We’re rerunning this piece with a simple request: repost it with the hashtag #freedom2014. The BBC is promoting a Freedom 2014 series. They’ve called for photos, videos and music to be submitted of what freedom means to its viewers and readers. While they didn’t ask for essays, we know that this one was well received when originally posted here on #TMR and unveils what freedom feels like in the exam room. We’d love for the story to be recirculated so that the BBC gets a peek at it and so it gets into the hands of new parents who may have missed it the first time it was on the TMR blog. So, with your help, let’s get this out there again and let others know what freedom feels like when you’re a Thinking Mom.
A young mother sits in the pediatrician’s waiting room. She looks around at other young parents. Are they as nervous as she is? Are they going through a list of questions for the doctor? Do they even know they should be asking some questions? Her thoughts are interrupted as her child’s name is called. She strolls back to the small exam room ready for her son’s well-baby visit. She’s ready to listen, but is also armed with confidence.
The nurse checks the baby’s height, weight and head circumference. A quick review of any changes in his development and recent illnesses is documented. The young mother prepares herself for the pointed statement that comes next, “And, he’s due for his four-month shots. Here’s something to read while you wait for the doctor.” Without even glancing at the colored Vaccine Information Sheets, the young parent looks into the steely eyes of the nurse and says, “Oh, no thank you. We’re not doing those.” Stunned, the nurse tightens the grip around her pen. She doesn’t respond. A few seconds go by. The nurse replies, “Well, the chart says you skipped shots at the last check up, so we’re going to catch him up today. Read the papers, okay? The doctor will be in shortly.”
A chill goes up the mother’s spine. She temporarily wavers from confident to petrified. Her child is, for the most part, vaccine-free. She foolishly let the hospital staff give her hours-old newborn the hepatitis B vaccine. In retrospect, she realizes how ludicrous it was to allow that vaccine; hepatitis B is a sexually-transmitted disease that neither she nor her husband have issues with.
The likelihood of her brand-new baby being exposed to it, and requiring a vaccine that has been linked with autism, was nearly impossible. But, not being fully prepared for what many hospitals employ as standard operating procedure (to vaccinate babies soon after birth for sexually transmitted diseases) tripped up this new mother. It wasn’t until later, when she was preparing for her son’s follow-up pediatrician’s appointment that she really looked at what was going to be done to her child and what was going to be asked of her: to blindly trust and consent to whatever the medical professionals told her was going to happen. She’d allowed that at the one-month appointment, and again at the two-month appointment.
For the next scheduled appointment the young mother decided it was her turn to call the shots. She started to read. She started to ask questions. She started to analyze what was considered routine and why. She looked up the names of the diseases routine vaccines were supposed to ward against. Then she looked up what was in those vaccines. She looked up their efficacy and what studies had been done, and those studies that hadn’t been done as well.
Then she decided it was too many, too soon for her child.
But, what she’d decided went against what her pediatrician and his staff were promoting. At the previous appointment she asked to delay the shots until the next visit. She promised to make that appointment after they told her she was endangering the life of her child. They said she was not educated enough to make such important decisions. They threatened to “fire” her from the practice. The young mother thanked the doctor for his concern, said she’d read enough to know that her baby’s body wasn’t ready for that many injectable chemicals and toxins just yet. She reminded him of her own autoimmune disease issues, and asked why her medical history was never considered in deciding which vaccines would be given, which ones could be contra-indicated, which ones would be least effective, which ones could maybe be more effective, which ones he could handle now, or which ones he should wait to receive until he was older and his immune system more developed. Why did they claim whatever was listed on the schedule had to be given all at once?
She listened to their responses and added them to a pros and cons list she was making. The side that said to scoop up her baby and run far away was growing longer. But, she’d promised to come back. She needed to — to prove that either she was right in thinking all those vaccines were too many, or to give the doctor one more chance to prove his case that vaccines were necessary.
Next, in walks the doctor, followed by the nurse. He speaks. She listens. Then, when it’s her turn to talk, the young mother says that she appreciates the chance for her son’s development to be tracked and looks forward to knowing what milestones she should be looking for next. She then adds that the ‘preventative’ treatments are not going to be necessary. The nurse rolls her eyes as the doctor raises his eyebrows. Both are ready to read the young mother the riot act, but are too flabbergasted to think what to say next. The nurse leaves the room. The doctor begins the physical exam: heart rate, checking reflexes, palpating the liver, taking measurements, making no eye contact and offering minimal conversation.
The nurse returns with a clipboard and thrusts it at the young mother with a combative air. The young mother is confused. It is her baby, her decision, her insurance covering the appointment, not the nurse’s!
The young mother thought things out. She put time and effort into this choice to vaccinate or not. It was a decision she’d never truly thought about until her baby was born and cradled in her arms. It was he who was making her think about things that were important and make decisions that were scarier than she’d ever had to make before. But these decisions are up to her — decisions she has to make and ones that need to be respected.
The young mother reaches for the clipboard and scans the document the nurse wants her to read.
