The anti-vax movement and the pursuit of perfection

⇒  Parents just want what is best for their kids  ⇐

So, Easter season seems as good a time as to resurrect this blog from the grave, eh?  Just as I was hitting my stride as a stay-at-home mom, hubby and I decided to upend ourselves and move from South Florida to Orlando.  Pros: better job opportunities for him, proximity to Disney World.  Cons: have you ever moved with a toddler???? (see Hyperbole & a Half’s post about moving with her dogs here, but replace it with a human being with the ability to recall people and places to you and the same amount of ability to cope with change).  Needless to say, we’ve lived here since late January and he’s finally just getting used to it.

Anyway, I felt a pressing need to share my thoughts with the internet today because of the anti-vaccine movement getting attention in the national media (although I just had to Google how to spell vaccine, so maybe I’m not so qualified to speak on the subject).  First of all, as an avid reader of mommy blogs, mommy boards, mommy Facebook groups… well, pretty much any part of the world wide web that can be modified with the word “mommy”, this stuff is old news to me.  I can even give a startling list of reasons why people don’t want to vaccinate their kids that goes far beyond “Jenny McCarthy said it would give my kid autism”.  A lot of the commentary towards this group is now happening from people who are not parents.  They don’t hear the debates going round and round between the pro- and anti- groups.  Furthermore, they don’t understand the pressure and fear and sense of responsibility that a parent feels for a child.  And that is what it comes to – wanting to do what is best for our kids.

There is a problem, though, with this kind of thinking, this “crunchy mom” mentality, when taken to an extreme.  It’s this idea, it seems, of reaching perfection.  They use words like “clean” (anyone should know that is an impossible standard with kids) to describe their diets.  They think that just eliminating all “toxins” from their diet, health/beauty products, cleaning supplies, etc. will protect them from getting cancer or autism or any disease for that matter.  Now, there is nothing wrong with eating healthy and knowing about what is going into our food supply (using the term “food” loosely here).  We read ingredients, try to buy organic and non-GMO while we can, and, for the most part, avoid processed foods.  There is also nothing wrong with avoiding problematic chemicals in our cleaning and health regiments.  As we get new information about things, it is always good to reconsider what we are bringing into our homes and bodies.  The issue is when you think that you can control every variable, every bad thing out there to manufacture this perfect life for yourself and your family.  You can’t.

I know the anxiety, probably better than those trying to live that lifestyle.  I know it isn’t possible.  I know we live with risk.  It’s hard going against the mainstream.  It is even harder trying to know where to put the balance.  Which battles to fight.  It’s a lot easier to throw yourself completely to one extreme.  You don’t have to think – you just follow the prescribed path.  No vaccines, only organic foods and clothes, only babywearing, only breastfeeding, only wait-it-out, only RIE, only attachment parenting.  Let someone else create the guidelines and you just follow them.  It is so much harder to know which parts of which “philosophies” to follow (sorry for all the quote marks – there are just a lot of buzz words floating around my head when I get on this subject).  The anxiety of giving my kid non-organic meat on occasion.  Trying to find the *right* cleaning supplies to not kill us but will still actually clean.  Should I do more research on fluoride?   Is letting my son cry right now going to ruin him psychologically?

As I keep repeating, we all want what’s best for our kids.  No one is going into this trying to be a bad person.  The problem is, while we should continue to question and research what goes into vaccines, we should also not simply fear-monger and protest something that has clearly demonstrated its effectiveness over time.  We are lucky to live in a time where these diseases are so obscure that we can tell ourselves that they are no big deal.  There is this quaint belief that people all lived these healthy, non-toxic, blissful lives before technology changed things.  Everyone was having natural births, breastfeeding, and never suffered illness (and, if they did, it was purely due to unhygienic practices).  C-sections, formula, and other medical interventions somehow get labeled as hurting us.  I do agree that the *over use* of any medical intervention is worse than letting nature take its course.  However, when someone asks, “Well, what did we do before _blank_?”, the answer is probably something related to death.  How did all those babies eat before there was formula?  Well, if the mother was having supply issues, and there wasn’t a wet-nurse available, they most likely died.  All those women birthing babies out in the fields without ultrasounds or doctors or midwives present  – a lot of them died.  Medicine does have its place.  It is not necessary in every or even a lot of instances, but doctors aren’t always out to get you or make a quick buck.  If vaccines were really as bad as the anti-vaxers say, 99% of pediatricians in the U.S. would be committing malpractice.

There is a reason that the new outbreaks are happening specifically in wealthy areas.  It is like the ultimate #whitepeopleproblems.  These people have access to good health care as well as good nutrition and general living conditions – that makes them less vulnerable to the effects of the disease if they were to get it as well as a strong immune system to fight it from the beginning.  Not everyone has that luxury.

Which brings me to my next point – while we all want what’s best for our own children, we cannot ignore the greater good.  There are things I do for my family that are not benefiting our society or planet.  I cannot stand used baby/kids items.  I don’t care how clean it is.  It is horrible that I will not go into a consignment store or even borrow from a friend unless absolutely necessary (one friend gave me a few pieces of baby clothing that she no longer needed – I was so happy to find out that she was pregnant again just to have an excuse to give it back).  I also don’t share my son’s clothes (thankfully I had the excuse of moving before, and now they are all airtight sealed and stored).  This is horrible for the environment.  I do, however, cloth diaper.  Most people use disposables.  That works better for their family (generally speaking), but worse for the planet.  We all do these things, but, sometimes, we need to recognize that our children are part of a global society and that their actions, as well as our actions on their behalf, impact the world at large.  Not vaccinating a child makes them a better transmitter of that disease than a vaccinated child.  This has a huge impact when it comes to the immune-compromised, pre-vaccination infants, and those actually allergic to the vaccine components.  These are people who need all of our protection.  It is more than just “well, if vaccines work so well, then your vaccinated kid shouldn’t be affected by my decision to not vaccinate” (also, fun fact, vaccines are NOT 100% effective, so, actually, that statement is false).  So while you are trying to maintain the crystal clean bubble around your family, it is not possible to actually live in a bubble at all.

One last piece to my rant – just because a group is supposedly on the liberal side of the spectrum, especially when it comes to these “crunchy” issues, doesn’t mean that they are not also trying to make a dollar.  Sign up for the Environmental Working Group “information” emails; every single one of them is a plea for donations.  These groups have the ability to make money off of misinformation and ignorance just as well as anyone else.  Not only is education invaluable, but so is the knowledge that you may not be educated enough to do the research on your own and interpret the science and data accurately.  Intuition is great, but it is not enough.

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