Why I’m Thankful I’m Not Pregnant
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.