Why I'm Thankful I'm Not Pregnant
Nov 15, 2012

If you’re active on Facebook, than you’ve probably been reading plenty of status updates detailing what your friends are thankful for each day of the month. If I were to write one today, this is what it would say:

Day #15: I’m thankful I’m not pregnant.  Not because I loathe indigestion, stretch marks and my already complete collection of varicose veins.  No.  I’m fairly certain that if I were pregnant today, I would be completely freaked out over how to achieve a perfect pregnancy in order to give birth to the perfect baby.

Perhaps being pregnant was much easier when I first did it 17 years ago.  Of course, I didn’t have the stylish clothes and the handy helpful products that exist today.  But I was confident that I was doing everything possible to ensure a healthy baby.  And I didn’t live in fear of autism.
I ate healthy foods.  I drank plenty of water.  I made the decision to breastfeed and vaccinate even before the baby arrived because I knew this would boost our child’s immunity and protect her from dangerous illness.  Sure, I had the occasional thought that maybe our child wouldn’t develop normally, but it wasn’t something I lived in fear of.  Rather, I was confident that I was doing everything possible to ensure a healthy child and fortunately, I went on to have an uncomplicated pregnancy and an unmedicated birth.
But today, things are different.  Expectant parents are inundated with so much chatter about chemicals, toxins, pesticides and other seemingly “unnatural” substances, that it’s no wonder they begin questioning if these things are having an impact on the prevalence of autism.  Sadly, many of these parents are also being misguided to believe that vaccines are to blame.
As much as I hate to admit it, if I were pregnant for the first time today, I may likely be influenced by the growing culture that insists that natural living equates to rejecting vaccines.  I could possibly be part of the growing culture that insists on an all-organic diet, pays up the wazoo for dozens of natural supplements and visits only holistic doctors to rid me of my ailments.  And it’s possible that this may have even led me to question vaccines.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned after raising five children, it’s that the best advice comes from those who are truly qualified to give it.
In the case of vaccines, I am content to take my advice from experts, including immunologists and epidemiologists.  Not homeopaths, chiropractors, neurosurgeons or random Facebook acquaintances. 
I’ll admit that a parent’s gut instinct is critical at times.  Like when you think your child is lying.  Or when you suspect your child has done something they’re not telling you.  Or when you get a bad vibe about a potential babysitter.  But when it comes to decisions regarding health and immunizations, gut instinct can often be more of a distraction from what critical thinking and scientific evidence demonstrate to be evident.
The beauty of science is in the way in which a hypothesis is proven.  The value is not in just one person’s opinion.    It’s not determined based on a single study or piece of data.  Science draws conclusions based on repeated studies with similar findings that are reviewed and critiqued by those who are highly qualified to help interpret the matter at hand.
Let’s take the example of a recent study that suggests fever and influenza in pregnancy can result in an increased risk of an autistic child.  Many of the dozens of news articles covering this study simply threw out a headline that would draw attention based on many-a-parents’ worst fear.  A child with autism.  (Gasp!)  But how many of these mainstream articles went on to question the way in which the study was conducted and what that may reveal about the findings?
Fortunately, I found a helpful critique of the study written by Emily Willingham which was published in Forbes and entitled Influenza, Fever, And Autism: How Much Should You Worry?  Her piece raises some important questions about the study, to include the the impact of self-reporting, as well as the statistical comparisons that were made to other similar studies.   However, it wasn’t the findings that I treasured, it was the way in which Ms. Willingham highlighted the following important clinical conclusion:

“In this population of 98,000 children born from 1997 to 2003, 976 were diagnosed with autism. That means 1% of this population, currently ages 8 to 14, has autism, a value very close to those emerging in many studies and to the latest estimates for prevalence among 8-year-olds in the United States.”

In other words, the number of autistic children identified in this study occurred at near the same rate as the overall prevalence of autism among kids born during that time period.  Does it matter whether the pregnant mother had a fever or not?  Or if her fever was related to influenza or not? Possibly.  Possibly not.
My concern here is that autism is, once-again, being portrayed as something to fear, and more importantly, something that a parent can influence or possibly prevent.
This goes back to why I’m grateful I’m not pregnant. 
I can only imagine the stress women will have for fear that a fever in pregnancy may lead to having an autistic child.  As Emily emphatically suggests, we must do more to help expectant parents

“learn that having an autistic child is not inevitably a tragic horrorshow that you need to stress about before you even know you’d have one”

Certainly it’s important for women to be aware of this study and even evaluate it against other similar studies.  But hopefully, they will have already been convinced that they should take the advice of “experts” and get a flu vaccine during pregnancy.  Not out of fear of autism, but to reduce their risk of miscarriage and pre-term labor, and to protect both their unborn baby and their newborn child.
If these pregnant women should have a child that is one day diagnosed as autistic – whether they had a fever in pregnancy or not – it is my hope that they will accept and appreciate that child, and not burden themselves with guilt that something they could have done, or should have done, would have prevented it.  Maybe then, we can hope that the entire world will come to accept and appreciate that child…that adult…that person with autism…just the same.  

