Parenting is hard stuff.
Balancing baby’s needs and new mommy’s needs is hard, figuring out when to start feeding solid food and what kind is hard, watching a child get sick is hard.
Deciding on boundaries is hard, using consistent discipline is hard, facing down a stubborn 4-year-old who is screaming at the top of her lungs in the library is hard.
Getting up in the middle of the night – five times in an hour – is hard, finding regular prayer/homework/piano practice/chore time is hard, and making the kids do all their responsibilities consistently is hard too.
Hugs and kisses from my favorite 2-year-old seems to make all the hard stuff melt into a puddle in my heart, but that doesn’t diminish the real fact that parenthood is packed with difficult decisions, and even with all the research in the world, there is often not a clear-cut ideal answer.
When to let our 8-year-old start the Harry Potter series? Watch Star Wars? Have his own tablet or laptop?
How to get a 5-year-old dressed for church when she only wants to wear holey jeans and a tank top in 43F weather? To teach her how to hold a pencil properly? To make sure she’s in bed early enough for her temperament without it seeming like a punishment every day?
What to say to a toddler who screams his head off every time Mommy leaves the house? How to get him to keep his bib on or lean more effectively? And whether to put toxins and animal proteins directly into his bloodstream or risk debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases, not only for his little body but for the rest of society, including weak souls we don’t even know?
No, bibs aren’t on the same order of magnitude as vaccinations. Parenting is challenging and taxing both on a day-to-day mundane basis and in a big-life-decision way, mostly because there’s rarely a black-and-white issue to be found. (top photo source)
What to Bet on Your Child’s Life?
Both sides are a gamble. We hate casinos and never go to Vegas, but we’re stuck with this life-changing decision, having to weigh the statistics and ultimately, take a leap of faith.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
We look at each vaccine as an individual decision, because we’re weighing the severity of the disease being vaccinated against plus the chance we might contract it with the severity and frequency of vaccine side effects and injuries, all on the backdrop of the child’s age and immunity and complicated by the question of the good of society vs. the good of my child. (And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.)
We had to weigh how awful whooping cough is, for example, with potential issues that can arise because of vaccines. An egg allergy or autism or Crohn’s Disease would be as much of a pain in the butt (and more) as whooping cough, every day, for the rest of our child’s life.
At least whooping cough has an end. For us. But we also have to remember that although we feel like we played roulette and lost, we really landed somewhere in the middle. If our child was the one in four who ended up in the hospital, or the 1 in 100 of those kids who died…clearly there is more to lose than just sleep and clean clothing.
But it’s not even as black and white as that.
The Vaccine Decisions and Indecisions
When we’re making our vaccine decisions at the Kimball house, we (parents) sit down with information, statistics about the disease, the vaccine, etc. the week of the child’s well checkup. (Okay, it’s usually the night before at 10 p.m. I said parenting was hard!)
One of our main sources was The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears. Finding reputable sources is next to impossible on this issue, because it seems like so many of the studies done were funded by vaccine companies and many of the major voices in the debate have a money trail as well. I can’t keep up, I really can’t.
But I never really thought to mistrust the statistics…until my own kids got whooping cough.
I said in the other parts of my whooping cough story that I never called the doctor because we were too far into the disease for antibiotics to be of any help, but that wasn’t entirely true.
I actually did call our pediatrician’s office when I first diagnosed my kids to ask them if there was anything we should do, particularly as far as notifying people who might need to count things like this, and even more importantly, what to do about any vaccination shots we had been considering for the 2-year well child checkup, at which time he would still be fighting the 100 Days Cough.
I was told that we could talk with the doctor when we got there.
(I was actually trying to ask if we should start the Vaccishield vaccine preparation immune-boosting powder we had on hand, and the nurse did not understand what I was going for, after repeated attempts to explain. I guess no one has prepared for vaccines before, or at least didn’t talk about it. I figure that since John was regularly taking a pretty high-potency probiotic that it would have to be enough.)
