A Difficult Decision

Last night I Googled ‘Do vaccines cause Autism?’ for probably the fiftieth time. It’s a debate I return to often, and one that never fails to leave me with more questions than answers. In light of the recent Measles outbreak, it seemed fitting to remind myself that while there are those who roll their eyes at such a claim, there are also those who, like me, have seen something that can’t be denied.
I had my first son, Noah, in 1998. He was three months premature and weighed two pounds. He does not have Autism. He had all of his vaccinations, and though he had complications after them, I never feared for his life as a result of them. For that reason, when I had Gabe in 2004, I had no reason to question the effectiveness or safety of vaccinations. Not after my two pound baby received them and survived. I knew what it was like to fear that I would lose my child, after watching Noah struggle for two months in NICU, and I had no intention of going through that again. Not if I could prevent it.
I didn’t follow the news then any better than I do now, so I hadn’t heard any claims that vaccinations could cause Autism. I was given the little packet that listed the vaccines and explained away the possibility of side-effects. Autism wasn’t mentioned. Death was. And brain damage, and a long list of unlikely but horrible outcomes, including actually catching the diseases the inoculations were meant to prevent. I was asked to initial those sheets and told by the nurses in sly whispers that nothing could really go wrong. They just had to prove I was informed of the risks. Well played. Of course I let them give my son the shots. What kind of sick, evil mother would refuse them?
Before his eighteen-month shots, Gabe was a typical child. He knew his name and responded to it. He made eye contact. He had a personality. I hated watching him receive the shots, but I wasn’t afraid during the visit to the pediatrician. I had been assured nothing could go wrong. But by the time we got home from the doctor’s office, Gabe had developed a fever. It was mild, but I called the pediatrician anyway, because there were other symptoms. I remember the questions I asked. I wanted to know why my son had stopped looking at me when I called his name. Could his hearing have been affected? Did he catch a disease from the shots? When would it stop?
I was told he was having a mild reaction to the shots and that he would be fine. I should watch his fever and let them know if it didn’t go away. His lack of eye contact was ignored and chalked up to him not feeling well. (Yes, I forget my name when I feel bad, too. Don’t you?) He didn’t snap out of it, but in the way that life plays out, we got used to the new Gabe. It was a setback, nothing more. He didn’t seem to have any diseases, and the fever went away. And I remained ignorant.
The next time he got a series of shots, the same thing happened. I said on that day that it had happened before, and I was starting to suspect that he just couldn’t tolerate vaccines. I called the pediatrician’s office again and asked the same questions as before, reminding them that it had also happened the last time. He seemed dazed, he wouldn’t respond to his name, and he wasn’t talking. It happened too soon after the shots—on that very day!—for me to believe it was anything else. This time he was crying, though he was typically a happy child. The nurse’s response was, “babies cry,” which she delivered in a tone that made it clear she considered me a complete idiot.
Again, Gabe didn’t snap out of it, and a new list of symptoms appeared. He withdrew from relationships, he treated his toys differently, he didn’t talk, and he rocked constantly. I’m not talking about slow progress. I’m talking about going backward. I’m talking about losing part of his vocabulary and refusing to look at me in the eyes. He was diagnosed with Autism. The symptoms used to make the diagnosis include the symptoms that appeared on the exact days of his last two rounds of shots.
I’m angry today, and I have a right to be. I’ve been called evil for refusing to inject my child with something that I know destroyed part of who he is. It’s only said by people who have never experienced what I have, and I can even imagine myself as one of those people. Had the nurses told me on the day my son got his shots that many people had gone nuts and stopped immunizing their children, I would probably have called them bad parents and self-righteously patted myself on the back for doing the right thing. But now here I am, terrified of immunizing and also of not immunizing, and knowing that whichever way I go, I may lose my son.
If you think watching your child suffer from Measles or any other illness is worse than watching them disappear into a mental fog, then you’re probably right. But consider knowing that the moment before the needle goes in might be the last time your child wraps his arms around you or looks into your eyes. Don’t just move past this, thinking I’m being dramatic. Actually take a moment to think of how it makes you feel to see your child connecting with you. Think of what it does to your heart to hear her call you mommy or daddy. And imagine losing that. Consider not being convinced that the vaccine is necessary or as effective as you’ve been told, and still making the decision to give up your relationship with your child just because the media tells you it’s safe. Just because the very people who sell the drug give evidence to support its use.
I weep as I write this, because it’s a decision I have to make. Not just now, but every time something causes me to question what I’ve learned, every time an illness breaks out, every time someone calls me a fool. I love my children more than anything, and I won’t choose one side because it makes me comfortable or because someone famous said I should. I research, I pray, I read, I do more than most parents of typical children ever have to. And despite what we’re told, evidence does exist that connects vaccinations with Autism. Some of that evidence exists in the lives of people like me who simply know what they’ve experienced. But there are also studies out there that show links. (You’ll find them under expensive rugs purchased by the companies that profit from the use of vaccines.)

I even understand, on some level, the logic in hiding the truth. Imagine if we learned tomorrow from some reputable source, that vaccines do indeed cause Autism. Case settled. The result would be pandemonium worse than if we found out the Roswell stories were true. Some would still get the shots, claiming that a chance of Autism is better than the risk of Measles. But many who teeter on the edge would fall on the other side.

I can’t say I like the idea of abandoning vaccines, and I can’t say I’m convinced by either side of the argument. But after studying the statistics regarding the number of people affected with Measles in unvaccinated areas and comparing them to the statistics regarding Autism here in America, I’m not sure I think we’re doing the right thing. Autism is still on the rise, and I have to ask myself if I’m more afraid of Measles or the idea of a whole generation of adults who can’t care for themselves. That’s a decision every parent has to make. Or one they can allow someone else to make for them.
I don’t hate anyone for immunizing their children, even those who do no more research than skimming the latest article posted on Facebook that may or may not be true and was likely written by someone with a slanted view. I respect that each parent has to evaluate the evidence and also use their own experience to make an informed decision. And I would like the same courtesy. But I know I won’t get it. Because it’s easier to just do what you’re told and believe it’s right. Until you learn that it isn’t.


~ by Rachel McMahon on August 22, 2013.

4 Responses to “A Difficult Decision”

  1. I think after watching your son through the effects of both immunizations, gives you the right to choose NOT to immunize. If he put his hand in boiling water and got burnt, you sure wouldn’t want him to do it twice or three times. So why would people still expect you to immunize? Stand up for his rights Rachel, cos if you don’t, no one else will.

  2. I couldn’t imagine what you’re going through, but what you describe makes my heart ache. I remember hearing about the rise of Autism back when my girls were little. I try my best to avoid the news whenever I can, but I remember hearing the rumors that it was linked to the shots. Honestly I wouldn’t be a bit surprised by that, because Autism seemed to be rising as the number of vaccines increased. I won’t lie it scared me so bad that I had purposely had my girls a year behind on shots and then wouldn’t let the nurse give them all the shots at once, so we had many visits that I had spread out. I don’t know if that really helped anything, but I did that with all my girls. I just thought they were too little to get so many things all at once. I don’t think we should totally do away with vaccines. I know we need them, but they (whoever they are) needs to reevaluate how it’s done.

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