Big shots

For the second time in four months, I held my daughter as the pediatrician gave her three vaccinations. These two moments have been, by far, the most unpleasant of my brief experience as a mom.

First, I should say how much I like our pediatrician. Besides his excellent credentials and the glowing references from other moms, he's just a nice guy. I remember thinking when I interviewed him that he's a person I wouldn't mind seeing just a few hours after giving birth. He makes time for as many questions as I have and doesn't make me feel stupid -- other doctors should take note. He's really fast with the injections, but it doesn't make it any better. Josephine lets out wails unlike any other in her repertoire, which widens by the day. Part of it is clearly shock, because until that moment, she is being cuddled and played with -- but part of it is just plain, ol' physical pain. She turns red and hot. She remains fussy for days.

The pediatrician believes emphatically that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. He dismisses the possibility of a link to autism, the rate of which is much higher in New Jersey than in other states. He even endorses the much debated cervical cancer vaccine for young girls. I am not looking forward to making a decision about that -- the commercials for it turn my stomach. I have seen the pharmaceutical salespeople pitching it to my primary care physicians, and I'm just so skeptical. The next big shot for Josephine, however, is the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), the vaccine most debated by the mothering community.

The television actor Jenny McCarthy has recently written a book about her experience in dealing with her son's diagnosis of austism. I am eager to read her book and weigh it as Josephine grows through the vaccination years, especially since we live in New Jersey. Once dismissed as a blonde bimbo and now dismissed as a wacko-mother, Jenny believes there to be a strong connection between a vaccine and her son's autism. Her general theory, as I understand it, is that a kid's system is like a big pot. Each kid has a certain amount of toxicity, allergens, etc. that will fit into her pot. Once that pot overflows, symptoms of the autism spectrum can occur. The medical community is in a huff, of course, but doesn't this theory on some level make sense?

Lately in medicine, it is what we don't know that bothers me, or rather the fact that we clearly don't know something but are given instructions as to how to deal with it. Doctors seem too eager to say that this or that is the prevention, the treatment, the cure -- even though we don't really know. We are given prescriptions upon prescriptions without looking deeper and wider at the cause of dis-ease. We are given definitive instructions based on approximated analyses, and frankly I'm not satisfied. I wonder why so many are.

As an infant, my daughter can't speak for herself, but if she could, I know she would tell me she doesn't like being vaccinated. It's not that she's worried about the trace quantities of thimerosal; it just hurts. This alone isn't a reason to avoid it, but are growing autism numbers more convincing? We just don't know. What's a mother to do? I know that I will put off the MMR for as long as possible. That way maybe her pot will be big enough to take the toxin whallop it delivers without overflowing-- and maybe by then I'll be strong enough to rock her through the pain feeling more confident in my decision.