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To Vaccinate or Not- A Tale of Two Choices



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-



Sarah Clark

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.



Comments (14)

Fabulous. You nailed it with: "There are few easy choices as mothers and there are virtually NO choices without consequences. " My 5 year old is fully vaccinated and I always felt so bad about how sick he would be after those appointments. We opted out for our new baby girl. I am not opposed to getting them done, its just not the right choice for us at this time.
It's always nice to read an article/opinion on the vaccine debate that is not vehemently either for or against. My son is not five months old, and I've quietly decided to not vaccinate him. Yet. I may still choose to get him vaccinated in the future, but definitely not until he is at least a year old (or maybe two). You're right though; there are definite consequences either way, and I just hope that I make the right decisions for my baby until he's old enough to decide for himself!
Thank you for this! I am so fed up with the dogma on both sides of this debate. It's not an easy choice and we all need to respect each others' choices!
yes... this is a great piece on how the decisions you make will have a consequence one way or the other... i decided to NOT vaccinate; but the entire time, my son is 3.5 , i have been worried about him getting an illness and me being guilty, and on the flip side i was terrified of the vaccine reaction that might have occurred had we gone that route. really interesting that you chose both paths and dealt with "fall outs" on both. thanks for writing
Thank you for sharing your perspective, and your own story. My daughter (our first child) is 10 weeks old, and we just ran the first "no vaccines, please" gauntlet with our doctor. The nurse was surprised, but didn't comment or make me feel bad, and the doctor didn't even bat an eyelash, just said "okay, see you in 2 months", and I was extremely relieved - I am not good at rocking the boat in person (only in writing), either. My in-laws don't know we aren't vaccinating, and I am not sure what will happen when it comes up, but I know they will respect our decision, though I doubt they'll agree with it. So far, the only reaction that was upsetting came from our Healthy Families case worker (a program for new parents that focuses on education); she asked me if Serenity was getting her shots that day (she drove us to her 2 month check up), and when I said no she wanted to know when Ren was going to get them and when she got her Hep B shot when she was born, and when I said she had not received that shot and we were not going to be doing any shots, she kept repeating "but when is she getting her shots?" over and over again. I think I said "she will not be getting any shots" about six times before I finally just turned to her in the car and said "Serenity has not and will not be getting any vaccinations at any time until she is at least one year old and I don't know if we will be giving her any at that point or not, but it is our decision, please just accept it!" She finally said, "oh, okay" and shut up after that, but HOLY COW!!! I don't know what she was thinking, but it was pretty irritating.
Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I delayed some vacs for my oldest, but he was eventually fully vacinated. When my second one came, I was so confused about what was the best choice was for him and our family. It is not an easy choice and I appreciate people who recognise the gravity of both sides of this issue.
Very well written article! Thank you!
Great post. We have chosen to fully vaccinate all 3 of our children. I know the risks and feel that the benefits out weigh them. I do respect others who make a different choice for their children. Only you know your children and have the intuition to know what is best for them. Happy mothering!
Thanks for your responses- and for being so kind and respectful. Good thoughts-
28 years ago I gave birth to my first of 3 sons. I chose to not vaccinate, due to the fact that I developed polio from the vaccine as a child. I have never regretted this decision, and often had to defend my choice with doctors, school officials, day cares, and colleges. All 3 of my sons have been to China and other 3rd world countries, all without being vaccinated. They were all breastfed, the best vaccine! They are all happy, healthy, and very bright men. I would choose the same path again.
I chose to vaccinate my daughter who is one year at our holistic family medicine practice where her doc is very knowledgable about both sides of the issue. he gave us studies on both sides of the debate and gave us the choice to vaccinate based on whatever schedule we wanted- with full knowledge. We chose to only do the vaccines that are required in our state for her to get into public school. and we will wait as long as we can, staggering them so that she is up to date when she enters preschool. We are also choosing Mercury Free Vaccines and the Doctor offers ones that have less preservatives, which are thought to cause problems. We feel good about our decision. And our daughter is healthy as a horse and has not had a reaction yet.
Great perspective - awesome to see you writting for Mothering!! We love you MamaBirth!!!
Well done. My compliments.
Sarah - what a terrific, balanced piece. As a holistic pediatrician (and Advisory Board member of the Holistic Moms Network), I have these discussions with parents all day, every day. You might be interested in a piece I wrote my Kiwi magazine blog recently: http://www.kiwimagonline.com/2012/05/is-discussing-the-safety-of-vaccines-the-third-rail-of-pediatrics/.
Mothering › Health Articles › To Vaccinate or Not- A Tale of Two Choices