Monday, November 14, 2011

A Daughter's Legacy: One Mother's Story

By Stephanie 

I’m a mother of three children and a forthright vaccine advocate. However, only two of my children are vaccinated. My daughter was stillborn in April 2010. Losing her, finding out that her heart had stopped beating within my womb, has been the most shattering experience of my life. She was a beautiful little thing, weighing five pounds and twelve ounces. She had dark curly hair, perfect oval shaped little fingernails, blonde eyelashes and ruby red lips. My husband and I never found out why she died, her stillbirth was one of the “unexplained” ones.
When she died, the profundity of what had happened hit me like a sledgehammer. My baby died. I was a mother with a dead baby. For the rest of my life, I would have to deal with this fact One of my children dying had been my worst nightmare for as long as I could remember. I actually am incredibly sensitive to any story of a child being harmed or dying and often am found crying over news stories or magazine article that portray stories of these tragedies.
I never thought it would happen to me. But it did.
This is the crux of the anti vaccinationist movement. You will hear the cries “my child was born with a perfect immune system! Why mess with it? You never see these diseases anymore! My neighbour’s sister’s boyfriend’s son got measles and he was VACCINATED!”
The anti vaccinationists think it won’t happen to them.
This is because of the overall success of vaccines over time. There are a number of diseases that just are not in circulation in the Western world any more, such as Diphtheria, Rubella and Polio. Anti-vaccinationists have not seen, first hand, the horror of Diphtheria wards in the 40’s; they have not seen a child affected by Congenital Rubella Syndrome. (Editor's Note: Click here for photos of children with Diptheria and Rubella)
Neither have I, of course, but I truly believe that these people are blind to real situations where things can go terribly, terribly wrong. I, on the other hand, am constantly on the lookout for ways to keep my children safe and protected. Vaccination is a perfect example of a way to keep your children safe and protected.
Our youngest son was born during the peak of a Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak. Well before he was born, we were advised to have our Pertussis boosters organised, but because I was so concerned about the spread of Pertussis, I had received mine back in 2009, just before I became pregnant with my daughter. Despite this, I still received another shot. Our older son, of course, was up to date with all his vaccinations. When the baby was born, my husband had his jab immediately.
Two weeks before my son was born, another little baby arrived in the world, on the other side of the country to me. This little boy died of Pertussis when he was 5 weeks old. My baby was 3 weeks old when we heard the story on the news and health authorities urged anyone with newborns to keep them indoors and for parents and carers to receive their DTaP vaccine.
For somebody who has already buried a child, this news was terrifying. It made me angry. It made me angry because the reason that this baby had died was because of the perpetuation of misinformation, spread by people who have no critical thinking skills, who cannot evaluate sources, who were urging parents to not vaccinate their children...and as a result, Whooping Cough had managed to penetrate the community. And the most vulnerable members of society, newborns, were paying the price. This little one was amongst many infants who have passed away from Whooping Cough. Dana McCaffrey, Callie Von Tornhout, Carter Dube.
See, it’s all about herd immunity, isn’t it? The more people that are vaccinated, the less able an organism is able to infect a person. Without ample hosts, the disease will die. But the diseases are coming back with a vengeance, because parents are choosing not to vaccinate anymore. There are more available hosts and as the anti vaccinationists bleat “if your kid is vaccinated, why do you care?” we must remember that not all vaccines are 100% effective. There will always be someone who doesn’t mount a good immune response, and so they might be unlucky enough to contract the disease. Furthermore, there are those who cannot be vaccinated, such as those who are immuno-suppressed, women who are pregnant, newborns and people with a genuine contraindication to receive vaccines.
I have always been a supporter of vaccination. But after experiencing the death of my daughter, my advocacy increased, I became a vocal proponent of vaccination and I didn’t care who knew it. In fact, the more people that knew it, the better! I believe that having to have deal with the death of my baby has made me all the more sensitive to children’s health issues and to avoiding unnecessary deaths. As someone who has experienced infant loss first hand, I will campaign to ensure that all parents know the facts about vaccination because I never want to see or hear about another small baby, or any child, for that matter, needlessly suffer the repercussions of a vaccine preventable illness. I am unapologetically outspoken about this cause, it is well known that it is a passion of mine. 
For some, they find it confronting and uncomfortable. I have been unapologetic about not allowing anyone who was not up to date with their boosters to visit my new baby until he had finished his series. I have also been vocal about close family members getting their DTaP, and they did. Not just for my baby, but for all the babies out there who need us to be protected in order to protect them. I have been “unfriended” on Facebook for entering into a debate about the Pertussis vaccine, and as the parties of the debate vehemently purported a range of untruths and incorrect information, I took them to task on the simplest of mistakes. For example, their claim that Pertussis was a virus. Now I asked them how on Earth they expect people to take their assertions seriously if they themselves don’t even have a grasp on basic immunology?                                
This is why I am unflinching  in my quest to increase the amount of correct information regarding vaccination. Because I need to challenge those who are proliferating claims that are downright wrong, influencing parents who don’t know any better, which in turn contributes to the fall in herd immunity. And as this happens, our children are in danger. My young baby, who was not old enough to receive the full series of his immunisations for Pertussis until he was six months old. That was six months of terror that he would be exposed to this insidious bacteria and I would lose another child.
I believe that if my daughter, as little and pure as she was, wanted to leave any sort of legacy, it was this. For her outspoken (yet civil) mother to light a fire underneath people, have as many parents as possible vaccinate their children and themselves to protect our newborns.
Stephanie is a teacher and mother who lives in Australia. You can read more of her writing at

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