Friends who know me well would expect this post to be about vaginas. Really. I’m not afraid of “V” words. My first ever big public advocacy event for childhood lead poisoning prevention was at the “Vagina Monologues” 10th anniversary celebration at the SuperDome in New Orleans.
However this post is not about vaginas- it’s about the current (too) hot-topic “V” word – vaccine.
This is – in my opinion – a VERY PERSONAL TOPIC. So – first…I’d like to take this moment to shed a few of my haters by sharing some additional details about myself for all those who are evidently so passionately curious about the particular details of my personal life…if you’re still with me after this keep reading…
I was raised by a single mother; I’m part Native American; I’m Jewish; I’m part Mormon; I’m also Russian, Polish, English and French; my first job out of college was as a masseuse for the Grateful Dead; my eldest son’s grandfather is black; my cousins are 1/2 Chinese; my niece and nephew are 1/2 Mexican; I’ve inhaled; I was married and divorced when I was 24; I home-school (partly); I voted for Obama; (2016 update: I voted for Bernie too); after a miscarriage (during my marriage), ovarian cysts and cervical cancer, I had my first child out of wedlock (#gasp!) as a “single mother by choice”; I never finished my graduate thesis (getting my degree in Nonprofit Administration); I eat meat; my family is on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps); we eat all organic/natural/no preservatives/no hydrogenated oils; we don’t use artificial colors or fragrance or flavors in anything in our home; my house in foreclosure; I have four children; I nursed/lactated for FOURTEEN YEARS straight! (one of my children nursed until he was three years old! #anothergasp!; I am “pro-life” for myself (I could never have an abortion) but I am “pro-choice” for all women; I like reggae, the Beatles and 1980s pop music – including Dr. Demento (sorry!); I met my husband online & we got married one month after we met, I have been a professional CLOWN (I have a degree in masque and clown-work); I’ve lived in Paris, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Portland, Oregon – yet I don’t have anywhere I consider “home”; I wear Birkenstocks with socks (make your own inferences there); I have urban chickens; My kids have brain damage and an Autism diagnosis, We were intentionally car-free with four children for most of 12 years (our family would be a great subject for the show “Portlandia”!); I’m fat; I let my young sons wear women’s clothes if they want to.
…ok… so if you are still with me – keep reading…
Since I am officially the national “Healthy Homes Hero” people look to me for advice about issues impacting their children’s health – so even though vaccines are not my area of expertise, people are still expecting to hear my opinion in this important debate.
While no one has been polite enough to say “Hey Tamara, how do you feel about vaccines?” or “Have you vaccinated your children?” or “Do you have concerns about environmental toxicity in vaccines, given your overall heightened awareness about toxicity because your children were poisoned?” – dozens (this week – week preceding 2/6/2015) on Facebook have openly criticized me, judged me and bullied me when I have merely posted links to current articles in the news – written by others – about the issue.
The critics have jumped to conclusions about my (speculated or alleged) beliefs, opinions, intentions – without even bothering to ask me directly about their questions or concerns.
Note: I only post articles if they have a relationship to lead or lead-poisoning; one of the articles I posted talked about the vaccine issue and immune compromised children (which lead poisoned children often are), another article purported to list the “Five Causes of Autism” – and I always post links to articles about autism, since my son has been diagnosed as autistic by the county [because they have no classification for his cluster of lead poisoning related systems other than “autism” – and many other parents of lead-poisoned children are in the same boat!]
I’ve never been cyber-bullied before….
…It’s interesting, and I’m trying to just “be ‘present'” to it – present to the conversations and the concerns – and how what I wrote or the articles I shared could have elicited these responses—and also present to my feelings in reacting – and my intentional focus to not be reactive in what I write, and to try to remain as respectfully neutral as I can.
[I have stated repeatedly to people that I am neutral on the topic of vaccines – and they simply refuse to believe me.]
I am not an “anti-vaxxer.”
I am also not “pro-vax.”
