Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Confessions of a Negligent Mother

This morning, right after dropping Bear off for his first day of school, Stitch and I headed to the doctor. Stitch is almost 2 1/2 years old, and a real little ball of happy toddler energy. Like all little boys, he loves to run and jump and climb. He's full of mischief and curiosity, the mischief usually a direct result of the curiosity. He thrives on "huggles" (half hug, half snuggle) and kisses, and falls asleep every night with my arm wrapped around his middle, his little bum tucked into my abdomen. He scrambles out of bed in the morning with a smile on his face, and that smile rarely leaves for the rest of the day. Toddler tantrums are best handled by poking him in the tummy, which normally provokes fits of giggles.

From the moment he was born, we knew Stitch was different from his big brother. As he's gotten older, we've become more and more sure about that. He just goes with the flow, without a care in the world. It's magical...

sun + sand + water = happy toddler

So why, then, did today find us at the doctor, catching up on immunizations that he should have had two years ago? Because I'm negligent? Some might say so. Because I'm stupid? Some might say so. Because I'm gullible? Some might say so. Or because I was terrified of having to watch my beautiful, bright baby boy disappear before my eyes? I'd say so.

In my real life I'm a writer, editor, and public speaker. That means I know how to research the heck out of any topic I'm interested in, and I do. Some people dream in technicolour...I dream in Google. So yes, I'm perfectly well aware that the link between autism and children's immunizations has been debunked. On the other hand, I'm also well aware of all the anecdotal evidence from parents who are certain that their child's autism is directly linked to their immunizations, specifically the MMR vaccine.

It was with great trepidation that I had Bear immunized when he was a baby, but I did. The logical side of me knew that the risks posed by not having him immunized outweighed any possible risk from the immunizations, but the emotional side of me was terrified nonetheless. I watched him like a hawk for weeks afterwards, but there were no signs of autism. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But as he started getting older, he started to exhibit more and more behavioural challenges. At 4 1/2 years old, he was finally diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. By that time he was out of control -- aggressive to the point of violence at home, unable to function at school, constantly being sent home, unable to participate in any extracurricular activities or weekend fun -- and we were overwhelmed. Stitch was a whopping two months old when Bear was diagnosed, and all my Mommy protective instincts went into overdrive for both my babies.

At that time, I felt like I was barely clinging to my sanity. Bear's violent outbursts were constant, to the point that we installed a lock on Stitch's door so that we had somewhere safe to put him, out of the line of fire. We walked around on eggshells, terrified of provoking an outburst. Would this be the one where someone got hurt? We rarely left the house as a family, and dreaded anything we couldn't get out of. The future looked bleak both for Bear and for our family, and I felt like I couldn't handle any more.

Stitch received his first round of immunizations, the ones I knew were safe, but we stopped there. The next round included the controversial MMR vaccine, and this time the emotional side of me won out. I just couldn't take that risk...I just couldn't handle any more...so I put it off...and off...and off...

Now here we are, two years later, catching up on Stitch's immunizations. Today's vaccinations included the MMR vaccine, which the logical side of my brain tells me is safe. The logical side of my brain also tells me that if the vaccine does play a part in the autism story, at least Stitch is older and his brain is considerably more developed that it would have been two years ago. The emotional side of me, however, is going to be watching him like a hawk. Forever.

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