Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Fear. It Works.

I have had to put some critical thinking hours in lately. Maybe it's because I have been getting comparatively more sleep. Maybe it's because I am out and about in the world more now. Maybe it's because The Boy is older and doing so very well.

The reason does not really matter. What I am interested in is my personal reaction the the vaccination issue when it came up while babywhumpus was in the hospital.

A few years before I had a kid, probably ten years, by now, friends of mine who do have kids and who work at renaissance festivals around the country, year-round, told me that the kids in the trailer next to them had whooping cough. My reaction was "Whooping cough? Seriously? But there's a vaccine for that." It was like my friend had told me that the kid next door had the plague or dropsy, it sounded so alien, so medieval, so not like a health problem one should have in 20th century America. She explained to me that a lot of these young parents were not vaccinating at all.

My reaction? "Dumbass hippies."


Flash forward to Pregnant Me, 2008. I have just started to think about things like pediatricians and day cares, and vaccinations. In the intervening ten years, there had been all these reports about vaccines and autism, vaccines and mercury, vaccines and side effects, and now I had my own fetus, and I started to think about it differently, from a standpoint of quivering fear.

I can only see this clearly now, almost two years later.

Fear works. Whether it's in interpersonal relationships or politics... or health care. Make someone afraid, and you can get a formerly rational person to do almost anything, believe almost anything.

Then Mr. Baby arrived on the scene at 25.5 weeks, and I stopped thinking about all those "third trimester things" because my fetus was going to spend his third trimester in a plastic womb. I had other things to worry about. I had the presence of mind to ask about breastfeeding, and I may have asked about shots, but I don't remember.

A couple of weeks before his discharge, they started asking me about shots and giving me handouts from the CDC. They filled me with doubt and disbelief. My brain was handling them like propoganda. I read a book by Dr. Sears on vaccinations and took copious notes. I wrote a note to one of his doctors expressing my concerns. I would look at my little boy and somewhere in the back of my mind was this fear that he would be forever changed if he got these shots.

The Fear. It Works.

The doctor was very patient; she provided peer-reviewed articles for us to read. I could feel my brain resisting. I wanted her, an authority I trusted, to tell me what I wanted to believe: that this would hurt my baby, and I did not have to do it. Even though I had no problem getting the DTaP shot myself once Finn was born. Even though I get a flu shot every year. Even though I had previously thought that the vaccine-thimerosal-autism argument made no sense when one considered incidence and timeline. And because this authority I trusted did not tell me what I clearly wanted to hear, did not give me the validation from authority I craved, my brain told me that she just didn't have all the answers; she wasn't really listening. This practicing neonatologist, who has worked with preemies for most of her long medical career somehow just didn't get it.

In the end, we had his DTaP shot and we all went home. I was an emotional wreck that day. Convinced that I was going to come back to the hospital to a different child. And everything was fine. Since then, we have given him the recommended shots, albeit, one at a time. I rationalize it by thinking that if he does have a reaction, then I will know which shot it was, so I can monitor in the future, but I know that, really, it's purely paranoia. It's a little comfort game I have chosen to delude myself with.

What gets me now, after the crazy fog has lifted, is how insidious that anti-vaccination propaganda actually is. It follows the same emotional lines that other equally unsupported arguments follow--arguments to which I am not susceptible because their underlying thesis (e.g. President Obama is not an American) is so obviously ridiculous and poses no threat to me or my family. This one got me because of my propensity for some aspects of what is often called "natural parenting," my aspirations toward "sustainability," and the peculiar and unnerving circumstances of my son's birth.

It has made me feel great deal of resentment toward the anti-vaccination movement; I feel taken advantage of, at my most vulnerable time, by lies and fear, which also results in embarrassment at my susceptibility, but more than that, it has left me with a more critical eye toward what I am doing and what assumptions I make. Does that mean everything I do will change? Of course not. But I hope to have a better understanding of why I do things, and the ability to re-evaluate my opinions and actions when necessary.


Qwerty said...

After reading your kittywampus post on the debate, I had to see the babywampus posts.

I remember having the whooping cough as a child. All five of us (my mother had five children) got it at the same time and most of us missed the first month of a school year.

I don't know if there was a vaccination for it at the time I had it in the middle 1950s, but it did lead to a family story that we still tell.

My youngest sister went back to school after missing the month of September. She was in first grade and the teacher asked her what color she was using. She held up the crayon to the teacher and said, "Blue, can't you read!" as crayons have their color written on them. (My sister claims the truth is the color was red, but my mother substituted her favorite color, blue, when telling it.)

A friend of my who teaches at a community college was saddled with the odious task of teaching remedial reading this fall. Being familiar with this story, she told me that she told it to her class.

Glad to see you did get over your fears of vaccination.

Polio was the greatest fear of parents when I grew up. I remember getting the shots; then, it became easier when they came up with a liquid form we had to swallow. Be glad you don't have to worry about polio. What a horrible disease.

Babywampus - He'll probably never live this name down when he's older. Anyhow, he's a cute little fellow.

kittywhumpus said...

Qwerty: Thanks for stopping by here. It's the baby side of things, and I tend to keep it separate. It's not so interesting in a broader scheme of things!

The thing that really makes me mad about the anti vaccination people is that I had no fear of vaccinations at all, before I had a baby. I thought that people who did not vaccinate were irresponsible stewards of the public health. They prey on you, these people, and others like them.

I feel better now. I am back to mostly normal.