Tired of all the vaccine talk? I kinda am. And I thought it was just receiving vaccines that caused sleepiness (my kids crashed big after boosters). But no, this time it is my brain that is tired. But to lay this issue to rest (at least for now) I need to get something off my mind.
Actually, I need to get someone off my mind. Jenny McCarthy. Mom, famous-person, apparent anti-vaxx advocate. It says something when a well-known individual’s stint as Playmate of the Year gets upended by her staunch support of the vaccines-cause-autism movement (McCarthy even went so far as to write a foreword for Andrew Wakefield’s book Callous Disregard). But I’m not here to add to the mountain of criticism of McCarthy for her position. In fact, I want to do the opposite. Even though I vote “pro-vaxx” I am even more “pro-mother.” As you might know, Jenny McCarthy’s son was diagnosed with autism. She writes fervently in her book Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism about her efforts to find successful treatment for him. And what I took away from reading her desperate words was just that: desperation. And anger. And frustration.
She wanted help. She wanted answers. And in the early part of the new millennium (when McCarthy’s son was diagnosed) Andrew Wakefield’s paper suggesting the MMR may cause autism was still in print and the debate it sparked was a raging fire. A scared, desperate mother at that time would come to see this purported connection as a possible cause of her son’s autism. And what scared, desperate mother wouldn’t voice her worries to her family, friends and anyone else who would listen?
Unfortunately, when you are Jenny McCarthy, the others whom you ask to listen happen to include a hungry media.
But now, with the changing tide of events that includes the renunciation of Dr. Wakefield’s paper and the wave of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, Jenny McCarthy is a pariah. Surely not at all what she expected. But she can’t really back out now, at least not gracefully.
Even though, and this is in Louder Than Words, she voices a support for alternative vaccine schedules, not necessarily avoidance of vaccines altogether. She is quoted as saying, “I’m not anti-vaccine.” But still. She is charged with planting the seed of skepticism in parents’ minds about protecting their children from life-threatening illnesses. And many would, and do, consider that to be “anti-vaccine.”
And, of course, the media prints this as well.
That said, I don’t resent Jenny McCarthy. Because, when my second-born was 15 months old he:
~wouldn’t respond to his name.
~performed some unusual rituals which involved flapping his legs and opening-and-closing-his bedroom door.
I could go on, believe me. I thought the worst, after making a list at an autism lecture of characteristics that fit my son perfectly. Even without the formal diagnosis, I felt panic in my heart and worry almost bursting forth in that stuffy, darkened hotel ballroom. But as fate would have it, my family is luckier than McCarthy’s.
No, I don’t know the pain of having an autistic child but I caught a glimpse of its possibility. There was a knot in my stomach and a need for answers, all because I love my son. What mother…famous or notorious, both or neither…wouldn’t have those feelings? Jenny McCarthy had a very natural, “momma bear” response. It is unfortunate that she had the media and her status at her disposal, which in the end turned her well-meaning intentions against her.
At least that’s how I see it.