Birth and Vaccination: Are We REALLY Independent?


I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill, truly I don’t. It’s just that I made this pact with myself, on behalf of the wellbeing of mothers and babies: I decided a few years back to run this not-so-celebratory article every year on America’s birthday, as long as our country continues to show up so poorly in world rankings on maternal health. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first some breaking news. (Settle in, grab a cuppa, this is long… or should I say in more inviting terms, epic. This really is historic, and it deserves all the words it takes.)

Vaccination Nation?

California this week passed SB 277 and Governor Brown signed it into law, eliminating vaccine exemptions for philosophical, religious or medical beliefs. Under this law, parents are required to fully vaccinate their children for them to be eligible for school admittance (both public and private). The one exception is having a doctor’s note. (This strikes me as a loophole that may end up blowing back on progressive doctors; I’m envisioning waiting rooms overflowing with parents clamoring for the coveted Doctor’s Note.)

MotheringFeaturedVaxMy confession: I’ve laid low on the whole past year of escalating debate on the vaccine issue. I’ve had the sense that it would have been like arriving a few years late to college: a lot to catch up on. As I’ve watched the vaccination schedule get longer over the years I’ve felt thankful I had children born in 1987 and 1991.

When our youngest had a (mild, yet distinct) reaction following her first DTP (diphtheria / tetanus / pertussis) shot, we chose — in consultation with our pediatrician — to give her only DT and not P in subsequent rounds. I keep thinking about that: If SB-277 had been in effect, would I not have had the choice to send Eve to Lupin Hill Elementary School because she didn’t complete her full schedule of pertussis vaccinations??

I can’t preach to you that the only way to stay independent is to stay informed, and then not be informed myself, so I’ve been doing some homework. Not gonna lie: this requires a strong stomach. Why? Because it’s like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole after first getting a toilet swirly, gorging on a nauseating fistful of something deep-fried and then having a spin on the most vicious Six Flags coaster. You might want to keep a sedative handy.

I read a few articles on the subject, and also found a compelling letter to California state legislators, from Lawyers Opposed to California SB 277. (It’s 2 1/2 pages of letter and 11 1/2 pages of signatures.)

I didn’t want to rely on written interpretations, so I watched some YouTube footage to see actual words coming out of actual mouths — first, testimony given before the California State Assembly in Sacramento before final voting on SB 277. I wasn’t surprised to see that our aforementioned pediatrician, Jay Gordon, was there as a reasoned voice. A couple points from Jay’s 6-minute speech jumped out at me:

  • The California Department of Public Health reported that 90% of children who caught whooping cough last year had received pertussis vaccines
  • JayGordonYouTubeCA277 “A ‘No” vote means you support your constituents’ rights to make informed medical decisions with their own doctors without coercion and without the threat of losing the right to free and equal educational access for their children. ‘No Shots / No School’ will mean no school for many children. It’s a bad bill, it will create many problems and it will solve none.”

The perspective of parents of vaccine-injured children was eloquently represented by George Fatheree who —  good attorney that he is — zeroed in on the legal and education issues of this law. He spent only a couple minutes telling the compelling story of his son Clayton (now 13) who developed epilepsy following his vaccination at 4 months. He detailed how vehemently their pediatrician pushed back against their desire to hold off on Clayton’s scheduled 7-month vaccination; she went so far as to suggest that because of his current health problems he was at greater risk for disease and that it would be “irresponsible” of them to not stay on schedule. Fatheree briefly summarized their son’s horrific downward developmental spiral that ensued after he and his wife (“…against our instincts…”) went ahead with the vaccinations as per the schedule.

Fatheree’s testimony quickly homed in on the practical effects of this law on their family and untold thousands of others: they will be forced to home-school their 9-year-old daughter (who remains unvaccinated due to their concerns about a possible family genetic predisposition to severe adverse reactions like Clayton’s).

  • FathereeYouTubeCASB277“She’ll be okay with that, but what I’m here to testify about are the tens of thousands of students in the state, our most vulnerable students, who will effectively receive no education if this bill passes.”
  • “This law is in direct conflict with federal education law; the testimony you’re hearing today is that SB 277, while well-intentioned, is unnecessary. It’s misguided in that it’s not specifically targeting the pockets where problems have been identified, and it comes at a tremendous cost to the rights of students to receive education.”

As I leave the vaccine issue for now, I do so with a fervent request of you: please spend seventeen minutes and listen to Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s speech at the California state capitol. It cleared many things up for me, a relative bystander to the past decade’s vaccine crisis. Like, How do I reconcile all these parents whose children have suffered neurological damage following vaccination, with all of the research and experts assuring me that vaccines are not the cause? Is it sheer coincidence??

