Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Vaccination Debate: Can't we just all be friends?

I never understand why bloggers/columnists/pundits insist that breastfeeding is the hottest debate topic for parents by far or that no other controversial issue elicits the same kind of vitriol. The vaccination debate is, I think, just as nasty, although maybe not as commonly seen.

So that you may understand my perspective fully, I am generally in favor of vaccines. Simply put, there are a lot of ugly diseases that used to kill lots of people that don't now, in large part because of vaccines. There are caveats, of course. There is always the possibility of side effects or reactions that can be severe, plus the chance that you might actually get the disease from the vaccine. It is a decision that I think all parents should make with as much information as possible. If they decide to vaccinate based on their research, as I generally have, or decide not to, as I sometimes do, I will allow them their decision in peace. What I ask is that they allow me the same courtesy.

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a woman's sad story of her son's terrible reaction to a vaccine as an infant. Her description of the life he has faced since is heartbreaking. But it was unfortunate that she decided to criticize all those who decide to vaccinate their children, implying that they wish others' children to be sacrificed in the name of the greater good. The author went on to the–in my opinion–tired claims of autism and the MMR vaccine. I replied to my friend's post, saying that I certainly felt for the woman and what she and her son must be suffering, but that I thought the post was "unreasonably inflammatory." I also challenged the link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

I do not believe this link to be true. I have read many articles and studies which have widely discredited this association. In response, I was told that I must be a vaccine representative, making money off pitching vaccines. Several times, someone attempted to discredit me by saying I had an economic agenda to reply to my friend's post on Facebook. My obvious reaction is that if I'm in the pocket of Big Pharma, I've been missing a lot of paychecks.

The fact that I disagree with the autism-vaccine connection does not mean that I don't believe in reactions to vaccines. Every time my daughter was due to receive a vaccine at a regular checkup, I came to her pediatrician's office armed with information. I was expecting that her doctor would take my information and present a case in favor of the vaccine (or not), during which I would come to a final decision. Her specialty is infectious diseases, so I was looking forward to hearing her expertise. Sometimes she advocated for a vaccine I decided not to get. Sometimes she argued that a vaccine might not be necessary, and then I didn't get it. Sometimes, she convinced me to get a particular vaccine. I challenged her on other issues, for example extended breastfeeding and extended rear-facing. When we went to our last appointment and I told her we would be moving, she said she would miss me as one of her parents who challenged her to rethink her positions.

I'm in somewhat of an awkward position in this debate. I pretty routinely vaccinate my daughter (although not without research and discussion first) and I do the same for myself. Yet I fully respect those who choose not to vaccinate based on their own research. I respect them because I have studied the issue, see both sides, and I understand there are risks to either decision. And for some reason, I can't seem to get ahead in this position. I'm wrong for not lambasting those who vaccinate for poisoning their children or being mindless lemmings following standard protocol. I'm also wrong because I'm not lambasting those who don't vaccinate for being scaremongers who are only healthy because they rely on everyone else to vaccinate and prevent the general spread of these terrible diseases. And I apparently am worst of all because I seem not to take a uniform position (meaning that I believe some vaccines are more necessary than others, and I would get some but not get others).

Why must this happen? I generally try to stay away from the vaccination debate because I know that eventually it will be drawn upon these absolute lines that offer no opportunity for reason or common sense. More importantly, I cannot see why these debates (on vaccination and other issues) must so routinely descend into personal attacks. It's pathetic, sad, and just plain bad argumentation. Are people really so insecure that, when they don't feel they're proving me wrong adequately enough, they must cast aspersions on my agenda?

And finally, why are we not joining forces to gang up on the people who make these decisions without research or debate, who act in a knee-jerk fashion based on "how they grew up" or what their friends are doing?

I understand, more than most, that debates must always have a focus and purpose. But in most issues we face as parents, in most decisions we must sometime make, trying to persuade someone to go a particular way is not as effective as the methods used to make that argument and the evidence given to support it. This is true because in general, most people attempting to argue their positions in these kinds of debates are not trying to advocate for legislative change. They are attempting to change the minds of parents who are, in these issues, entitled to make up their own minds. In essence, this means that the more information that is disseminated, the more parents who are able to get access to those debates, even if they don't participate themselves, the greater the likelihood that they will be informed when they come down to making those decisions. And I do think that, within the scope of the vaccination debate, disseminating correct information in the most unbiased form possible is just as or more important than the decision the parent ultimately makes. If you are unabashedly in favor of one side or the other, your accurate presentation of the facts will persuade more people to your side. Certainly it will earn more supporters than scaremongering or personal attacks. I can love your argument, but I'm not going to say you had the right idea if you were a jerk about it.

