Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives on Parenting, with a look at vaccinations. Does your family vaccinate?
To read the other side of this perspective, you can find Kristin’s post here.[hr]
It’s a stepping-out-of-my-comfort-zone post today. Something I rarely discuss—and even then, only with close friends: Vaccines.
Generally, people assume everyone vaccinates. I’ve witnessed assumptions to the point of nudge-nudge, wink-wink name-calling of those who don’t immunize. Like the only liberal in a room of conservatives, I remain quiet until the topic changes. (Don’t ask why I know how a lonely liberal feels.)
Not everyone vaccinates.
Some never do. Others follow a delayed or alternate schedule.
Let’s be clear: I speak for only our family.
Vaccines aren’t risk-free. For most, they’re the better risk. Our family chose to vaccinate differently. Except for the passive immunity from colostrum and and breast milk, our children received the full benefits of breastfeeding, right on time, as scheduled by mother nature.
Let’s back up before going forward, beginning with the immune system, the black box of the body’s systems. Science learns more about it every day, yet it’s one of the biggest mysteries. “If a patient were to ask me, ‘How’s my immune system doing today?’ I would have no idea how to answer that, and I’m an immunologist. None of us can answer that. Right now we’re still doing the same tests I did when I was a medical student in the late 1960s,” said C. Garrison Fathman, MD, the ITI Institute’s associate director and professor of immunology and rheumatology.
Many references give generalizations about when the immune system reaches maturity. Most agree antibodies are produced at about three months old, when vaccines begin. However, exactly when a child’s immune system matures is somewhere between six months to 12 years of age. Prominent authorities generalize and give vague statements, like “the immune system begins to develop in the baby, and continues to mature through the child’s first few years of life.”
Enter a mother (me) with autoimmune diseases: severe food allergies as an infant and child; eczema as an infant, child, and adult; and severe vaccination reactions at 16.
You see, as a child, I received only smallpox and polio vaccines. My doctor and dermatologist (yes, at less than a week old I had a dermatologist) agreed I should be minimally vaccinated based on my over-reactive immune system and multiple allergies. I remember hearing, “Allergy babies often react badly to vaccines.” They were most likely concerned about the preservatives, eggs, and egg products used to develop many vaccines, as I was severely allergic to dairy and eggs, too.
At 16, I independently found a new doctor and was vaccinated. At the injection sites, I experienced pain, swelling, and fever lasting several weeks. This, combined with intense joint pain—think unable to carry my own books or turn a doorknob for many weeks kind of pain—all in response to vaccines. Difficult lessons are hardest learned when stubborn 16-year-olds make rash decisions. (All puns intended.)
At 19, I developed severe hives, an immune response. The cause? Undetermined. As an adult, I’ve had several allergic reactions to food and drugs. One full-blown anaphylactic reaction resulted in an ambulance ride and epinephrine in the ER. Not fun. Cause? After testing, still undetermined.
Along came our firstborn, Sis. We delayed vaccines. She was the only child in a caregiver’s home. We spaced out the vaccinations to know which shot, if any, caused reactions. She reacted to DTP: painful crying and fever for a couple days, well beyond normal expectations. Once our working situation and childcare changed, we did no more until she was older. As an infant and child she experienced food and metal allergies, which she outgrew. Today, she is a successful nursing student and up-to-date on immunizations.
Along came Felicia. The home-birthed, 9.8 pound infant spent her first night with her family on double-rinsed sheets washed in Dreft. Her first morning brought bright red rashes on bare parts of her body touching sheets. I could use no detergent on her clothes, shampoo on her hair, or soap on her body until she was over five years old. (No, in case you wondered, she wasn’t greasy-haired and stinky. She was fair-complexioned and clean, albeit slightly tangled, as she spurned combs and brushes.) “Sensitive skin” doesn’t begin to describe her. She also had food allergies to milk and dairy. Cheese, a little cream in my coffee, or milk on my cereal, and she became The Exorcist‘s Regan. Projectile vomiting from the mouth of a three-week-old, while impressive, is not pretty. I had no dairy until she was over two, when her body no longer over-reacted to milk proteins.
At four, she had Kawasaki’s Disease (KD)—a whole other post. KD’s exact cause is unknown, but it sent her immune system into overdrive with fevers of 105 degrees and higher; vomiting; diarrhea; rashes; strawberry and geographic tongue; peeling skin on her soles and palms; swelling; and inflammation, topped off with 18 months of joint pain and monitoring for congestive heart failure. It’s no joke. Prior to the diagnosis, we feared it was Scarlet Fever and gave her penicillin. Guess what? She’s allergic to penicillin, too. Years later, her physician wrote in her files, “Mom reports child has ‘funky immune system.'”
At eight, she developed hives and the beginning of anaphylaxis (e.g., “Mom, you know how your throat is a circle when you breathe? Mine is squeezing and closing shut”). Not what you want to hear at midnight in a hotel on a horse show weekend. Good thing her pony knew the ropes, as she spent the weekend in an antihistamine daze. We never discovered the trigger.
In her preteens, Felicia experienced stomach issues we now believe were food reactions and allergies. Her teens brought psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PA). Allergies are an over reaction of the immune system. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are both autoimmune diseases. Recently, her physician reminded me of the “funky immune system” comment. “You were right,” he said. I wish I’d been wrong.
Because of my history and Felicia’s reactions since birth, she was not fully immunized until beginning treatment for the painful PA, which involves self-injections to shut down her immune system. Dear God of Ironies.
The Batman, youngest of our clan, is homeschooled. He cannot tolerate certain foods and is gluten-free due to serious reactions to wheat and gluten.
What about school, you ask?
No shots, no school? Not really. In Texas, there is an exemption parents/guardians can file. It’s easy, yet takes time to request, receive, and notarize. A child can be kept out of school without shots if there’s no exemption filed. Texas only tracks the number of exemptions sent to specific ZIP codes. The exemption is filed with the school. If the school has an outbreak of an immunizable disease, those who have filed exemptions may be excluded from school until it’s resolved.
Exemptions may be filed for medical reasons or “reasons of conscience.” The exemption form is good for two years, unless a physician notes it is a lifelong medical exemption. Exemptions may be for all or some vaccines.
I share our story to be the voice of some who don’t blindly vaccinate.
Yes, I’m fortunate. Now, I can stay home. I can homeschool. I haven’t always been a stay at home, homeschooling mom. We’ve done private and public school, and I’ve worked outside the home. Yet, we’ve kept my medical history and my children’s health at the forefront of our decisions. We’ve chosen our path with thought and consideration.
Big decisions in childrearing carry risks. Whatever decision you make, you accept the risk. This is not meant to influence others to a decision on vaccinating. Actually, contributors were asked if anyone would write on another perspective of vaccinations. I volunteered, knowing our story may not be well-received. It’s still our story.
For more information, you’ll find the vaccinations requirements for Texas here.
*Thanks to Dr. Manifold and the nursing staff Baptist Emergency Hospital, San Antonio, for providing the opportunity for a late-night vaccine photo op.