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30 responses to “Why I'm Thankful I'm Not Pregnant”

  1. Liz says:

    This is the most misinformed person I have ever witnessed reading a blog from. I can not believe this!!! Your statistics are so off on the rates of autism and unless you have an autistic child or within the community then you yourself have no business talking about it!!! People like you think children with autism is a slight causality because it didn’t happen to your child!!! Shame on you for writing such a blatant blog of misinformation!!!

  2. Lawrence says:

    @Liz – actually how is 1% “so far off” from 1 in 88?
    And you have no idea if the people who read or contribute to this blog have a child on the spectrum (here’s a hint, some of them do) – so please take your baseless rant somewhere else.

  3. mtwildflower says:

    If there is something *I* have learned in raising seven kids…..it’s that experts don’t know everything and often have an agenda to push. I’ve also learned that there is nothing wrong with taking a ‘wait and see” approach when it comes to virtually everything, including vaccination and that no one in this family is going to die from chicken pox nor are they going to be at high risk because I refused the Hep B vaccine for the last three kids upon birth when our family isn’t high risk.
    It’s also not my responsibility to protect your family from anything beyond making sure my kids wash their hands after visiting the john and not leave their little bacterial friends for others to enjoy.
    As to your comments on not being fearful of autism……you clearly have no practical experience with others who face this lifelong issue everyday….the 1 in 88 that SURELY you MUST have come into contact SOMEWHERE unless you live in a bubble. You have no clue as to the nuances of the fear people feel for the futures of those children….no sense in trying to explain it to you either, because you are certain these same parents have no “appreciation” and that THAT is what is REALLY wrong with them.

  4. lilady says:

    Being an older participant here, (children born in 1970 and 1976), I never “experienced” the deluge of poorly-conducted science studies such as the one that Emily Willingham blogged about. Nor did I experience the impact of anti-vaccine websites such as Age of Autism, the NVIC and crank not-based-in-science Alternative/CAM “practitioners”.
    I ate balanced diets, got plenty of exercise and expected to have healthy babies. “Sometimes” that is not enough to ensure a health baby. My second child was born with a rare genetic disorder which resulted in profound physical and intellectual impairments, as well as pancytopenia which left him immune suppressed and caused internal bleeds. He also had pronounced autistic-like behaviors. He only survived for 28 years because he received extraordinary medical care, during his frequent hospitalizations…and because he was completely immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases.
    And Liz, I’m recently as a public health nurse clinician/epidemiologist. I investigated individual cases and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. I know only too well how outbreaks start when a deliberately unimmunized child is the index case who infects children who have medical contraindications that prevent them from receiving a vaccine, or babies too young to have been immunized fully against a childhood disease. So Liz, take your rant somewhere else. I think my experiences as the parent of a developmentally child and as public health nurse clincian/epidemiologist “trumps” your ignorant, uninformed experience.

  5. lilady says:

    @ mtwildflower: See my comments above directed at “Liz”. Ditto at you mtwildflower.

  6. Christine Vara says:

    @Liz, Allow me to help clarify a few things that you appear to have missed. In my blog post above, I am quoting Emily Willingham, the author of the Forbes article (which I linked to in the post as http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2012/11/12/influenza-fever-and-autism-how-much-should-you-worry/). I would highly suggest that you read her piece, because if you had you would have realized that Emily is, in fact, the parent of an autistic child, as she states in the last paragraph of her article that reads,
    “You can count me among the “flu-during pregnancy” population. I spiked a four-day 105 fever because of clinically proven influenza in my first trimester of pregnancy with our second son. But he’s not the son who’s autistic.”
    This further demonstrates the point that this one study does not assure pregnant women that if they have a fever or influenza during pregnancy that they will have a child who is autistic. However, this type of report does tend to worry parents and generate a somewhat irrational fear over the risk of having an autistic child.
    Since your issue appears to be with Emily’s assessment of the prevelance of autism, I would suggest you read another article she wrote in Discover, which is also linked in my blog above. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/07/11/is-autism-an-epidemic-or-are-we-just-noticing-more-people-who-have-it/).
    I also find it rather offensive that you think just because I don’t have a child with autism that I shouldn’t discuss the topic. I happen to know, love and adore lots of people with autism and many of my friends and family members work with autistic children. I’m not telling you what you should be doing for your autistic child so why are you so offended?
    I think we should all encourage an open discuss of the topic in hopes that this world will be more understanding, less judgemental and more accepting of autistic children and adults, who are, in fact, part of our communities. It’s rather sad and narrowminded of you to only be accepting of those “in the autism community” to discuss such an important issue. How do you ever intend to bring about change and progress?