I am neutral. And I have personal reasons, history, life experience, etc. (and an appreciation for people’s passionate stances on both sides of the issue) for remaining neutral.
By neutral, I mean that my full, complex thoughts and opinions on the subject would not neatly simply support one side of this simplistic binary public argument as it is currently playing out in this country.
My children are vaccinated. My children are not vaccinated. Because my first child had a significant adverse immediate reaction to his very first vaccine I spaced out vaccines nearly 20 years ago — before it was “trendy.”
Beyond the fact that I am neutral – this is also a very.personal.issue.
The pressure from these “friends” (aka: cyber-bullies) on Facebook to take a public stand and side with or against one of these binary factions—and their assertions that I am a “coward” for “not taking sides” or conclusions/allegations that I am an “anti-vaxxer” or a “pro-vaxxer”… is irrelevant.
To these I hereby reply, “each and every vaccination (if and when one makes the non-trivial choice to use a particular one with their own particular child – compromised immune system or not) is a personal and private medical choice – that many of us must thoughtfully make for our family – and – unless you are actually in my community in real life- these decisions are not really any of your business!”
I do not have to share my “position” with you (I suspect in many of the cases of those who are issuing such demands, the complexities and nuances of the larger/deeper conversation would be lost on them anyway).
It feels like a violation for you to be demanding this of me. It’s like you asking me if and /or why I chose to circumcise (or not circumcise) my sons, or what my position on abortion is, or how many times I have sex with my husband each week! PERSONAL!
That said – on all of these things (abortion, vaccination, circumcision and sex) I do bristle at the government asserting a right to mandate or legislate anything. This is my body, these are my children‘s bodies – and the hypothetical implications/consequences of “everyone” following suit – what I choose to do or not do is arguably my choice. [As long as my children are happy, healthy, safe, fed and well-cared for – which I assert they they are.]
If the government tries to make a law saying I have to do X and X is something I might otherwise choose not to do – I would probably consider leaving the country. Conversely if the government says I can NOT do X and X is fundamental to my religious beliefs (or other profound beliefs fundamental to my culture or family) I would also probably consider leaving the country.
I also feel very strongly that every other person should have this same right – the choice to do what is best and safe for their kids and – in many cases – the options to choose to go ahead with recommendations by their health-care provider – who (I presume) they have chosen because they feel this person is qualified and trustworthy to help them make decisions for their family.
I don’t think I really want our government telling me what I can or cannot do to my body – or telling anyone else what to do to their bodies.
I also – as a result of my work in lead poisoning prevention and things I have learned from this particular scientific and medical expert community – do not take everything the CDC says as simple/true fact. “Facts” (when it comes to medical science) are not always what they seem… Research is very often financed by decidedly non-neutral parties. Epidemiology is (to some degree) an art – as you choose the parameters of your study – the scope of the point you are trying to prove and in choosing the scope you may restrict the truth from being told in a broader sense.
We all know the CDC (as have many other government agencies) has made many many many decisions (in many different areas) based on undue influence by industry. The CDC is not a neutral, pure science-based organization as it should be and – while some of the people who work there are amazing committed public servants – others may have been there far too long and perhaps lost sight of the priorities and responsibilities of their job, lost sight of WHY they came on board and what their original ideals and inspiration were.
At one point (at the National Health Homes Conference in Baltimore in 2008 – 6 weeks after my son Charlie was born) I asked a top CDC executive why they were framing the issue of childhood lead poisoning in a way that I felt was clearly misleading parents. [The number of lead poisoned children that they were claiming on the CDC website only included a restricted subset of children and significantly under-represented the actual number of children today that had been impacted by lead.] I also asked her why the lead poisoning prevention program was misrepresenting some new information about brain elasticity. They were quoting and sharing a study showing the brain is more elastic than previously suspected – and so drawing the conclusion (erroneously) that the impacts of lead poisoning are not as permanent as previously thought, but ignoring a parallel study showing that this new-found brain elasticity was not present “in brains of subjects with lead exposure“.
