The AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) has just released a new vaccine schedule. It’s interesting that this should just come out because my own vaccine story had an interesting little development last week. Along with apparently 21% of the parent population, I choose to follow a delayed vaccine schedule with my kids. I follow a fairly natural lifestyle and diligently take my multivitamin, Vitamin D, and fish oils. When it comes to medication, I shy away from it as much as I can. In fact, both of my kids were born drug-free. Well, I had two small doses of an IV med with William, but no epidural with either of them.
Having given birth in a fairly natural setting, I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to give my kids that Hep B shot at birth. If I didn’t have it, they weren’t going to have it. That much was clear. Throughout William’s first year, for the most part, I listened to his doctor when she said which vaccines were recommended when. But she was also really good in helping me determine if I needed each and every shot at the time that the AAP recommended it. I had an inkling that I might wanted to follow my own schedule but I didn’t know where to start. I also knew that MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) was the one most commonly associated with problems, so I knew I was going to put that one off.
When William was a year old, I took him in for his well visit, and she told me about all the shots that were recommended for his age. I was a little bewildered by the fact that they wanted to pump all of this medication in my sweet child all at once. My sister’s kids came down with a case of whooping cough, and I knew it was bad news for babies, so I kept up with the DTaP vaccine. And while I had chicken pox as a kid, it wasn’t fun and I wanted to spare him the torture if I could. The doctor was also really adamant about polio since his own aunt suffered life-long trauma from it. So we left it at that. MMR was off the list…for the time being.
Well, just two weeks later, I heard in the news that an international traveler had brought measles to our area. A short 20-minute drive and a back luck encounter would have been bad news. So we headed back to the doctor for MMR.
Not long after, I happened to notice a little hiccup in William’s development. He stopped talking. He had been saying “mama” for about a month, starting at 11 months. Right around 12 months, at the same time he got the shots, he stopped talking altogether. I know there’s great debate about vaccines contributing to our Autism epidemic, and I’m still not sure how much stock I put into the idea, but I couldn’t help but make the connection. In fact, I feel lucky that I didn’t allow William to have all of those vaccines all at once. At least we waited the two weeks for MMR.
But here we were on this road to developmental delays. At about 18 months, William started getting speech therapy. And it wasn’t until he was about 2.5 that he started saying individual words, and then at age 3, he was speaking sentences.
Mind you, his SPD (sensory processing disorder) hadn’t yet been diagnosed and could have been a key player in his speech delay. The same holds true for his dairy allergy. I knew he didn’t tolerate dairy as a baby, but around a year old, I reintroduced it thinking that he had outgrown the allergy. (Little did I know that we rarely ever outgrow these things.) It’s entirely possible that it was a combination of all of these factors that contributed to his speech delay.
Soon after William turned 3, Lucas came along. I did my research and came up with a delayed schedule that I felt comfortable with. His doctor and I went over it, and while he disagreed with me (he’s a “by the book” doctor), there wasn’t much he could do to prevent me from following it. And we had much bigger things going on with Lucas, as he was admitted to the hospital at 2 months old with RSV and was subsequently diagnosed with asthma.
But as with William, I was preparing for the time when Lucas would hit a year old and we’d have to decide what to do about MMR. I spent countless time on the phone hunting down a pharmaceutical company that made the three vaccines (measles, mumps, and rubella) separately. Unfortunately, I had no luck. They had stopped making them separately.
Then when Lucas was about 13 or 14 months, we were exposed to the chicken pox. My sister had recognized it in her child after we had spent several days with them. Again, I didn’t want my child to have to suffer through the disease, so we rushed to the doctor and got the varicella vaccine. Apparently, it had done some good. Lucas suffered a very mild case of it, and luckily, he was well enough in time that we didn’t have to cancel our trip to New York!
After a change in doctors (and bad record-keeping), a visit to a naturopath, a mission to rid ourselves of food intolerances, and William’s SPD diagnosis, I became all the more fearful of vaccines. In fact, I learned that one of the symptoms of a food intolerances is red ears, and many times, when my kids were vaccinated, they walked away with bright red ears. There was something unnatural going on in their bodies, and it made me uncomfortable.
With William’s SPD diagnosis, I became all too aware of Autism, SPD, and all of the other afflictions that happen to children these days. With a year of speech therapy and 3.5 years of occupational therapy now, I am surrounded by it. Once a week, I get a glimpse into the world that exists for these children who don’t seem to have control over their bodies and their parents, some of whom seem to live life hanging by a thread.
Ultimately, my rule for vaccines became one of simplicity. It was merely this: I would allow one vaccine at a time (and discuss it with the physician, giving him great control over the decision) and that I would never vaccinate a child who showed signs of illness. If their immune system was already in overdrive and if vaccines were called into question by parents of kids with Autism, I was going to take a cautious route.
Well, it turns out that Lucas’ little life has been full of sickness. We were dealing with constant colds and tummy bugs (made worse by dairy), ear infections, fevers, asthma, and more. The child has never been healthy at his “well” visits. So his vaccines got pushed out. Always, in the back of my mind, was the idea that he had yet to receive MMR.
Now, as you might be able to tell, I’m not some dread-lock-wearing hippie who shuns all medical care and all vaccines. I eat organic food because it’s healthy. I got rid of our non-stick pans because of the chemicals that leach into our food. I did the same with all the plastic in my kitchen. So I choose to follow some natural lifestyle choices, but I always have a reason behind them. I didn’t unilaterally reject all vaccines. I know they are important, and there’s nothing more important to me than my children’s health. There just didn’t seem to be a driving force behind the MMR for Lucas.
This brings me to last week. A few days ago, I saw that our local newspaper posted on Facebook about a case of the measles in our county. And not only was it in our county, but the person who had contracted the disease frequented the same grocery store and Starbucks that we go to all time. This shopping center is within walking distance of my house, and it’s a nice little outing when we need to get out.
As you might imagine, I freaked out. The weight of my vaccine choices came crashing down on me in one fell swoop. Here I was with a child who could have been exposed to measles, and I could have had him vaccinated (while sick or otherwise), but hadn’t. The case of mommy guilt I had from giving birth to a second child with my husband in Kuwait paled in comparison to this vaccine doozy. And of course, I looked up the symptoms on the Internet (never a good idea) and was hit in the face with the word “encephalitis.”
The next morning, I had a doctor’s appointment for myself and brought my brood along with me. The minute we got there, I requested that Lucas get MMR. By this point, I had calmed down a bit and realized that we were never in the grocery store or Starbucks at the same time as the person with measles. It was close, but the grocery store is big, and the odds of him catching it hours later were slight. Nonetheless, he got the shot, even though he was sick. Of course, he was sick. But I couldn’t chance it. I figured, if anything, the shot might help reduce the significance of the illness, as it had done with the chicken pox, if he ended up getting it.
He spent the entire day after getting the shot sweating up a storm, apparently caused by a low-grade fever. But he tolerated the shot without incident. He’s still got a runny nose and a nasty cough, but I attribute that more to the cold and asthma than the shot.
William and I also got a couple shots. I was vaccinated against whooping cough since it’s going around, and William needed a second dose of MMR.
I also walked away from the experience with a renewed determination to get my kids caught up on their vaccines. I have printed out the AAP’s new schedule and I’ll compare it to their records to come up with a plan. Besides, now that they’re older, I feel like there’s very little chance that my kids will become Autistic.
So there you have it: my long, meandering vaccine story. I tell this not to influence you in any way about vaccines. I think everybody needs to make these choices for themselves, but I do think every parent should make a conscious, educated choice about vaccines. Perhaps you can learn a bit from my story.