No one in the office seemed to think that having an active case of whooping cough was a good reason not to get a vaccination. (Looking back, this seems a bit ridiculous. We postponed vaccines at the 12-month checkup because of a cold, but we let the little guy get a shot when he had whooping cough. I have some buyer’s remorse on that one…Parenting is hard!)
When we sat down with our notes from The Vaccine Book and some selective Internet searches to touch on unaddressed issues, we decided that diphtheria or tetanus (maybe both) were the most important shots to receive.
Can you see the irony coming here?
That’s right: diphtheria and tetanus are bundled up with pertussis – whooping cough. The one shot we needed least of all. Not at all.
I can’t even remember why we chose those vaccines over others, and why we decided we should start right then and there in spite of the current pertussis infection.
Is that awful? No, I don’t think so – I don’t remember why I chose certain classes in college or exactly what it was that made me sure I wanted to marry my husband, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t important decisions.
We don’t take our children’s health lightly, but our research on vaccines is always “just in time learning.” We learn what we need to know when we need to know it. We write down some of it to refer to later, and we seem to promptly forget the rest.
But we made an informed decision to the best of our sleep-deprived, emotionally charged ability while in the midst of the family battle with pertussis.
Am I going to look up our notes so I can explain our decision to you?
I do a lot of teaching here at Kitchen Stewardship, but this time, I’m opting out. This whole series is just an invitation to walk with me, to observe.
I just don’t know enough to teach much of anything about vaccines, which is why the only time in almost five years of blogging vaccines have been addressed here was wayyyyy back in 2009 when I did a series on aluminum.
I do read a lot about vaccines in between checkups too, but it seems that there’s always a conflicting study to everything, so I read, I bookmark, and I move on.
The Statistics Game
The real problem is that I don’t trust statistics one whit anymore, not after my experience with the health department. And statistics are the only thing upon which parents can really base their decisions.
In Michigan for 2013, whooping cough statistics are slightly more accurate than they would have been without this kitchen steward making some phone calls.
I was shocked and a bit disconcerted when my doctor’s office said they weren’t going to report our cases of whooping cough to anyone who keeps statistics.
My wheels started turning – if my kids aren’t going to be counted, then there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of others who also had whooping cough who were not on the registered list, the one statistics are pulled from:
- all the kids whose parents recognized the cough but didn’t need/want medical intervention, like me
- all those with mild cases, especially without the “whoop,” who thought they just had a wicked cold and didn’t know what was going on
- and now that I’m reading the comments on the other two posts, all the kids and adults who were misdiagnosed with bronchitis or other infections, in part because people don’t expect whooping cough, since “there’s a vaccination for that.” I’ve also heard from dozens of people who know people who were fully vaccinated and got whooping cough anyway, by the way.
Statistics say that about 50% of cases don’t have the “whoop” sound, making it harder to diagnose now that doctors don’t always have experience with the other symptoms of whooping cough. Of course, that stat could be off too. *eye roll*
I decided that someone had to stand up for accurate statistics, and of course, you all would expect me to do the right thing. So I did.
I called the health department to report my own kids’ cases of whooping cough, since the doctors wouldn’t do it.
It was a bit of an awkward start to the conversation, but the lady I was talking to soon complimented me on how much I knew about the disease and we ended up having a very enjoyable and enlightening chat. I shared my kids’ names, ages, vaccine schedules and symptoms, along with our neighbor, who I’m quite sure we infected.
I spoke about the public situations my oldest son had been in where he may have contracted whooping cough: his school, summer camp, etc.
I shared a lot of information for the health department’s records so they could attempt to track any potential outbreak and so that the statistics were four kids more accurate.
I also received some information, and this is what the health department said:’
“We know it’s [whooping cough] underdiagnosed and we know the tests aren’t all that accurate. We use clinical symptoms – vomiting, turning blue, cough over two weeks. Transmission rate within a family is high. Also in a community, in daycares.
If they were in school or daycare at the time (it was summer so they weren’t), the child would have to take antibiotics in order to be allowed back. Whooping cough can take up to 21 days to transmit.
The vaccinations are not fully effective—we’d like to think they all are, but they’re not. Pertussis might be one of the worst as far as effectiveness.
