Friday, March 26, 2010

On vaccinations and the unexpected

Note: This post is about 18 months old, but still relevant. A little explanation: My oldest son, Tyler, experienced a serious, (albeit rare) brain injury at both 2 and 4 months of age from his pertussis vaccine. It has had life-long devastating consequences. His youngest sister contracted pertussis when she was just two years old and aside from coughing so hard that she threw up every night for 3 months she has not suffered any long-term effects. I realize that is not the case for everyone.

Having experienced both the consequences of vaccinating and delaying the vaccine schedule, I would choose the latter. It's a personal decision and I speak from the perspective of a mother who has watched her son suffer year after year from that initial decision to "follow the herd" and vaccinate.

I realize I am opening a whole can of worms here. Please understand that I am not anti-vaccine, but I do believe parents have a responsibility to read the damn vaccine information sheet. Actually read it before you agree to it and think about it, pray about it, know if it is right for your child, your family. Had I done all that, I may have still gone ahead and had my son receive his vaccine, but at least I would have been educated about the risks and may have recognized what was happening and sought treatment for him sooner.

And please don't lump everyone who chooses not to vaccinate into one big category of anti-government conspiracy theorists. Some of us are actually relatively normal people who have experienced the tragedy of being the "Ounce of Prevention" sacrificed for the "Pound of Cure." I hope the sacrifice was worth it.

And now for the actual post:

Tyler's 16th birthday came and went last week without the usual accompanying 'Sweet 16' celebration. In fact, I hate admitting this, I didn't even wish him a Happy Birthday on his birthday. (I know! What is wrong with me?) Ever since I filled in the dates on the fridge calendar last month I have been thinking about it, so it's not that it hasn't been on my mind - it has. Oh, how it has.

I remember when we first started taking him to Early Intervention-speech, physical and occupational therapies-he was 6 months old. A case worker brought a video for us to watch entitled, Mourning the Loss of your Dream. She expected us to break down and sob, let it all out so we could "move on."

It's strange, but at that time we felt no real sense of loss for the life he might have had if he'd never had his shots at 2 months resulting in a life-altering brain injury. Instead, we had a strong feeling that he would lead us on a journey of much growth and love. And oh, how he has.

However, that sense of loss has snuck in like a stranger in the night a few times since then:

when the neighbor's baby started walking
and talking

when the kids in his class started being invited to birthday parties
and reading, writing and learning arithmetic

when the kids in his scout troop (the one he would've been in) started getting their Eagles
and, now, when they are driving, dating, and discovering their talents

I think about how it might have been - the friendships he'd have made, the girls he'd be crushing on (or who'd be crushing on him), the kind of big brother he'd be (definitely sweet), the miles of running and walking he'd have done by now, the sports he'd have loved to play, the food he'd be devouring during his teenage growth spurts, and yes, even the musical instruments he might have taken up.

On milestone birthdays, these thoughts and dreams raise their heads and give me pause. I am sad for him and also, selfishly, sad for me. Sad that the only conversations we have are the ones in my mind or with our eyes, sad that he cannot (right now) have the dreams in my heart for him or become independent and have these same dreams for his own future children.

I let myself mourn what might have been and then, carefully, I tuck those dreams back into their treasure box to store up against some far distant future where God will breathe Life into them. Then I come back to how it is, rejoicing today in the many lessons he's taught me, all the many ways in which he has stretched the corners of my soul - filling them up with love and gratitude for a life so precious.

He is my Sweet 16. Happy Birthday son!

**As a post-script to this: Do you realize that adults who were vaccinated as children can spread pertussis without even knowing it? Pertussis is especially dangerous if contracted by children under 1 year of age (keep those babies home, limit their exposure). It is recommended that adults receive a Tdap booster every 10 years. Are you part of the herd?


Annie said...

"I let myself mourn what might have been and then, carefully, I tuck those dreams back into their treasure box to store up against some far distant future where God will breathe Life into them."

(Tear)That's beautiful. Praise God.

Happy Birthday to your dear Tyler.

