by Kathy Hennessy
I’ve long considered myself to be a semi-crunchy person, longer even than the word has been popular. In the early 1980s, as a teen, I was organizing my parents and neighbors to recycle their newspapers instead of throwing them in the trash. I grew up in a beach community and have always had an appreciation for taking care of the environment. I was meant to marry an environmental scientist with degrees in biology and toxicology. I have a degree in sociology and was trained in the scientific method and process. My brother is also an environmental scientist and we all, both his wife and my husband included, consider taking care of the environment our most important task as humans. We use cloth diapers and cloth napkins and clean with cloth, using few paper towels. I don’t even subscribe to a newspaper because I consider it wasteful. We are not perfect and we do still use some paper products and eat some junk food and I occasionally throw away something that could be recycled, but we try hard to leave a minimal carbon footprint on our planet.
Before I became a mom, I never knew I would give my parenting a title. It took so many years to conceive and successfully carry my first baby to term that I really did not think much about parenting styles or choices until long after she was born. I was too busy getting pregnant to think about parenting.
I can honestly say that, even after ten years of teaching elementary school, I had never given immunization a second thought. I had taught a lot of children but never encountered anyone injured by a vaccine except myself. In graduate school, I got an MMR booster and had a moderate to severe reaction to it. Within 24 hours, the arm where I had been given the shot had swelled up as if a tennis ball was lodged in it. It was extremely painful. The doctors at the health center told me that it was a moderate to severe vaccine reaction, confirmed that with the county health department, put me on prescription pain medicine for a week, and everyone agreed I should never have an MMR again. But, that never stopped me from getting other vaccines. Having also had an anaphylactic reaction to sulfa drugs as an undergraduate, I know that you can have a severe reaction to one medicine and no reaction to others. So, I have had a tetanus shot a few times and flu shots and now Tdap, the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster for adults. I have never had even a slight bit of discomfort from any of them.
When my first daughter was born, I was just glad we made it full term after the preterm labor scare and a stressful pregnancy. I found a pediatrician who was, to me, the next best thing to Mr. Rogers and I followed his lead. I did not think twice about the eye goop or the vaccine they gave her in the hospital or the vaccines she got every few months thereafter. She was a colicky baby, due to being born with a severe neck condition called torticollis, but we did not learn that until she was almost four months old. By that time, I had read every parenting book I could find to try to get some ideas about how to help soothe her. The books that helped me the most were by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. William Sears. I had found attachment parenting and it not only worked well with our daughter’s temperament but it fit with what I wanted for my life with my baby. My husband wholeheartedly agreed.
Being a practitioner of attachment parenting, I was drawn to others who also wear their babies and co-sleep and that led me to meeting mothers who do not vaccinate their children. I have also long sought healthcare from alternative practitioners such as naturopaths, but not because I think they are better or more natural. A bevy of medical doctors and their treatments not only led me down an unhealthy path in the 1980s but then a different bevy of medical doctors in the 1990s failed to correctly diagnose and treat my health issues. I tried naturopathy out of desperation to find answers. I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. By the time I was ready to get pregnant, my thyroid disease was well treated and I was pretty healthy but it took a good endocrinologist to finally see that I needed to get my thyroid levels really low in order to conceive. Suffice to say, I am not so jaded with the medical profession that I brush it all off, but I do see the benefit of natural and alternative medicines. They have done me a world of good.
We do try to take a science-based approach to alternative medicine and not use those that have little to no scientific basis, such as homeopathy. Also, because of my first experience with many pregnancy issues, I decided to use a midwife for pregnancy number two. I wanted a more personalized experience with pregnancy than an OB can offer and chose a wonderful midwife who is also a registered nurse practitioner. She offers homebirths and births at her homebirth center, an office inside a remodeled home with two master bedroom suites and no electronic or beeping equipment anywhere! It was my homebirth away from home and it was lovely. I followed the Brewer Diet for this pregnancy, did not work, kept my stress level low, did prenatal yoga, took Bradley Birthing classes, and had a beautiful, perfect pregnancy with an easy, natural delivery.
And many of the people I meet are opposed to vaccination. I live in a county in Washington State where 10% of kindergartners and 20% of 6th graders in public schools have vaccine exemptions. It is very likely that there are more unvaccinated children in the homeschool, unschool, and private school populations. We are currently experiencing an epidemic outbreak of pertussis. The CDC says that this may or may not be related to the number of unvaccinated children but it surely cannot be coincidence that we have this issue and such a high rate of vaccine exemptions.
But, how can a person who thinks of herself as crunchy still vaccinate her children? I am asked this all the time. How can I know what is inside of vaccines and still think it is ok to vaccinate? How can I be concerned about bisphenol A in cups and toys and not be concerned about aluminum in vaccines? How can I be concerned about mercury in tuna but not about thimerosal in vaccines?
Science. Science is the answer. And it is not a belief system or the truth. It is evidence in support or not supporting an idea. Simply put, there is no evidence to support not vaccinating. None. Everything I read – and I do read a lot of pro- and anti-vaxing information as administrator of the Facebook page Informed Parents of Vaccinated Children* – has never given me a reason not to vaccinate. My husband analyzes toxicity data for a living. We talk about this kind of thing often. We talk about how toxicity is dependent on dose. We talk about how compounds such as aluminum and mercury are everywhere in our environment and homes and yet they are not adversely affecting our health unless we come into contact with large quantities and/or those large quantities build up in our bodies. We visit the EPA’s IRIS** database, the Integrated Risk Information System database that evaluates information on health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants. We know a lot about these ingredients and how they affect the body. We have a great deal of safety information about immunization, vaccines and ingredients.
We know that there are risks with every parenting decision we make but we have to make them rationally and based on sound science. It does not help our children at all to make choices based on fear and innuendo. So, I read all the links people give me about vaccines, whether they are in favor of or against vaccines. I read books about immunization and vaccines. I do not buy into the conspiracy theories that vaccines are part of a New World Order. I know that pharmaceutical companies are not perfect but that, to me, does not negate the value of the international body of science in support of vaccines, particularly when there are countries where “Big Pharma” does not gain financially from immunization policies. Since every country and every major medical and scientific body on earth supports vaccines and there is literally not one iota of evidence that vaccines have greater risks than benefits, immunizing myself and our children and advocating that the husband also gets up-to-date on his vaccines is one of the wisest health choices we have made.
So, how can I be crunchy and provax? Simple. Because we do what we know is best for our health, based on sound science. We don’t do homeopathy, but we do see the naturopath for advice on my thyroid issues and diet and vitamins. We see the medical doctor for checkups and for infections or injury. Our oldest daughter sees an osteopath for her torticollis issues. We take our vitamins, based on recommendations from our MD and ND, and we eat healthy, and we don’t take advice based only on what we read online. We read medicine inserts and ingredient lists and we think about risks and choices and make decisions rationally and logically. We are both scientists and we are both trained in the scientific method and critical thinking. Living healthy, i.e. being crunchy, makes sense to us. So does vaccination.