Open letter to a parent who won’t vaccinate their children

Dear Anti-vaxxer,

There are many reasons why I don’t understand you. Some of them are quite obvious like for instance, the fact that it has been proven over and over again, in so many ways that vaccines are safe, yet you still choose to fall for the outdated self-promoting work of a con-man that lost his medical license over fabricating precisely this myth. Why don’t you do your research? Find reputable sources or just plain google it!

Still, after all available evidence to the contrary, you may choose to believe in conspiration theories and deny the veracity of the facts in front of you. I get it, this has become a common trend in our society and affects all aspects of life. Let’s accept the fact that no one will be able to convince you that vaccines are safe. Can you deny the good it has done? The lives it has saved? I don’t think anyone can. Have you tried to imagine a world like you say you want, where vaccines never existed? Are you still able to maintain your anti-vax discourse after that mental exercise? This is why your lecture sounds terribly selfish to me. It does feel as if you’re saying to the world – “Why do I care about eradicating this highly contagious and dangerous disease that used to kill hundreds of thousands every year?” or “Why would I worry about risking the lives of those who can’t get vaccines due to health issues, by helping bring back illnesses that were nearly eradicated? Not my problem!”. This is the kind of behavior that does rub me off the wrong way, yet it is not what takes me over the edge.

What robs me of any ability to even try to relate to your fears and not judge you is your discourse about Autism, and the false appropriation of the term ‘vaccine injured’. The fact that you would rather risk your child’s life than to have a child like mine. This, my friend, hurts! Hurts me, my child, and millions of autistic people everywhere. And it is just plain stupid! Parents of autistic children, like me, know this so well. Parents who have lost a child, like me, also know.

On April 23rd, 2000, I saw myself begging to God or to whoever could help to please give me a chance to keep my daughter with me. I was praying so hard and saying “even if something bad already happened, I don’t care if I spend the rest of my life caring for her,  please don’t take her away!”. I was repeating this pray like a mantra, tears rolling down my face, as I waited for the doctors to find a “more powerful” ultrasound machine. I was 38 weeks pregnant with my first child, my doctor was not able to find my baby’s heartbeat with the equipment in the delivery room. It was too late, her heart had already stopped without any apparent warnings.

As I grieved I had to endure hearing well-intentioned people say “maybe this was better for her” or “it is selfish to want her here, nobody knows how that could have been.” I remember thinking – Exactly, nobody knows, so what gives them the right to question if my daughter’s life would be worth living or not? What I did know is that as a mother, I wanted to fight for her life and protect her in any way I could. I don’t think there is a point when a mother first evaluates her child’s worthiness before deciding if she is going to be involved in loving and protecting that child. Even if there was such a crazy if-then logic to be followed, how on earth could anyone know? How can anyone dare to pretend to know?

The reason I share that story here is that I don’t think you realize that to me, you sound like you are attempting to do just that, to manage the ‘worthiness’ of your child. I don’t think you realize the gamble you are choosing to take with your child’s life. I don’t think you realize that you are declaring that you rather have your child dead than Autistic and having no shame about it. And I don’t think this is true, therefore, I can’t understand it. I don’t believe you are ready to give up on a child that does not follow your pre-established standards and expectations, or motherhood might end up being quite a short-lived experience. Kids are born with their own plans, you know?

So let’s all stop pretending it is justifiable to pick and choose between real life-threatening dangers that affect all of us – like infectious, but preventable diseases – and imaginary ones. Let’s stop pretending that this is the go-to choice of a caring mother! This is not protecting, it is endangering!  You are also causing an incredible amount of pain to an immense number of autistic people who hear you talking and spreading this nonsense. It makes them feel like that’s how you see them – defective, unworthy of saving. This is wrong, it is mistaken, and it is cruel. So I beg you, please stop!

After much struggle and loss, I was able to give birth to two healthy sons. I am so damn grateful every single day for having this two young men in my life. One of them is Autistic, both are fully vaccinated. I know vaccines do not cause Autism; however, I can tell you in all honesty that even if I believed otherwise, I would still have vaccinated them and not regretted.  Why? Because regardless of where you stand in the vaccination debate, here is an undeniable fact: Autism did not take my son from me. Their vaccinations protected them, my children are here and they are healthy, I did not risk losing them to measles, polio, rubella, the flu…

Yes, Autism can make things harder for him in some areas, but it also makes him uniquely special in others. His brain is indeed wired different, but different does not mean worse. It means it takes a different kind of effort from us to learn it better. He does get frustrated sometimes, but who doesn’t? What matters is that I did not lose my son when we got the diagnoses, he was still the exact same sweet little boy, our love for him was just the same, and it kept growing. With the label, we just got a chance to understand him better. Autism didn’t change him, it was always part of who he is, and we love him for who he is.

He works hard, he is happy, healthy and he knows he is loved!  I see many teens that are not as positive and happy as my youngest son. And before you get to recite phrases of martyr autism mothers, and tell me about the devastation and destruction of Autism, I ask you again to do your research. My son is not alone. Autistic people can be happy and lead a full and productive life.  Sooner or later you might come across an Autistic adult you have offended with your rhetoric, and they will be able to explain it to you themselves.

My message to you, after all, is quite simple: vaccines do not cause Autism, do your research; choosing not to vaccinate your child (without a legitimate health reason and doctor’s guidance) is dangerous and irresponsible; spreading this fear is offensive and makes you look heartless; the monster you’ve been running from is not nearly as ugly as you’ve heard. Putting it all together – choosing not to vaccinate your child and spread this nonsense is plain stupid, please stop it!

A Different Perspective

How come we spend this much time in the effort of adapting our autistic children, students, patients to our world, basically forcing Autistic people to accept and comply with our norms? Then we justify it by saying it is for their own good, to give them a chance of success in life. Is it the entire truth? How can we be sure if we place so little effort into putting ourselves in their shoes and accepting them for who they are?

Today I read this article in the Washington Post written by a mother like me, a mother of an autistic child. In the article, she describes in detail one instance when she felt forced to drag her panic-stricken son into a concert arena against his will so he would have the chance to see Elmo. Then maybe overcome what this mom described as ‘fear of indoor spaces’. The piece, written by Whitney Ellenby, is adapted from the author’s upcoming book in which, according to The Washington Post’s description, “details her struggles and triumphs with her son’s autism.

After reading I was left with a knot in my gut and yet, I needed some processing time to understand why. How could that story bother me this much? I’m no stranger to making decisions most parents would not understand or agree, or dealing with stressful situations in public. Yet, my usually overly active empathy ‘sensors’ and ‘warnings’ did not light up as usual for this mother, at least not as much as they did for the son.

Then it hit me – there is something significant missing in the article, and it has been systematically missing in our society whenever we attempt to bring forward the dialog about Autism: the struggles Autistic people go through. Not their parents, not their teachers, not their neighbors, not the people standing by. Continue reading “A Different Perspective”