It’s been such a beautiful week, weather-wise, here in Atlanta. I’ve got a million outdoor photos to download from my camera, and we’ve had so much fun in this little break from Old Man Winter. More on that later, but there’s so much other mommy-stuff on my brain this morning. I try to keep things somewhat light here because I tend to view this as a journal for myself, and I never want to appear preachy or alienating to my readers. Bear with me for a minute though; I’ve got so much swirling in my head.
I don’t usually catch daytime television around here since I am busy chasing a toddler or blowing bubbles or making play dough snakes or what-have-you, but I heard that Dr. Oz had a special on yesterday about Autism, and I couldn’t help but head over to Hulu to take a look. Thankfully, I see no symptoms in my own child, but with a rate of 1 in every 110 children living with this disorder, it’s on every mother’s mind. One in every in 110. Do you know what that looks like? How it will change our schools, our families, our societies at large? I don’t think any of us even have the scope to understand its future impact on all of us. It leaves me disappointed, mad, and honestly frightened that we have no idea what is leading to this epidemic.
The show’s audience only included parents of children with autism, so the emotions were so raw and real in that studio. The debate is heated, and they feel ignored and confused. The “cause” of autism is unknown, but the doctors and researchers on the show explained that we now know that genetics play a huge component, about 90%, in the final equation. But that other 10%? That’s where the confusion comes in. Vaccines, of course, are the most high-profile theory, and the autism link (a la Jenny McCarthy) has been dismissed since the fraudulent research was discovered. Nevertheless, there are anecdotal stories, some of which were alluded to on that show, about kids who acquired language and social skills only to begin digressing after certain rounds of immunizations. Other theories abound in regards to environment and maternal age, and so many other things.
The frustrating thing about this debate is that the stakes are high, and you can read and research and have your own hunches, but really, there are no answers. 18 of the 23 studies about vaccine safety have been funded by pharmaceutical companies. You’re kidding yourself if you think there is not a conflict of interest there. And maternal age? Fertility treatments? Both have been linked in some cases to autism, but the results are inconclusive. Environmental toxins and the gut/food connection is a whole other can of worms that people argue about. The research is all over the place.
And to be honest, Autism is one major issue, yes, but there are so many others. ADHD, anxiety disorders, sensory disorders, learning disabilities, digestive issues and intolerances, rampant obesity and diabetes, chronic illnesses unheard of twenty years ago, and so many others affecting kids and adults alike in America. It’s striking how we’ve gone years (generations even?) paying little to no attention to what goes into our bodies and now we find ourselves so incredibly off track. But here’s what really strikes me: how little the general population cares for research.
I often feel like the oddball for consulting books and research on our parenting decisions. In many ways, I think it’s “uncool” to read, to care what your kids eat, to breastfeed for a full year or longer because the AAP says it’s the right thing to do, to resist punishing your child for something that pediatricians say is developmentally appropriate, …… and the list goes on. Please understand that I am not saying I do all of the right things all the time; I really don’t know that I do, and this journal is full of my thoughts as I knock around these decisions and choices. We choose to give our child vaccines (though not on the traditional schedule). I’ve also written here before that I was unsure whether to sleep train or not, and I had to supplement with formula. And don’t forget that if you came to my house last October, I served you a preservative-ridden corndog. [But mmmmm, a battered and delicious preservative-ridden corndog.] So really I am not preaching so much as questioning. Why is it so much “cooler” to be the laid-back mom who isn’t picky about what her baby consumes, how he’s cared for, or how much television he watches?
Why do women listen to their doctors (about 99% of OBs in Atlanta) who say that a vaginal birth after a cesarean is dangerous instead of reading that an OB’s very governing organization says that it’s perfectly appropriate for most women?
Why do parents listen to pediatricians who say vaccines have no risk when the CDC itself has a chart of contraindications and issues with vaccines, there is a federal fund to compensate victims of immunizations, and there are studies linking intravenous aluminum with neurological delays?
Why do we not take the time to read labels in the supermarket (or better yet avoid buying anything with a bright cartoon on it) when there is a depth of research about the effects of food additives on developing minds?
Why do we buy Baby Einstein videos for infants who can’t hold their heads up when the AAP says children under two years of age should watch no television at all?
Why do we automatically go through decisions on childbirth, circumcision, and newborn care by blindly following the women in front of us instead of knowing more about these things?
I’ll tell you why we do this. Because we assume that food suppliers and pharmaceutical companies have our best interest at heart with no regard to the profit dollar. Because we don’t read. Because we don’t listen. We don’t open our eyes to hear the other side of the story. Maybe you are reading this thinking that I am pompous and arrogant and sure of my decisions, but nothing is farther from the truth. I don’t know beyond all certainty that I am making the right decisions for my child, but I look at all sides, read both ends of the spectrum, and then I make the decisions that I feel are best for my family based on what we know now. Research changes, and we know today more than we ever have. Parents (and many pediatricians as well, might I add) ignore this, I think. They assume that because my grandmother did this or my mom did, it’s the right thing for me as well. [If that’s the case, let’s go back to drinking martinis during pregnancy, forcing women to give birth while unconscious, and giving newborns baby cereal.] I completely understand parents who research and come to a different decision than I. What I cannot understand is a parent who does not research at all.
When I was pregnant, a new mother was talking to me about the “mommy wars” and the dynamic of moms. She said, “You know what kind of moms I hate the most? Those moms who are all about natural childbirth and who are like everyone should breastfeed and who don’t vaccinate and all that stuff. Ugh! I hate those moms. They are so annoying!” Ha. I was attending Bradley classes at the time, and reading till my eyes crossed, and in reality I was completely unsure about what “type” of mother I would be, but now I have to wonder what that mom thinks about me. But to be honest, I have to agree with her in the sentiment that if you blindly follow a philosophy, whatever it may be, that is just as bad as not having one at all.
So when I began this site, I titled it Mama the Reader because I was trying to mingle the various ends of myself together a bit: as a book-lover, an English teacher, and a mother. It’s taken on a new meaning in many ways though since I take my reading tasks seriously these days. That’s really the purpose of my ramble here. Whichever side you stand on, know why you’re there. Know what vaccines are given to your child. Know them by name. Know the ingredients. Know the chances and risks of diseases they prevent. Don’t show up at the pediatrician’s office mumbling that you think he gets a few shots today, but you aren’t sure what they are. Know what is in your family’s food and how it gets to your table; don’t sit in a restaurant booth every night or grab the box from the pantry without understanding what’s on your plate. Know your options concerning pregnancy and childbirth; don’t just do what your own mother did unless it’s your conscious choice. Parent consciously. Have a philosophy. Don’t blindly sign up for another, but create your very own from your own convictions and research. Our children have no voices of their own, and we are their advocates. Take that job seriously.