Our kids meet a “probable case” as per government definition, so even though they weren’t lab-proven, they will be counted in the stats.
Should I throw a victory party?
I don’t really feel like celebrating. The experience just cemented for me how little I can trust any statistics on health. If many mild and misdiagnosed cases aren’t counted, it skews the statistics in key directions:
- It makes whooping cough seem more severe than it really is, since many of the mild cases probably aren’t in the total number. If current statistics say 1 in 4 toddlers with whooping cough are hospitalized, it’s possible that number should really be 1 in 40, or 1 in 80.
- It makes vaccines seem more effective than they are: “Look how few people get this disease!” When really, plenty of people probably have gotten it and didn’t even know it.
- It makes the world more dangerous for babies. The point of the pertussis vaccine is to protect babies under 6 months who can’t really be vaccinated (the first 2 months at least) and who are most likely to perish from complications. Here’s the thing – if whooping cough is so underdiagnosed and under-reported, aren’t there lots of people walking around with bad colds who actually have whooping cough, who are probably exposing little babies to the disease? Partly perhaps because of the vaccine’s existence, we are less equipped as a society because we aren’t looking for whooping cough. We think it can’t get us – a sort of “mental herd immunity” if you will. Besides, if the symptoms are lessened by vaccinations, as the CDC states, I would think adults would be more likely to be out and about exposing everyone else, since their cough and cold won’t seem as severe as they would expect with anything more than “just a cold.”
If 1 in 100 known cases die, sure, that’s scary. But for every 100 cases we know about and have counted, how many hundreds of people actually had the disease and didn’t have a clue? Or did know but simply weren’t included in the statistics?
That alone makes the disease seem both more and less scary – more because a whole bunch more people actually get it that we’re not expecting, so it’s actually more prevalent than we think. But less scary because that means plenty of people have mild cases and that one in 100 is really one in some much bigger number.
Are Vaccine Injuries Real?
If the accurate reporting of whooping cough is a moving target, try vaccine injuries. It’s almost impossible for me to believe any statistic about what happens to kids after vaccines, because I know they have to be missing so many data points.
The hype is there, but not the research. There’s no one to pay for it, so parents are left wondering:
- Do vaccines cause autism? Can they be in the least a contributing player, a causal factor? Dr. Wakefield’s studies have been called into question so harshly that I don’t know if I’ll ever find a source on that question that I trust, but I know there are a lot of parents out there whose intuition tells them their child was a victim of a vaccine injury that put them on the autism spectrum.
As someone who had negative amounts of intuition before I became a mother but now have a few poignant moments where mine kicked in, I cannot discount those stories.
- Are vaccines linked to food allergies? Putting egg protein directly into the bloodstream might be a little problem…
- Do vaccines depress the immune system, making the person more susceptible to asthma or autoimmune diseases, etc.?
- Is there a risk of aluminum toxicity with vaccines?
- Do vaccines impact the child’s growing brain?
- Vaccines DO sometimes contain aborted fetal stem cells, which for us as pro-life Catholics, IS finally a black-and-white issue. We won’t allow those vaccines or certain brands of vaccines to be on the table when making our decisions.
Is “Immunity” Real?
Whether you get immunity to whooping cough from a vaccine or from living through the disease, like my kids, there’s still a chance you could contract it again (higher for vaccinated kids than those with natural immunity). Still – I wish I could at least say that we have the silver lining of knowing our kids will never get whooping cough again, but there’s no guarantee.
We keep wondering why my husband and I didn’t get whooping cough. Our vaccines should have long worn off by now!
My theory is that we probably were exposed to pertussis at some point in our teenage or adult lives, had a horrible cough that we thought would never end, and then eventually it did, not leaving a lasting enough impression for it to be in our memories. How else could we have been coughed on, shared food (before we knew what was going on) and caught so much vomit without contracting the disease?
That many parents probably don’t realize that with vaccines they’re only lessening their children’s chances of contracting a disease like whooping cough, not preventing it entirely, is a travesty. So many make the vaccine decisions without doing their own research, and it’s really a shame.
