February 4, 2015

This is Why I didn’t give my Toddler the MMR Vaccine.

My toddler

Please don’t judge me here.

My story isn’t about being an anti-vaxxer, because I am not one.

Please don’t mark my arm with a Scarlet AV because I did not give my toddler the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

At the time (in those early 2000s), the jury was still out on whether or not the MMR vaccine caused Autism, which sounded frighteningly difficult for everyone involved, especially in the sleep-deprived eyes of a parent.

As a new-to-be mom, I was bombarded with advice about how to raise my baby while living in a hip village in northern California.

Full bellied pregnant with my first son, my co-worker handed me a book about the pros and cons of vaccines a few days after the scare of Y2K.

I took the gift with great respect, as she was a wise woman, and a mother of three. I’ll admit that I preferred this book to another gift—Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery—which had black-and-white photographs of a baby crowning. Images that I had not been prepared to see as my baby kicked my ribs, but ones I appreciated after the birth.

At the time of my pregnancy, I felt the societal pressures that I must become a perfect mother. Yet I slowly learned to disregard advice, as I gained more and more real life experience of being a mom once my son was born.

Intuitively, I felt as if I shouldn’t give my son the MMR vaccine at the recommended age of 12 months. So I didn’t.

I certainly felt comfortable with my son receiving the other vaccines—especially the one that included Tetanus—as we lived in a rural area where there was always the possibility of rusty nails or barbed wire in the woods. My son received all of the required vaccines at the scheduled times (although the chicken pox vaccine wasn’t recommended). And then it came time for the MMR shot, and I declined.

I truly felt in my gut that the MMR wasn’t right for my son at that point in his life.

Yes, we were fortunate that he didn’t get the measles.

However, at the age of three, he got chicken pox (so we went through those few weeks applying a new brightly colored band aid every time a fresh pox appeared). My son obsessed about the collection of band aids, organizing them by color and cartoon character.

He survived the chicken pox (as did so many of us), and it probably strengthened his immune system.

Finally, I felt it was okay for him to get the MMR after his fifth birthday.

By this time, the studies showed that there wasn’t a direct correlation between the MMR vaccination and developing Autism, yet the fear still existed for many parents.

I also had a newborn son whom I didn’t want to get measles if my older guy happened to be exposed to the illness (which seemed highly unlikely at the time).

Of course, my older son developed hives on his face after the MMR vaccine.

I shook my head with frustration, sighing that I had been right all along (even though I didn’t know why).

He had an allergic reaction to the live culture in the MMR vaccine (and years later, he would get a quarter sized hive from the MMR booster, and later full blown hives from his first flu shot).

Admittedly, I am thankful that he had the MMR vaccine (even with the side effects), as the cases of measles have been spreading in California. Not to mention that my son isn’t known to be so good at washing his hands, and tends to chew on his pens/pencils out of a nervous habit.

As for the connection between Autism and MMR, I’ve inadvertently conducted my own mini-test.

It turns out that my son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s), and looking back he exhibited characteristics (such as lining up his toy cars, but not actively playing with them) before being exposed to the MMR vaccine.

Unfortunately, his father and I were never trained in the field of psychology (especially ASDs), so we were unaware of his Asperger’s at the time.

However, looking back at his early years, the Autism certainly showed up before receiving the MMR shot.

As a mother, I will never advocate for another mother/father/grandparent to give vaccines against their choice. It is their decision to vaccinate; and yes, sometimes there are valid reasons not to vaccinate (such as allergic reactions to shots).

And with this recent outbreak of measles, I’m not offering advice, but sharing my story as a way to encourage a culture of mindful dialogue.

Let’s not play the blame game with words such as anti-vaxxers.

We live in the land of the free where we should be able to express what we feel, but at the same time, we need to respect how others feel, or why they may choose their actions.

So the next time that you feel that urge to play the blame game—pause—remember that we never really know what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes.

And if you want to see why people were so afraid of the potential outcome that MMR’s could cause an Autism Spectrum Disorder, then come on over, and I’ll let you borrow a pair of my shoes: you’ll get to see what it’s like to be a mother of a child on the spectrum.


Author: Jes Wright

Editor: Emily Bartran

Images: Courtesy of the Author.

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