KennedyCASB277It is an eye-opening primer: how the vaccine schedule grew, outside of any accountability for damages; how vaccines went from “a stepchild of Big Pharma” to “one of its profit centers”; four “scathing” federal studies by the U.S. Congress painting the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as “an absolute cesspool of corruption”; the 271 new vaccines currently in the pipeline, likely to be added to the schedule; the secrecy surrounding “vaccine court,” which has quietly paid out over $3 billion to vaccine-injured families; and the vaccine lobby and federal budgeting that dwarf even those for the military-industrial complex.

Kennedy names names throughout, and perhaps most compelling is Dr. William Thompson, a 17-year veteran senior CDC scientist and lead author of many of the past decade’s (misleading) epidemiological studies refuting vaccine risk. Thompson has now invoked whistleblower status (I didn’t know there is such a thing, did you?) and is seeking to testify before Congress as well as to the press. Kennedy says Thompson has said publicly that CDC scientists in the vaccine division “have been required by their bosses for at least a decade to lie, manipulate and massage data, to bury data that connect neurological disorders, including autism, to thimerisol exposure and to vaccines.”

Are you reaching for the tequila yet?? I swear, there is an upside to this, sort of. Read on.

America: Where More Mothers Die?

It is sad enough that the U.S. sits so poorly in world infant mortality rankings — babies are statistically more likely to survive in Serbia, Guam, and French Polynesia — but how is it possible that a woman is more likely to die in or after childbirth in the U.S. than in any other developed country? Or, that in parts of our country the maternal death rate rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa??

This year the sad litany is particularly poignant, since 2015 was the target year for reaching the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, set in 1990. (Of the eight goals, the push for reduced maternal deaths has made the least progress.) And (are you sitting down?), over the 2+ decades since those goals were set, the United States is the only country in the entire world whose maternal death rates have increased!

This in the country that spends the most on obstetrics and childbirth. This is a conundrum, a puzzle that has lots of brilliant people baffled. But perhaps a clue can be found in a key fact: the countries that saw the biggest improvement in maternal health were ones that increased their use of birth facilities served by midwives — a trend detailed in a special report by the prestigious medical journal Lancet. I’m going to let HuffPo do the heavy lifting; check out this brief, excellent overview, complete with a cool infographic.

Okay, now that I’ve totally bummed you out and you are reaching for a margarita with a little flag in it, let’s talk about what individual Americans may be able to do to improve the situation. (And even if it doesn’t improve the national situation, it cannot help but to improve your own birthing and parenting wellbeing!)

Birthing Moms & Dads, Who Is The Boss of You?

Since this holiday is all about independence from oppressive rule, I want to point out a kind of oppression we experience all the time: the force of culture on birth choices. The fact is, the status-quo of today’s culture — media, medicine, education — exerts tremendous pressure on well-meaning parents to make choices that aren’t always good for babies or for us. (The foregoing vaccine story just one sad example.) This is where some knowledge can be empowering.

The more we know about where our decision-making “blind spots” are, the more we can free ourselves from the prevailing fear-based group-think, and become capable of making positive choices that are in the true best interests of ourselves and our children. And who knows — maybe as a society we’ll become more receptive to the birthing center / midwifery model that has improved maternal health around the globe!

Are We Truly Free to Choose?

Let’s begin where it begins — how we ourselves are born, how we birth our children, and how we perceive the choices involved. Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist specializing in birth, discovered something both subtle and powerful at work in our attitudes about the safety of non-medicalized births.

“I long ago gave up talking to women about giving birth at home,” writes Robbie. “The idea that only hospitals and their technology can make birth safe so permeates this culture that there is simply no point in trying to convince anyone otherwise, even though it is completely untrue and there is plenty of scientific evidence out there to prove it.”

One piece of evidence to which Robbie refers is this classic — which wields new relevance in light of the maternal health gains under midwifery care: Back in 1974 two certified nurse-midwives were put in charge of all normal births in a small county hospital in California for three years in an experimental pilot program. During that time, the rates of obstetrical intervention (like C-sections) fell dramatically, the incidence of prematurity dropped by almost half, and the rate of neonatal deaths dropped from 23.9 per thousand to 10.3 per thousand — less than half of what it had been before the midwives arrived. At the end of the three years (some say due to fear of competition) the local obstetricians fired the midwives and resumed charge of all births in this hospital. Within a few months, the rates returned to their former high levels.

Birth Choice, or Cultural Rite of Passage?

"Did I choose this??"In light of much research showing that routine interventions & procedures — such as Pitocin augmentation, electronic fetal monitors, IVs in place of drinking and eating, episiotomies and epidurals — don’t lead to better outcomes and are indeed counterproductive in most normal births, Robbie wondered why otherwise intelligent, savvy women continue to embrace technologically managed birth.