I just wanted to know the answer to “Why?” [Why are they misleading the American public in this way?]
Her response to my question was “I just want to retire a success.”!
Another example: Lead industry nominated representatives took over the oversight of the CDC advisory committee on childhood lead poisoning prevention with the Bush II administration. This is covered in my film. LEAD INDUSTRY NOMINATED REPRESENTATIVES (not scientists working on what is best for children’s health) were running the CDC advisory panel for lead poisoning prevention. #Really.
That said… I think medically fragile children (including lead poisoned children, children with cancer and other children who might respond negatively to various interventions and medications) need to be protected if at all possible. Environmental toxicity can and does trigger physical and mental health impairments and create challenges for children who may already have a genetic predisposition to a behavior or potential illness, or who might already have a significant body burden of environmental toxicity (like a child who has been acutely lead poisoned).
This is not a subject to be taken lightly.
This is a fact.
If the government were to mandate vaccines in order for children to attend public school, then they should also (in fairness) mandate the creation of a fund to send children who have health impairments that prevent them from being vaccinated (especially if they are health impairments that were created by lack of government oversight of corporate contributions to environmental toxicity in our communities and homes) to special funded schools where their needs will be met and they will not be required to be vaccinated.
As a relevant parallel, I also feel that “mandating” blood lead testing would similarly be a violation of parents rights. I think it’s unfair that poor families and families that are not considered poor are treated differently in these issues (with poor families being offered fewer choices in their medical care, and having more requirements in order to have access to some public services.)
I think that increased blood lead testing is vital – but that it should be the natural result of increased awareness and consequent parental choice.
With lead (and other similar issues) we (as a society and a culture) need to create a level of informed awareness so that parents request being tested – just as they know to brush their children’s teeth and other basics along those lines. Making medical decisions from a place of education and information is so much more effective than having medical choices be forced upon you. So I think the underlying imperative regarding this and so many other issues is to educate and simultaneously demand that science (rather than commercial interest) be the sole criteria for making judgements about how to implement and oversee improvements in the effectiveness and safety of all vaccines. If you naively believe that our government and pharmaceutical industry are just nobly serving the public interest, ask yourself why indisputably toxic coal tar dyes (long-banned in many other countries) are still used to color most (oral) medications in this country?! [Many children (including mine) especially exhibit extreme reactions to coal tar dyes—particularly those who have compromised immune systems.]
Lastly to note (in response to all this vaccine “debate”) I’m silently furious… check out this video clip from my film (below), and you will better understand why. The potential impact (economic benefit) of universally preventing lead poisoning is so much greater than the impact of vaccines, that it is particularly frustrating that lead poisoning prevention is not getting equal coverage in the media; it should be. I am not saying that the vaccine issue should not be getting the attention it’s getting – I am saying that correlative, proportionate attention should be paid to lead, and it.is.still.not.happening.
I just recently heard that Taylor Swift song “Shake It Off” – and y’know “Haters Gonna Hate” – I think it’s better to shed some of the haters – I can’t agree with everyone. Not everyone will agree with me or like what I say… and I’ve heard “Well-behaved women never make history.” Yadda yadda yadda….
… so pick a reason to hate me and unfollow me, unsubscribe – or whatever you need to do – so I can go forward with the agenda of sharing information about children’s health to help educate parents. And please note: I share ALL KINDS of articles; many of the articles contain statements or reflect opinions that I DO NOT AGREE WITH – but I share those articles as they are part of the dialogue/public discourse and some people may not have seen a particular article. So if an article is entitled “5 reasons kids have autism” I’m going to share it—REGARDLESS of the author’s “five reasons”, and the accompanying text (related to vaccines or whatever)—because that article may contain even just a kernel of an idea for one of my readers/friends/followers that they had not considered before and that might spark a conversation or a debate that could in turn lead to parents having a new awareness for concerns about environmental toxicity and for thinking about actions they could take to protect their children.
Thanks for reading.
Mother of Lead Poisoned Children
All statements here are personal.