You've written this so perfectly. I am not anti-vaccine, but I know my baby girl was different after her shots. She's had no long-lasting effects, but I saw it change her.

P.S. Your faith and beauty are showing.

tiburon said...

Happy Birthday to Tyler!

This post really touched me. I will admit that I have been a follow the herd vaccinator - and this has made me think. I know this post took a lot of courage for you to put out there.

And I admire your courage!

Kalli Ko said...

You're a rock lady friend.

The vaccine debate is one I think I will never fully understand. I do know that I sweated the decision a great deal, and I still do every time I decline a shot or delay a regularly scheduled vaccination that my boy was supposed to receive.

I am not anti-vaccination. I am pro-information and pro-pray about it and do what you feel is right for you and your children.

Kimberly said...

So beautiful, and I agree with your wise suggestion that parents educate themselves. We're not herd followers ourselves. We do vaccinate but we follow a schedule that makes more sense based on our understanding.

Well said.

Elizabeth-W said...

I don't consider myself a 'herd follower'. I read the info sheet and took a calculated risk.
I choose to believe that the medical profession wants people to be healthy, rather than the other way to think. It's a healthier way of viewing the world for me.
After personally seeing children in India with polio I decided then and there vaccines were the way to go.
Also, to back you up on the pertussis know this but some of you readers may not.
My six week old baby got pertussis from my FIL. She spent 2 weeks in the hospital and she was a very, very sick baby--they didn't realize for some time that was what she had. My 3 year old also contracted it b/c she hadn't had all the shots yet, and I got it b/c I hadn't had the booster (didn't know I needed one). For adults it's annoying. For baby, it would have been fatal 150 years ago because she could not nurse or take a bottle. She ended up being fed through a tube. And, she was on constant oxygen until the day before she left hospital.

Mrs. Organic said...

Thank you for your sweetness and your understanding.

Here is where I look like a completely horrible person - it seems like it would have been easier for him to die from pertussis as an infant than to watch all the suffering he's had to go through these past 18 years, but I suppose that's misguided. I don't for a minute begrudge any of the time I've had with him, he has taught me so much. I just can't make sense of everything he continues to deal with and the fact that he does it so well.

Loralee and the gang... said...

Does it make me a horrible person to totally understand what you mean when you say "it seems like it would have been easier"? I think we all have those thoughts when we see a loved one around us suffer. I admire how you so gracefully deal with your beautiful son. And yet, you are still human, and get discouraged and wonder what might have been. That's so understandable. And it doesn't make you a horrible person.

Nikki and Ray said...

Happy Birthday Tyler! What an amazing journey you and your family have had. You are so inspiring to me Corrie. Thank you! You are a beautiful woman...

kado! said...

Happy Birthday to Tyler!

I really really appreciated this post! I think sometimes we as Mothers are looked down upon if we stop to question Dr.'s or anyone who is pushing us in the direction to "follow the herd" I really believe it is a hard and personal decision we make when it comes to anything medical for each of our children. What may be right for one of our children might not be right for someones else's children...and that should be OK. I have been in the situation at the Dr.'s office where I felt I was looked down on because of the individual decision I was making at the time for my child....but now that I look back I am glad at being able to be strong. Because there have also been many times that I didn't have the strength to stand up...and I just followed the herd too.

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective! I think that is the only way we are able to make clear educated decisions...once we see many views! Thanks!

Pamela said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this story with me.

Omgirl said...

I shed a few tears over this post. It was so beautiful!

I also appreciate your thoughts on vaccination. I had never had the slightest thought about not vaccinating until I was approached to have my first, 24 hour old, baby given a vaccine. When I read the sheet they gave me, it set off red flags in my head and I decided to postpone it until I could do more research. Well, that set off a month long research session, logging dozens, literally upon dozens, of hours of research, on both sides of the debate. And in the end, I have decided that there are some positives and some negatives to vaccinating, especially at the high rate and mulitiple dosage schedule currently used. But in the end, I respect each mother's right to make her own decision for her own children. (And yet I respect those whove done the research before deciding more, because I can't tell you the number of people who've criticized my views without ever doing ANY research at all.)