I know it's cyberspace, and I know it's en vogue to start a flame war, especially if you feel you're losing. But let's remember that we're all humans here. We all make mistakes, and we all believe things that may not be true or turn out not to be true. I am all for supporting the issues that are important to you (just ask me about breastfeeding sometime), but I think that it should always come in a respectful form. I liked competitive debate because you were forced to deal with the person you were speaking to directly. I like debate online because it allows me more opportunities to discuss and disseminate information. I like to debate, period, and the internet provides ample choices. But I do my best to remember that there's a person on the other side of that computer, and I only wish that everyone else would do the same.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's a baby!

I have learned not to trust my instincts regarding baby gender. I was so sure E was a boy, and she is obviously a girl. And I was so sure this one was a girl, and it's definitely a boy. I guess my position against routine infant circumcision will become much less abstract in a few months.
Everything looks great. They think there's a slight chance of placenta accreta given the position of the placenta in relation to my bladder and my cervix. So they'll want to do another check at 28-30 weeks. But they didn't think it was terribly likely. I had a nursing student watching, so I got lots more detail from the tech than I would have otherwise. The pics didn't turn out very well, though. I got a DVD of video but no stills.
It was wonderful to see him for the first time. He was up so high they were trying to get a view of him through my belly button.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What do you feed your kids and why?

I think that, as a crunchy mama, I have a lot of reasons for feeding my kids the foods I feed them. And I read all the time in other blogs writers mocking people who choose to feed their kids organic food, no candy, etc. I would say I'm probably not the strictest of parents when it comes to my child's diet, but I do have some standards. But before I get to those standards, I'd like to share a story of something that happened to me today. And in your reply, I'd like you to post your standards for feeding your kids (including your kids' ages if that is relevant).

I went to my LLL meeting this morning. There are lots of moms and kids at this meeting, maybe 20-25 of each. I always bring snacks and a drink for E (so she won't steal the snacks and drinks of others) and I always tell the women on either side of me that their children are welcome to partake of the snacks I have. Today, E had a granola bar and some organic apple slices. The woman next to me has a daughter about E's age (2.5) and the girl asked for one of my apple slices. Her mother said she couldn't have any, so she asked her mother for apples. Her mother gave her a stick of gum and Pez candy. Normally I'm not surprised when parents say no to raw apples for their children because of the choking risk. But to substitute gum? I just don't get it. I guess that's her set of standards, and it conflicts with mine. I try not to judge in these circumstances, but sometimes I just don't understand how people make the parental feeding decisions. So I've decided to explain mine. Here they are:

1. I aim to give E meat and egg products that are organic 95% of the time. It should at least be cage-free, grain-fed and hormone and antibiotic-free. Occasionally we do eat out and I will allow her to eat meat then, even if it's fast food. I just try to do it rarely enough that it's less likely to cause harm.
2. I aim to give E the healthiest dairy products possible. She drinks goat's milk, which I cannot obtain organically here but I do buy it direct from a local goat farm that fulfills my basic criteria listed in #1.
3. Produce may or may not be organic. It depends on the price of the organic produce, and the type of produce itself. Apples and celery are foods that usually have high amounts of pesticides, so I buy those organic exclusively. But I am flexible on many others.
4. For grains, I try to buy organic wherever possible but it's really cost-prohibitive. E doesn't eat a huge quantity of grain products so this does not worry me too much.
5. Fast food or restaurant food I try to limit to once a week.
6. She is allowed to have chips, but not every day. I try to limit it to twice a week.
7. Candy is limited to one piece per day, after lunch if she asks for it. She likes chocolate. I do not allow sticky or chewy candy (or gum) on account of the choking hazard.
8. She is allowed one frozen treat per day, after dinner. That's usually a popsicle, but might also be a bit of Daddy's ice cream.
9. She may drink as much juice as she likes. That might be 4 oz or 10 oz in one day, but she doesn't eat a lot of sugary things each day and we brush her teeth frequently so unless it's giving her intestinal upset (which it doesn't) I think it's fine.