. It’s not talked about a lot, but I wish we could support each other more openly. I’m not even going to allow comments on this post, because I don’t want to spend the time moderating all the comments. People say ugly things about this topic. I don’t like ugliness. But if you want to talk about it, I encourage you to speak up. Ask your questions. Share your experiences with others, and don’t be ashamed of your choice. Trust your gut, and no matter what choice you’ve made about vaccines know that we are all in at least one camp together: the camp of people who want to do the best by their kids.