Vaccines and Vulnerability

January 14, 2015 at 7:52 pm

A few years ago I wrote a blogpost in which I looked at the home birth vs. hospital birth debate through the lens of my brothers’ boating accident. It was my final word on the matter. Today I’d like to do the same with the vaccine debate. ‘Cause let’s be honest… it is getting really (really, really, really) old. Right? People on both sides tell tragedy stories and hurl horribly mean words at each other. I won’t give those hurtful words any weight by listing any of them here. Regardless of your personal views about vaccines, I think we can all agree that resorting to name-calling and meanness is… just not cool.

Here’s the thing about stories… we can never know the full story. Nothing will teach you to doubt the details in any news story better than being the family in those news stories. As my brothers’ boating accident made headlines, I cringed over and over at the mistakes and misrepresentations in both print and television outlets. When it comes to “news,” doubt the details. Always doubt the details.

We like to pretend that we can know the full story. We like to pretend that we know why someone else did what they did. But we don’t. Vaccine advocates often share stories about children who have died from diseases they could have been immunized for. Vaccine skeptics share stories about vaccine injuries, often from their own children. There is pain on both sides. There are consequences either way. We take what we know (<–not always accurate) and make decisions based upon a billion factors bundled up in our conscious and subconscious minds. We can never know what those billion factors are for someone else. Sometimes one of those factors is God. Sometimes a person’s choice is the culmination of a long and agonizing journey of data- and soul-searching. With that in mind, it is much harder to throw around mean-spirited labels. Assumptions based upon extremely limited knowledge of another person’s situation are guaranteed to be at best skewed and at worst intensely inaccurate. I can’t help wondering… is the fighting and negativity over vaccines just as harmful to our bodies/minds/spirits as the illnesses/vaccinations themselves?

We like to think that we can choose our way out of vulnerability, but we can’t. We are mortal. We are vulnerable. Science has enabled humanity to do amazing things. But we can’t science our way out of vulnerability. Our pediatrician acknowledged, “There are risks and benefits with vaccines,” when I was a first-time mom. Vaccines have risks. Foregoing vaccines has risks. Life has risks. Every day of our lives we could die. Losing a child can be an especially excruciating loss. Those of us on the outside, especially those of us who are way, way outside (as in, total strangers who heard about it on the Internet), are not in a position to make assumptions about who may or may not have been at fault in that child’s death. Send love, not hate. God knows they need it.

headstoneI’ve shared the story of my brothers’ 2006 boating accident several times on this blog. If you want to read the full story, see here. Long story short, one of my brothers survived and one of them didn’t. They made different choices after the boat went down. They swam in opposite directions. Maybe those choices impacted the outcome. Maybe not. Maybe my dead brother would have died regardless. Maybe my living brother would have lived regardless. Who knows? Sometimes it’s just a person’s time to die. We’re all going to die. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how it happened if it was our time to go. Two of my brothers (I have a lot of brothers) have miraculously avoided death repeatedly. Crazy stuff has happened to them, but they just keep surviving. Clearly they’re supposed to be here. I’m grateful they’re still here. But I’m also confident that my brother who died is in the exact right place for his own journey.

I spent much of 2014 crawling through more anguish of soul than I’ve ever seen before. Westley’s words from The Princess Bride come to mind: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something” (video clip). Life is pain. Being mortal is pain. It’s our instinct to try to avoid pain. But none of us escapes life without experiencing pain. Most of us will encounter pain frequently and intensely. But life is also beauty and joy. Life is exquisite. The word exquisite can be broken down to its Latin roots: ex= out, quaerere= seek. You can hear the effort in those root words. Life doesn’t become exquisite without intense effort. You can’t ease your way to exquisite. I keep hearing the words of a song from my childhood running through my head, “You’ve got to taste the bitter, so you can know the sweet. . . . It’s called opposition, my friend. Opposition… a necessary condition in this world of ours” (listen here). I used to listen to this on a record player all the time.

So what’s my point? The same point I made three years ago when I wrote this:

Here’s the thing… I could come to you and say, “I feel like it’s right to swim this way” and give you all my reasons.  But that doesn’t make my way the right way for you.  I don’t know the right way for you.  But I believe we can take those questions to our loving Creator who will always give impeccable advice.  That advice may be to swim in the opposite direction as your sister or friend.  And that’s OK.  You are a unique person and so is your baby.  What’s right for you will also be uniquely suited to you.

And you know what?  Sometimes even death is right. When we have done all we can to prepare ourselves and follow the correct path for us, we may still encounter death in that pathway. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we made a mistake.  It just means it was time.

Remember that there are no guarantees for you or anyone else. No one can guarantee that your child will not be harmed by a vaccine, and no one can guarantee that your child will not be harmed by a vaccine-preventable illness. Sometimes children need to avoid exposure to vaccines, sometimes children need to delay exposure to vaccines, sometimes children will remain healthy regardless of their vaccination status, sometimes children will be unhealthy or die regardless of their vaccine status, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we do our best to make the right choice for our child/family and bad things still happen. That’s just part of being alive… it’s called opposition, my friends.

I don’t know whether your children should be vaccinated. Do what you need to do to feel good about your choice—research, ponder, pray, listen. The answer for my family has been different with each child. There are children in my home who are fully vaccinated, partially-vaccinated, and unvaccinated, and those could change if/when I feel inspired. No judgments here.

I trust the process of life to bring you and your family whatever experiences will enable you to grow and fulfill your great missions. And, in the end, I know that you and your children will grow and do marvelous things (in mortality and in spirit), vaccinated or not.

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