When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent most of the pregnancy worried about and trying to plan for a great natural birth. All the “mothering” stuff after that I just didn’t even think about. I read one baby book though, the Dr Sears classic, “The Baby Book” and thought briefly about vaccines and delayed vaccinations. When I talked to my child’s pediatrician though she kind of brushed off the idea of splitting up the schedule and I ended up just going along with everything as recommended by the “experts.”
I proceeded obediently according to schedule until my son was around 18 months old. By this time my husband was in Chiropractic college and I was surrounded by non-vaccinating folks who questioned my choice to just go with the flow. I persisted though. I didn’t want my baby to get sick. But when I took him in for his well baby visit around this time he got a shot that changed my thoughts on the subject.
I had called ahead of time to see if there were any shots to be administered at his next visit. I was told no but when I arrived they were prepped and ready to give him his next one, the Hepatitis A vaccine. I balked a little because by this time I had started to question the schedule and need for so many shots. But…I went along with it. It turns out I am not so good at rocking the boat IN PERSON as I am in writing.
When we went home my son was lethargic and feverish. He was always a very physical, active and happy little boy. I don’t know if I had ever seen him just… not play. This went on for days. I finally took him to see a professor at the Chiropractic college my husband was attending. She literally adjusted him and he JUMPED off the table, happy and ready to go again. It was a testament to natural health care and a wake up call for me. The Chiropractor’s words haunted me, “Why did you choose to give him that shot?” she sincerely asked.
Well, I thought about that question. I was glad that his reaction to the vaccine was really very minor- just a slight fever and some lethargy. But it made me wonder. What would that reaction have been like in a baby? Would I have even noticed or seen the impact it had on a younger, not yet walking child? Could I have prevented this? What if he was permanently damaged? What if it was worse? Could I live with my choice?
Needless to say, my next two children did not receive a single shot and seemed perfectly healthy. I felt good about my choice. It seemed to have only benefits and no negatives.
We finished school, moved, and settled in a new area. Now my babies were 5, 3, and 1. One day towards the beginning of summer my kids started to cough. Then it became worse. Normally we would adjust the children, give them some supplements, make sure their diet was clean, and voila- HEALTH! But something was different this time. The cough just kept getting worse. My oldest seemed to spring back quickly as did my youngest who was still nursing. But my middle child, my daughter, began to have coughing fits that would last for 10 minutes. She would cough until she vomited and cried.
I was horrified. More than that though, I was scared.
As it turned out the children had become sick with whooping cough or Pertussis. It seems to make the rounds periodically and it was doing so that summer. I felt insanely guilty. I asked myself the same questions I had with my son and his vaccine reaction. Could I have prevented this? What if she was permanently damaged? What if it was worse? Could I live with my choice?
In the end all was well. She recovered eventually, though the illness and some of the cough seemed to linger for much of the summer. I noticed children in my community who were vaccinated and who were not vaccinated all get sick that summer, some worse than others. Some parents choose a more westernized, medical approach to healing, others seemed not worried at all about allowing the body to work things out with natural remedies.
I should admit that I now have four children, and none have received any vaccines since that first reaction years ago. But my run in with both the negative consequences TO vaccinate and the negative consequence OF NOT vaccinating made me think. It made me a little more humble and a little more wary of telling people what to do. Having a child with a vaccine reaction and one come down with an illness that is (sometimes) prevented with vaccines made me realize something powerful:
There are few easy choices as mothers and there are virtually NO choices without consequences.
I think this might be why mom debates become so heated sometimes. We all recognize the gravity of this job, this joy of motherhood. It is a great responsibility and also a great burden sometimes.
Personally, I hope I make the right choices for my children while they are too young to make those choices for themselves. I hope I am in tune with their needs and I hope I always respect the immense power of parenthood. I know now that there is no such thing as a mothering choice with zero consequences. All our choices have consequences, and they aren’t always what we want or expect.
I can only hope and trust that motherhood has given me the wisdom to make those choices well.
Much joy in your journey-
About Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark is a mother of four naturally birthed babies, a wife, a birth instructor, and a board member for Birth Boot Camp, a natural birth company specializing in online and in person birth education.