It is from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and targets parents who want to opt out of vaccines. Instantly, the young mother thinks that the title alone turns a young thinking parent into a careless or negligent shell of a human. After reading the form, the young mother pulls a paper out of her diaper bag and says, “I understand you want me to sign this paper saying I’m “refusing” vaccines, but I’m not going to sign that. You see, the vaccines you want to give my child today are only recommended, suggested. You haven’t said anything directly to me about them yet. You didn’t even go over them. You didn’t talk to be about why you think my child needs them. The Vaccine Information Sheet is a general info sheet; it doesn’t cover my son’s family issues or how he will handle them.” The doctor finally looks at the young mother. He also looks like he’s been hit with a ton of bricks.
Attempting to speak, the young mother continues, “I can’t sign that “refusal” form because you can’t insist I get those shots for my son.”
“Ma’am,” the doctor stutters, “Vaccines . . . they’re part of the baby’s appointment today. It’s what we do. It’s what you need to do, too . . . The shots help kids get immunity.” Looking to the nurse he asks, “Which ones again did we say we were giving?” The nurse is frozen in place. Never before has she witnessed a young mother so brazen.
Not brazen. She’s found the freedom to think.
Stumbling for the shot record, the nurse starts, “DTaP, Polio, Hib . . . ”
Interrupting the nurse, whose voice is trailing off as she says the name of each vaccine she is eager to plunge into the young mother’s child, “Well, doc, really, if you think you can insist I get these vaccines today, then I’d like you to read this form for my own peace of mind. If you’re going to actually counsel me on what’s in those vaccines and why my child needs the seven you’re suggesting he get, and you can guarantee no ill effect from them now or in the future, I might reconsider vaccinating him today.”
The doctor reaches for the form. The young mother doesn’t interrupt him but wants to ask if both the nurse and doctor put more time into reading labels at the supermarket than educating parents on every single ingredient in every single vaccines. She herself was more concerned with which hair care product would be best for her thick, curly, highlighted hair last year than knowing what vaccines were on the market. It wasn’t until she was faced with being responsible for another human being’s life and health that she realized how much more she needed to know in order to make decisions about them. Surely asking the doctor to stand by the medicine he is pushing, backed by his credentials, isn’t too much to ask, is it?
Apparently, it is.
The doctor leaves the exam room and asks the nurse to join him. He’s taking the form the young mother asked him to review. He says they’ll be back in a few minutes. For the twenty agonizing minutes they are gone, the young mother thinks about the conversation. She goes over everything in her head, As the parent I’m responsible for the care of my child. As the parent I can choose who treats my child. As the parent I can accept that treatment or ask for an alternative according to my child’s needs. As the parent I should be offered as much information as possible to process every option. And, as the paying consumer I am free to choose who I want to see as well.
The young mother is nervous. Every medical appointment she’d been to was usually rushed because of the sheer volume of patients intentionally stacked on the schedule. This appointment is taking twice as long, and she is afraid it was not going to end well. She starts to pack up the baby’s things. Just as she puts his sweater back on, the nurse returns to the exam room.
Thrusting the form at her the nurse says, “We aren’t signing this. It’s not legit and has nothing to do with what the officials tell us to say.” The young mother gently takes the form, folds it and slides it into the outside pocket of her diaper bag. Feeling as if she could easily burst into tears she picks up her son, turns to face the nurse and says, “I understand you’re running a business here, and that all those vaccines help you make that happen. I realize that some good might have come from the vaccine program at one time, but to ask me to inject those vaccines into my baby is ridiculous. You have no idea how they interact with each other or how he’ll handle them. His little body . . . it’s so little, still developing. I can walk away knowing that I have found enough information to support my decision to say no thank you today. It’s a shame you and the doctor couldn’t do the same. You didn’t listen to me or attempt to educate me. Please don’t call us for any follow-up appointments. We’ll be going elsewhere.”
The nurse rolls her eyes. She barely moves out of the way when the young mother leaves the exam room. Smiling to the receptionist without saying a word, the young mother holds her son tightly. She gives him a small kiss atop his forehead and leaves. She buckles her son into his car seat and starts the car.
Leaving the parking lot and watching the pediatrician’s office building get smaller and smaller in her rear view mirror, she drives away as a tear rolls down her cheek. It is a tear of sadness and disappointment. A tear of pain and loss. It is a tear of despair, but also of outrage.
Vowing to remember this moment, the young mother promises her bundle in the back seat that she will never let another person dictate what is acceptable for his health and well-being again. Never.
The freedom to think includes the freedom to do. The young mother promises to not just think about what needed to be done for her child, but to also do it — and to do it well. Standing up for herself and for her son that morning was liberating. It was also painful. Another tear rolls down her cheek as she recalls how the nurse attempted to belittle her. A reminder of how much courage it had taken for her to do the right thing.
It is going to take more strength and knowledge to make bigger decisions for her son’s future. Going against the grain wasn’t what she’d planned. That part wasn’t going to be easy. But she knows it is the right thing to do. In a very short amount of time she’s evolved from not knowing anything to knowing more than enough. The young mother will forever be a Thinker.
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but having the right to do what we ought.
~ Pope John Paul II
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