  7. Peter Thornbread says:

    For a parent, reasonable indicia of potential danger should be enough not to expose their kids, if the science is lacking, still a parent must exercise common sense.
    Older research but should give cause for concern….

  8. lilady says:

    @ Peter Thornbread: Child Health Safety is a notorious anti-vaccine website and the link you provided to studies purporting to show a link between vaccines and autism are examples of that website twisting the data, to fit their anti-vaccine data.
    Here’s a website that has links to reliable studies, published in first-tier peer reviewed medical journals:

  9. Peter Thornbread, you have referred to a paper published in a grossly anti-vaccine, anti-science blog, Child Health Safety, not a peer-reviewed publication. Multiple studies with hundreds of thousands of studies failed to establish a correlation between vaccination and autism.

    Peter Thornbread :
    For a parent, reasonable indicia of potential danger should be enough not to expose their kids, if the science is lacking, still a parent must exercise common sense.
    Older research but should give cause for concern….

  10. lilady says:

    Oh another point “Liz”. You owe a special apology to posters here who do not have a child with an ASD.
    Would you only go to cancer surgeon who has had your particular type of cancer…or a cardiologist who has had your particular type of cardiac problem?
    I appreciate all the science bloggers who blog about autism, who do not have a child with an ASD.

  11. Nonayo says:

    «However, it wasn’t the findings that I treasured, it was the way in which Ms. Willingham highlighted the following important clinical conclusion: […]
    «In other words, the number of autistic children identified in this study occurred at near the same rate as the overall prevalence of autism among kids born during that time period.»
    So, the most important clinical conclusion is that they had the autism rate right? So much for a solid evidence base to push the flu vaccine on all pregnant women…
    « Does it matter whether the pregnant mother had a fever or not? Or if her fever was related to influenza or not? Possibly. Possibly not.»
    Are you kidding? Of course it matters! It is the principal “finding” of this “study” trumpeted on every channels this week as evidence to push the flu vaccine on every pregnant women! But hey, don’t let the facts interfere…
    « Science draws conclusions based on repeated studies with similar findings that are reviewed and critiqued by those who are highly qualified to help interpret the matter at hand.»
    You mean like the Cochrane reviews* that found the flu vaccines to be of little if no use in protecting from only a couple of flu strains out of more than a hundred.? It is scientific fraud to use this “study” to push the flu vaccine on all pregnant women, given they are not as safe as candy. It is scientific fraud to push the flu vaccine on anybody, period. But why am I surprised, fraud is not new to vaccine “science”.
    And last but not least:
    « But hopefully, they will have already been convinced that they should take the advice of ”experts” and get a flu vaccine during pregnancy. Not out of fear of autism, but to reduce their risk of miscarriage and pre-term labor, and to protect both their unborn baby and their newborn child.»
    Don’t you just love this! An article which fails to provide any solid evidence needed to push the flu vaccine on every pregnant women or anyone else for that matter but at the end, we should all just shut our brains off and listen to the “experts” recommending we all get the shots anyway, concluding with a new claim right out of the magic hat, that the flu vaccine “reduces the risks of miscarriage and pre-term labor”!!! I’d like to read that study showing flu vaccinated pregnant women had less miscarriages and pre-term labor than non vaccinated counterparts. Do you have the link?
    Should these experts recommending flu shots be charged with pushing unnecessary risky procedures or treated for delusions?
    * http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/details/collection/978807/Influenza-evidence-from-Cochrane-Reviews.html

  12. Peter T says:

    There are hundreds of studies supporting a possible link between vaccinations and autism, autoimmune diseases etc; more than enough for a parent to be concerned.
    Here’s a good one on autoimmune diseases:
    ”Systemic autoimmunity appears to be the inevitable consequence of over-stimulating the host’s immune ‘system’ by repeated immunization with antigen, to the levels that surpass system’s self-organized criticality.”

  13. Lawrence says:

    @Peter – if there are hundreds, you’ll have no trouble providing the links to the PubMed indexes, right?

  14. lilady says:

    Peter T: In the absence of your “hundreds of articles” that link autism to vaccines…here’s the Autism Science Foundation’s list and the links to a few of the “hundreds of articles” that disprove your citationless statement…

  15. Chris says:

    Peter T, that is a study on mice and does not adequately compare the vaccines versus the diseases. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 almost every child had measles by age fifteen. Since the disease itself caused several disabilities (encephalitis) and death (pneumonia, the virus actually suppresses the immune system allowing secondary bacterial infections), it would be prudent to compare the MMR to the actual disease.
    Having had a child injured from a now vaccine preventable disease, I know they cause real and lasting damage. Which is why I want to know the relative risks. How exactly is the DTaP vaccine more dangerous than diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis? How is the varicella vaccine more dangerous than chicken pox (which does kill, makes a person susceptible to shingles, and tortures a child with almost two weeks of dozens of open itchy wounds called pox). Remember to post the title, journal and dates of the PubMed indexed papers that show those risks in humans, not mice.