She came to recognize that there had to be something other than rational logic at work in the vast majority of Americans who trust and believe in the relatively higher degree of safety provided by a hospital birth, despite all contrary evidence. Her discoveries led to the landmark book Birth As An American Rite of Passage.

One characteristic of rite of passage rituals is that participants are in an altered state of mind, whether through music, drumming, dance, chanting, breath work, meditation, or mind-altering substances. In the case of labor and birth, the potent biochemicals flowing through mother and baby — and even father — are extremely mind-altering! Any of these kinds of altered states makes participants highly receptive to symbols, which are prominently featured during ritual and which are imprinted on the image-oriented right brain.

Robbie: “Obstetric procedures are far more than medical routines: they are the rituals which initiate American mothers, fathers and babies into the core value system of the technocracy” (the term for a society driven by an ideology of technological progress. In a technocracy, we constantly seek to “improve upon” nature by altering and controlling it through technology).

The list of powerful symbols inherent in any garden-variety hospital birth is fascinating (which you can read about here since this post is already hecka long). Yes, most of us have been baptized in technology. So let us embrace the blessings of that 21st century brilliance, which was originally meant to bring freedom! Nothing has the power to control our moves once we can clearly name the players and the game.

Robert Kennedy Jr. has done that quite clearly regarding our vaccination nation. What he said in concluding his speech on Capitol Hill in Sacramento applies to birth as well: “All of the barriers that are meant to protect our children — the government, the lawyers, the regulatory agency and the press — the checks and balances in our democratic system that are supposed to stand between corporate power and our little children have been removed, and there’s only one barrier left, and that’s the parents. And we need to keep them in the equation.”

That is the upside of all this: any illusion that someone “in power” has your child’s and your best interests at heart has been ripped away — finally, painfully, totally. YOU are the ones you’ve been waiting for. George Fatheree and his wife paid a terrible price for second-guessing their own instincts.

This weekend is all about independence… about freedom from tyranny… and about revolution against oppression. My book may have innocent little cookies on its cover, but it actually calls for a revolution — an awakening to your own power that comes from within, not from without.


** Read more about Robbie Davis-Floyd’s fascinating work at her website here. **

(top) cyanocorax under Creative Commons license
(bottom) miguelb under Creative Commons license

17 thoughts on “Birth and Vaccination: Are We REALLY Independent?”

      1. Coming from England I find it strange that you don’t mention the lack of free healthcare in the US in connection with the high infant and maternal mortality rates seems like the elephant in the room to me not being able to afford proper maternity care seems a far more likely cause of mortality than any practices carried out

          1. Only if they make very little money and it isn’t widely known. You don’t get good quality care on medicaid you get poorly supervised med students and whoever sucks so much they take Medicaid.

  1. “My confession: I’ve laid low on the whole past year of escalating debate on the vaccine issue. I’ve had the sense that it would have been like arriving a few years late to college: a lot to catch up on. As I’ve watched the vaccination schedule get longer over the years I’ve felt thankful I had children born in 1987 and 1991.”

    Sadly this speaks to the main reason why more did not get involved in SB277, and why, ultimately, it passed. If something doesn’t pertain or relate to you, you tend to avoid it, especially if it requires a lot of work.

    I started reading MOTHERING when my first son, born in 1994, was still an infant. It absolutely changed my life. It helped me decide to stop vaccinating him at age 5 and to NOT vaccinate his brother when he came along two years later. I did not circumcise #2, and I gave birth to him at home. All of this was due to MOTHERING’S nurturing influence, its ability to show both sides without ramming things down your throat, and the plethora of smart, educated contributors who had been there, done that. MOTHERING brought me gently into a different style of parenting with #2, and ultimately gave me the strength to fight SB277. We lost. CA children lost. With my first going into his senior year in college and #2, now 14, about to enter high school, my fight is far from over. #2 is completely unvaccinated, I can count on one hand the number of times he has been sick, and he has never taken anything stronger than an Advil. Had he been two years younger we would have had to fully vaccinate him in accordance with the CDC recommendations, or move out of state–which we were prepared to do. My healthy straight A student would not have been allowed to attend school under SB277. Because the checkpoints for admittance are K and 7th grade, he will enter high school in the fall, still fully unvaccinated. I will probably have to take up the fight again once we begin looking for colleges. Despite all that, I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about those who have suffered with a vaccine injured child, and I worry about my friends who blindly vaccinate without question, despite the publicity surrounding SB277. I will continue to fight. They will come after adults next, and soon this will be a nation-wide mandate. Yes, the author and many others have some catching up to do, but it will be worth it, because when the time comes where you will need to fight, you will want to be prepared. This is not going away. Nor am I. Thank you MOTHERING.