Is Herd Immunity Real?
The British doc from whom we learned a lot on our initial forays into whooping cough information says that the only prevention for whooping cough is vaccines, and that about 80-90% of kids have to be vaccinated to give infants any sort of protection. (Note that the benefit of herd immunity is conferred onto the weak population.)
Many will say that for similar reasons as I mentioned above (the vaccine not working very reliably, for example), herd immunity is no more than a figment of the imagination. It is true that cases of whooping cough have decreased dramatically since the advent of the vaccine, but I’d like to see statistics about how many babies dies in percentages of those who contracted it. (Oh, drat – I don’t trust statistics anymore!)
I’m guessing that we have to take into account medicinal advances and technological feats, plus an understanding of the importance of basic hand-washing. Correlation is not necessarily causation.
But the fact remains that many signs point to the fact that babies are safer if more children are vaccinated in the population at large.
What might Catholic social teaching say about the altruistic sacrifice for other babies? It’s human nature to preserve our OWN young, but perhaps it’s not the Christian way. Are Christian parents called to think outside their own families, to risk the health of their own children for the potential good of the society as a whole, to protect the most vulnerable, the newborns?
On the other hand, our neighbors, who are fully vaccinated, clearly caught the bacteria from my oldest son. So they should be totally dangerous to a young baby, even though they also subjected themselves to the vaccine.
There are no guarantees.
An Unbiased Expert
My husband and I don’t have time to exhaustively research every decision we have to make as parents. Every time we read something, we can find the opposite, and the time it would take to determine “legitimate” and “trustworthy” sources extends as well, since it’s almost impossible to find studies not funded by a group with an interest in the outcome.
We have trouble trusting any old doctor, since it seems that there is so much Big Money in the medical field these days. The medical community should be the ones doing authentic research, reading about it and sharing that news with us – it’s their job. And yet here we are, amateur researchers, just parents on the Internet, trying to come to complicated medical solutions because we have no idea who to trust.
It’s frustrating beyond belief, and it’s why I’ve written thousands of words on whooping cough this week and have practically nothing to show for it.
Did we question our decision to selectively vaccinate our kids when we were in the throes of whooping cough? Absolutely!
Did we have a terrible time deciding what to do about the 2-year checkup and if John should receive a vax, and if so, which one? Horrible time.
Do we know what direction we want to take the vaccination question as our kids get older, or even what we’d do in an instant if we’re blessed with another newborn?
You might think that after my raw, emotional story of what whooping cough was like for our family and then how scary it was to think of possibly infecting others, that I would be pro-vaccination. Certainly I wouldn’t want a baby of mine to have that horrible cough, right?
I am pretty firm that I don’t like putting toxins into a baby’s bloodstream before they’re one. I don’t know how I feel about that phase between one and two. And I don’t have a clue if I’d get the pertussis shot next go round.
Since all my big kids have had whooping cough already – a newborn should be supremely safe in our house, to be honest.
So really, the only thing I know about vaccines is that they make parenting even harder than it already was.
They embody one more difficult, confusing decision with no good answer. Either you’re willingly putting something in your child’s body that doesn’t belong there, that may or may not protect them and others around them from a horrible disease and that may or may not hurt them for life – or you’re opting out, risking disease (again), potentially throwing herd immunity out of balance, getting the snake eye from every school secretary in the world and many friends and family, and still sitting there wondering if you did the right thing.
Everywhere you look, you’ll find a different answer and different numbers and opinions.
Vaccines make me mad, quite frankly, and I hate thinking about or writing about them.
The math is impossible because of all the “what ifs.”
The bottom line is that you have to make an informed decision. You have to do some research.
If you’re going to opt out of a given vaccine, you have to imagine GETTING the disease and embrace that, be ready for it, own it. If you’re going to get a certain vaccine, you should read up on vaccine injuries and make sure you’re willing to accept (and be on the lookout for) those.
And then you have to gamble, and just choose something, hopefully after prayerful discernment.
In the long run, it might not matter anyway.
You can’t protect them from everything.
Yes…Parenting is hard stuff.