  16. Dena says:

    As the parent of a sweet, smart, affectionate and quirky little boy with autism, I want to thank Christine for making an important point that isn’t stressed enough — having an autistic child is NOT some horrible tragedy. It is challenging at times, but all children can be challenging. We work every day to help our son to achieve his full potential. Key to reaching that goal is helping others to understand that while people with autism may approach life differently than “neurotypicals,” they are also intelligent, capable individuals. The anti-vaccine crowd who sit and lament that their children are somehow damaged goods do all people with autism a disservice because they perpetuate the notion that being autistic is automatically a terrible thing, and that parents have somehow harmed their children. Just awful.

  17. lilady says:

    @ Dena: It there was a “Fanned and Faved” function here, I would gladly cite your post. 🙂

  18. Lara Lohne says:

    Dena, Ditto to everything you said and *high 5* to a fellow autism mom! How old is your little one?
    *high 5* to lilady also!

  19. Dena says:

    @Lara – funny that you should send me a “high 5” since that is my son’s favorite greeting! He is 4 and 1/2 and I feel grateful for him every day. How old is your child, and how are they doing?

  20. Gina says:

    Great comments today! I’d like to add this collection of studies that would seem to indicate a connection between vaccines and autism:
    I adore my autistic son, that’s really not the point. I regret very much that vaccine damage caused his autism, and that he will never be able to live independently, have a job, marry, or have children of his own. I fear the many terrible things that may happen to him when we are gone and can no longer take care of this precious, funny, loving human being.

  21. lilady says:

    Which vaccine(s) caused your son’s autism, Gina?
    You won’t get any reliable studies from Ginger Taylor…she’s an anti-vaccine crank.

  22. Parent says:

    Liz :
    This is the most misinformed person I have ever witnessed reading a blog from. I can not believe this!!! Your statistics are so off on the rates of autism and unless you have an autistic child or within the community then you yourself have no business talking about it!!! People like you think children with autism is a slight causality because it didn’t happen to your child!!! Shame on you for writing such a blatant blog of misinformation!!!

    Liz – I think you misunderstood the blog post; the author is clearly as angry as you are about people telling lies about autism. Just because some people who aren’t parents of autistic children (Andrew Wakefield, Mark Geier, etc.) are telling lies, doesn’t mean that we parents can’t appreciate the people who are telling the truth.

  23. Chris says:

    Gina, that is a five year old blog post with some random and actually outdated papers. You should stick to the autismsciencefoundation that lilady posted. Also, this blog has been posting articles about issues when autistic children grow up. Something I am dealing with now.

    • Lara Lohne says:

      My son will be 6 in March, is currently in kindergarten and thriving! He has made vast amounts of progress just by being with children his own age who are NT (had only been with special needs children before through his special ed pre-school program.) He still has challenges in some areas, but he can write his own name now, knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet and is learning to count by fives and tens. Not only that, but he plays with the other kids, and when they are all running and laughing, nobody could point him out as the ‘special’ one. I need to figure out a way to help him develop the aptitude he displays for music and rhythm. That is where his strength lies. I love all my children so much, but my youngest holds a different place in my heart, and the more progress he makes, and the more I learn from autistic adults, the more my hope for his future grows.

  24. dingo199 says:

    Peter T :There are hundreds of studies supporting a possible link between vaccinations and autism, autoimmune diseases etc; more than enough for a parent to be concerned.Here’s a good one on autoimmune diseases:”Systemic autoimmunity appears to be the inevitable consequence of over-stimulating the host’s immune ‘system’ by repeated immunization with antigen, to the levels that surpass system’s self-organized criticality.”http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008382

    I’m impressed… out of these “hundreds of studies” about autism linked to vaccines you managed to cite only one, and it doesn’t even mention the V word, never mind the A word.

  25. dingo199 says:

    Just to clarify – the authors of the article that was cited regard any infectious disease antigen as an “immunizing” force, as exemplified by their reference to repeated natural measles virus exposure as a cause of this hypothetical immune “overstimulation”.
    In fact, this article supports vaccination, and implies recurrent exposure to wild-type infections may actually be the problem.
    But then reading the actual scientific content of an article before shooting one’s mouth off about it was never a strong point of those who are antivaccine.

  26. Lawrence says:

    @dingo – unfortunately, most of these individuals can barely read the abstract (I believe they tend to only read the titles) and find out the sources they cite actually say something completely opposite to what they think….

  27. Quokka says:

    Lara- great to hear how well your little one is going. I have given this page address to many parents of children with disability and I hope they see your posts.

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