    1. I really NEED some advice and help on how i can not have tk get my daughter anymore vaccines? I live in Iowa, every time she has had a vaccine she’s had a horrible allergic looking reaction, my oldest son is special needs and I now believe it’s because of the vaccines he received over the years, my daughter is much more sensitive and Iam very worried and need help to find an Avenue so my daughter doesn’t have to go through this anymore, I do not want her to go through what my nine year old does, PLEASE HELP?!? Any information is greatly appreciated.

  2. So now that Bobby Kennedy Jr. has said it’s a concern, then it’s a concern for you. How about all the mothers and fathers who have known their children have been injured and have been researching and speaking out all along. It’s as if you don’t give their voices any credence.

    Parents were concerned in the 70s and 80s, especially about “hot lots” of the pertussis vaccine. The lot numbers were released and passed around, they were even posted on the internet. Parents asked their doctors to see the vaccine lot number to check and make sure the vaccine was not from a “hot lot.” (you can see a note about hot lots from 1995, with numbers here The known “hot lots” were not weren’t recalled. The vaccine was eventually changed because parents cried out.

    Simple investigation. Go the the state health website and look at vaccination rates. In California look here:

    Compare them to past rates. Compare them over the decades. The CDC’s Pink Book chart shows the history of vaccination coverage from 1962 to 2012, it’s here:

    Ask yourself…Are they falling?

    Do we have a problem with infectious diseases returning? Look at the incidence of infectious diseases from the CDC’s Pink Book here:

    Then ask yourself if what the media is portraying is accurate information.

    1. Mama Bear, I love your passionate spirit. As a fellow Mama Bear, a writer & blogger, and contributor to a U.S. natural parenting magazine, I can relate to your annoyance about how so many mothers’ and fathers’ voices are disregarded. SO MANY parents cry out for help when their children are injured by vaccines, with little to no response from the manufacturers or doctors. This slays my heart, and has made me SO angry in the past. Here is my blog post in response to the passage of SB277 in case you’re interested:

      I just came here and read this article that Marcy wrote, and I saw your comment. Interestingly, I too used RFK Jr.’s quote — that very one — from his recent Sacramento speech, in a recent article I wrote for Holistic Parenting Magazine called “Declining Vaccines: Now What?” And I used it because in this world, unfortunate though it is, sometimes we do not listen until someone comes forth with celebrity status or other credentials we deem trustworthy. YES we need to listen to each other more, to EVERY single one of us, and yes it is so very aggravating that so many parents are not heard in response to their cries for help around vaccine harm. I don’t think Marcy intends to deny the voices of all those parents; I think she’s just using what’s available and might be compelling to convey the message.

      Thanks for sharing the CDC chart on infectious disease rates. Have you found anything (that you find credible) on ACTUAL causes of disease numbers falling? Since we know it is not vaccines that, at least not in most/all cases, have reduced the spread of disease? For example, in the case of X disease, clean water and hygiene played a significant role… XYZ… I’d appreciate a study or some writing on this, and would be deeply grateful for whoever did the research!

  3. Be careful with the “midwives are great” argument. If the midwives deliver in a hospital, it’s not much different from being with an OB. I’m now dealing with birth trauma because of all the routine “tests” my midwives forced on me and my newborn in their “natural” birth center. And after questioning the procedures, when I was 6 weeks postpartum, I was fired from their practice. Not all midwives are the same, be wary of those affiliated with hospitals.

  4. I’m concerned that a major piece of incorrect information keeps getting passed around – you state that SB277 will keep children from getting a free public education. This bill will bar them from all private schools too!

  5. Believe it or not, people have been fighting against government mandated vaccines for over 100 years. At one time in Leicester, England people were fined or imprisoned or both for failure to bring themselves and their children to be vaccinated. The people were not stupid, they saw that the smallpox vaccine was not working at all, that vaccinated children and adults were still getting smallpox and that the vaccine had horrible side effects. They revolted and won the ‘conscientious’ exemption. Vaccination rates plummeted to 10% and so did the disease of smallpox and other diseases. We must fight back like they did many years ago! Medical tyranny begins with forced vaccinations, no telling what’s next. Historically teachers and other workers were targets for forced vaccinations. Then forced sterilization among the ‘undesirables’. A group of legislators making medical decisions for thousands of children is not leadership, it’s malpractice. Where there is risk, there must be choice. The State does not own our or our children’s bodies! This is not completely about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, it’s also about medical FREEDOM! Thank you for this very well-written article.

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