I wasn’t a super hero. I didn’t do it as my part to save humanity. I didn’t do it because I was scared. I didn’t do it for the photo op. I didn’t do it out of pressure. Like any rational person, I weighed my risks, rolled up my sleeve and made a choice. MY choice.
I was entirely unaware of how controversial vaccines are until I was pregnant with my firstborn. There’s something about holding your perfect newborn — a being who is completely untainted by the world — that makes everything you put into and onto your child feel as though little by little you’re stripping away a piece of their pure connection to divinity. Call it prenatal nesting or postpartum anxiety or just being a mom, but I researched everything and leaned into and accepted my strong maternal intuitions that were born within me.
Years before my oldest came into the world, my husband and I adopted a holistic and organic lifestyle. It wasn’t a far stretch to decide we would vaccinate our children on a delayed schedule. We had many good and valid reasons for this after months of extensive research and reading. There are a few vaccines we would have delayed even until the teen years if we lived in a state that would allow for philosophical exemptions at school. As it is, our current state of residence allows only medical exemptions, for which approval is hard to get. After suffering my own medical condition, I needed to halt some vaccines for all household members at the request of my doctor. Since then, it has been even more difficult living in a state that has no parent choice, especially now that my oldest is approaching Kindergarten.
I have become a huge advocate for choice regarding vaccines since my oldest was born. Not only because of my own experiences dealing with restrictive state policies, but also because I believe strongly that you should have personal and ultimate control over what goes inside your own body. Keyboard warriors, family, friends — people who have failed to actually listen — have considered this view an appendage of the anti-vaxx movement, that I am anti-science all because I believe in choices — because I believe in personal freedoms.
First of all, I am not an anti-vaxxer. Vaccines have worked to eradicate diseases that used to end or destroy the lives of people for generations. They have their place in our homage to modern medicine. On a deeply personal level, I respect big pharmaceuticals for their advancements, especially for my life saving lymphoma treatments. However, I do not blindly trust them; for preventatives, I’m much more skeptical. I am more likely to try something herbal or holistic than a synthetic drug. There are some vaccines that could safely be given later, but are pressured very early in a child’s life. This makes little to no sense to me. For example, if you’re following the standard schedule, a baby is given the Hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the hospital at birth. Hepatitis B is a blood borne pathogen. If the parents are positive, it makes sense to give this vaccine to a newborn, but why do all newborns need it? This raises questions in me about whether or not this is truly given for the well being of the recipient at the time it is required. Much of the time you have to assume benevolence on the part of the pharmaceutical companies, who have a financial stake in the matter. You also have to assume benevolence on the governing bodies who are mandating the vaccines and their schedule, a government that cowers to lobbyists and employs former pharmaceutical and agricultural big wigs. Unfortunately, and rightfully so, there’s a lack of trust in both of these entities. The best way to instill trust is to enable people to make the best choices for themselves and their own bodies. If I had been forced to get the covid vaccine, I wouldn’t have as willingly.
Secondly, As a daughter and a sister of scientists, I take great offense at being labeled “anti-science”. Any true scientist will tell you that to look at something and believe it is truth based on consensus is actually the opposite of science. I refuse to allow myself to be labeled a disbeliever, simply because I ask questions and think for myself. As an intellectual, I understand that science is a moving and evolving quest for truth, lying in our limited abilities to observe. We know a lot, but we also know nothing.
In today’s incredibly divisive world, you can check the non-binary box for things that are actually scientifically binary. But, when it comes to our opinions — the differences of which should be endless — they are viewed as incredibly binary. Democrat or republican. Liberal or conservative. You’re either wearing a tin foil hat on your way to a hippie peace circle or you “believe the science”. You are anti-vaxx or so pro-vaxx that you’ll take anything inside a tiny vile into your deltoid without question. We have fallen backward out of tolerance, and into labels. We are not allowed to live in the gray areas, to have spectrum thought. We have to choose a side, and it had better be the right one.
I was beside myself for most of this past year about whether or not I would get the new covid vaccine. At first, it was an emphatic no. This was technology that had yet to be used successfully in a vaccine. The development and testing seemed too fast. The long term side effects were unknown and would be for a long time. The novel coronavirus isn’t that deadly for people in my age group. It has been wildly politicized. Another part of me weighed different risks. I am a lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) survivor. While I have incredible respect for my body, I’m still working through some trust issues with my immune system. Even though my bloodwork is stellar, I’m young and currently in remission, it’s difficult to assess what my absolute risk would be if I caught covid. Unlike other virus we’ve encountered, it effects people drastically differently. Would my immune system, that has the propensity to react in abnormal ways, increase my likelihood of severe disease beyond the risk I would be willing to take? This summer will mark two years since I beat lymphoma. My doctor will clear me to try and have another baby. My oldest will start Kindergarten. If I refused the vaccine, would I feel safe (hopefully) pregnant, in remission from a high risk disease and my children in school? My answer was a resounding no. I would not feel safe. This passed year, I pulled my kids from school and kept a distance from most family and friends because of the unknowns my condition brought to the table. I watched people around me taking calculated social risks, while I stayed back. I realized that getting the covid vaccine, for me, would allow me more freedom than my refusal. Getting this vaccine would allow me to give my siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews, whom I haven’t seen in a year, an embrace my arms have been longing to feel for months. It would allow my husband and children more comfort going back to normal, without feeling as though they are risking my life. It would allow me to fill the cup of my extroversion. I could get pregnant and send my kids to school with diminished stress of covid. When I really weighed my personal risks and freedoms, it was an easier choice. I allowed myself to exist in the gray area of the vaxxers, much like I always have.
It was MY choice. And that’s exactly how it should be.