Vaccines and Responsibility

When I was pregnant, I didn’t have a lot of friends, especially friends that were my age. As a result, I didn’t know many people to talk to about being pregnant. I resorted to the internet to answer a great many questions, and the people I knew at church to answer others. When I went to my 20 week OB appointment, my doctor asked if I had gotten my flu shot. More so, he wanted to know about the H1N1 immunization.

“There are a lot of different strains of the flu,” he told me. “But H1N1, or swine flu, as you’ve probably heard it called on tv, is different. Where the flu vaccine may not necessarily target the strain of flu that’s infecting you, the swine flu vaccine knows what it’s looking for and takes care of business. If you don’t have it yet, you should. And if you get, it will save your baby from having to get it when he is born. He will be immunized through you.”

I looked at the husband, and then back at the doctor. “I’d like to think about it. Research a bit first.”

“I understand. But come in as soon as possible if you do decide to get it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

On the drive home, I asked the husband what he thought. His answer was noncommittal, as always. So when I got to church choir rehearsal later that night, I asked around. In particular, I asked the only person I remotely knew on a personal level had had babies. Her response? “Better safe than sorry.” The next day, I called and scheduled an appointment to come in and get vaccinated. I didn’t want my son to die from something as simple to prevent as the swine flu.

I remember lying in my hospital bed at some point while I was in labor. It was late at night. My OB came in in what looked like his pajamas and pulled a chair up to the foot of my bed, twisting it around so he could straddle it backwards.

“Sometimes we don’t know why these things happen,” he began.

“Why what things happen?” I asked.

“Why babies die.”

“He’s not dead. He’s going to come out just fine.”

My response seemed to baffle him. He stammered out his next words. “I…We…We can run some tests, to determine what happened. To get as close to a reason as we can so that when you have your next baby, we are better prepared.”

“There won’t be another baby,” I informed him. “There will be this baby. Because I did everything I could to make sure he would be safe.”

My baby wasn’t safe. He was dead. After twenty plus hours of labor over a very long, sleepless night. And at four o clock in the morning, a nurse appeared. “We need you to make a decision now. About the autopsy.”

The husband was sleeping, so I spoke for both of us. “No. You can’t cut up my child. No.”

So I, at least, never knew for sure what happened to my son.

I went back to church the following weekend. There was a special concert with some special gospel singer whose name I can no longer remember. I stood up in the balcony, watching the other choir members rehearse and debating whether I should join them. My elbows dug into the row of pews in front of me. I wondered whether or not I could fake the songs they were singing, if I knew them well enough. I heard the whispers; I had heard them everywhere.

“Did you see that Sara’s back?”

“Have you talked to her?”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“I feel so bad for her.”

And then:

“I heard her asking around the choir room about the H1N1 vaccine. I wonder if that’s what did it.”

“I bet it is. You know those vaccines cause autism. And stillbirth. I bet if she wouldn’t have got it, that baby would be alive right now.”

I turned around and walked up the three rows of balcony and out the door to where the two women were standing. I vaguely remembered seeing them in choir, but I couldn’t remember their names. They didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed when they saw me.

“What?” the woman who was farther away said. “It’s true. Vaccines kill children.”

My face flamed red hot with tears I didn’t know how to shed. They didn’t even know me, and I didn’t know them. And yet, the insinuation burned me, deep inside. I didn’t know how my son had died, but he had been in my body. So it made sense that, in some way, I had killed him.

I killed him.

The next morning, the OB’s office called to confirm my post-delivery appointment for both me and my son. “I think I killed him,” I informed the poor woman on the other end of the phone. She was really confused, and I found myself stammering to explain. “I…I mean…He’s dead. He’s…dead.”

The poor unfortunate soul scrambled to erase that appointment and the pediatrician appointment from her computer before I got another phone call.

“Can I ask you a question?”

I could hear her frantically typing in the background. “Yes, of course.”

“Could a vaccine kill a baby?”

“You should ask your doctor that question when you come in. You need to schedule a follow up, yes?”

And so, I asked my doctor. “No, no,” he assured me. “Of course not.”

It occurred to me, as I left his office, that he had given me the vaccine and therefore might be slightly biased. So I turned to the internet. There were studies for vaccines causing everything. Autism. Blindness. You could find a study that showed children who had been vaccinated with any number of diseases. I pored over so many things that it seemed like I could almost say vaccines caused alien abductions; that was how ridiculous the information all was. There was correlation, sure. You can find correlation in anything if you looked hard enough and jam enough pieces together. But no one could prove causation for anything except vaccines helping to prevent disease. Things happened. But vaccines didn’t necessarily cause them.

It bothers me now, to think about that moment. And the ones that followed. An overheard whisper. An article somebody sent to me with the attached message, “This might help you find answers.” The title of the article? ‘When Vaccinations Kill.’

Was everybody talking about me?

The vaccine debate is a hot one as of late. With the measles fast infringing on the Chicagoland, parents are scared. And they should be. Many people choose not to vaccinate their children, for whatever reason. The point is, everyone is entitled to have their opinion. But not at the expense of other people’s safety. And not at the expense of their emotional well being. So share your opinion. But share it only when it’s appropriate to do so. And share it nicely, respectfully. Peacefully. Being mean spirited gets no one heard, and gets the debate nowhere. Nasty comments on any side of an argument just shut everything down. Do your research.

Personally, I think y’all should protect your children, and protect the children (and others) around you who cannot protect themselves. Vaccines are a simple, easy solution to horrible, painful diseases that not all children are equipped to handle on their own. Getting your child vaccinated prevents them from getting the disease, and can possibly prevent any immunocompromised people they may come into contact with from getting it as well. You never know the struggles of the people around you. You’re free to make that choice if you feel it protects your child, just as other parents are free to vaccinate to protect their child. However, if you do choose not to vaccinate and your child has symptoms, keep them home. Be responsible. Keep everyone safe. Let us all look to Disneyland as the case and point on that one. 

If you choose not to vaccinate, if you support the other side of the debate, then share your opinion nicely–and remember that you too have a responsibility. And don’t you dare tell me that my choice to receive a vaccination killed my son. Because I have done my research, and that is a line I will never, ever, buy.

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