Photo above: A child receiving a typhoid vaccine in the 1950’s. (Wikipedia)
Recently I had an experience while working with a parent that was eye opening. There is a debate in our country at present about the need for vaccinations in children. California just enacted one of the nation’s strictest vaccination bills. As a mother I remember the angst and struggle with deciding to vaccinate my children, and as a healthcare provider I believe vaccines are invaluable.
Up until recently I just haven’t had much patience with parents struggling with this. For me, it would be easier if everyone just got on board with vaccines. I had, for the most part, stopped talking about vaccines with parent’s in their well-child visit. If they had already indicated that they weren’t going to be getting vaccines that was the end of the discussion.
The death recently of the child in Spain from diphtheria prompted me to do something I hadn’t done before. I had just finished the exam on a beautiful 2-month infant and the mother told me she didn’t start immunizations on her children until they were at least 1 year old. She went on to say she had two distant relatives who had gotten Autism from the Pertussis vaccine.
I was thinking to myself, no, your relatives didn’t get Autism from the vaccine, that story has been disproved. And then I remembered the child that died in Spain. I remembered the anger and frustration those parents had shared at having been persuaded to not vaccinate their child for reasons that weren’t even valid.
I was just overwhelmed with sadness that this mother was choosing not to protect her child from illness because of something that wasn’t true. I knew in that minute that if I didn’t say something, I would feel guilt. I realized I didn’t want to change her mind; I just wanted to give myself some peace.
So I took a breath, connected with this need and then spoke to her. I told her I was thinking about the parents of a child in Spain who had died from Diphtheria, a vaccine preventable disease. I told her the parent’s wished they had understood the real costs of not vaccinating. And I told her I was just telling her this because I wouldn’t have some peace myself unless I did. I didn’t want to change her mind; I just wanted her to hear me. She stopped dressing the baby and looked at me. She paused, and then said she would discuss this with her husband and then come back for the vaccines.
I really didn’t expect that response. When I’ve tried in the past to convince parents to vaccinate, they seem to become more set in their decision. I believe the fact that my intent really wasn’t to change her mind, was an actual energy she could feel.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg has taught that when we demand something from others, it is a natural response to rebel. As many of us working with these parents, demanding they get their child vaccinated doesn’t work, and for good reason. I believe these parents want to do what’s best for their children’s health and safety. They are reading all kinds of information, and the real problems I believe is a lack of trust. These parents want to trust what they are reading and hearing regarding vaccinations, and are having a hard time trusting certain sources.
Health care providers and parents share the same needs; we all just want to provide the best care for the children. We as healthcare providers also want to protect those in society who are at a higher risk for vaccine related diseases. It’s not that parents don’t also want to contribute in this way, but those that are choosing not to vaccinate have been placed in a position, in their minds, that causes them to choose between their child’s life or the life of someone they don’t know. Of course in that situation they are going to protect the life of their child.
The answer to this problem isn’t going to be legislation. For many of those parents who aren’t vaccinating their children, telling them they have to, isn’t going to be the answer. I believe we are going to have to build trust again. That’s going to take time and listening to each other.
If we could get a group of people representing all views of this issue together, and then come to an understanding of the needs of everyone involved, we can find a way for everyone to get their needs met. It will take time, but this time allows everyone to develop trust in each other again. It will take coming up with strategies we haven’t explored or even thought of yet. For example, there is mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry regarding vaccinations for those choosing not to vaccinate.
Perhaps the pharmaceutical companies will agree to just break even, not to profit, for now, to try to help meet the need for trust with these families. I just believe that if everyone can come to the table as invested in making sure others get their needs met, as they are their own, we will solve this.
It’s the intent that is so important. I can tell you I’m not trying to talk you into something, that I’m open to hearing you, but if I’m really not, the other person can feel this. By making sure our words match our intent, we can start to develop trust again.
For this process to work in California I believe this group will need someone to help facilitate this process that understands nonviolent communication. Someone who can hear through what people are saying to their needs. There are many in California and nation-wide that may be able to do this. It will take time, but the result will be a real answer to this issue, not what we are seeing now in the headlines here, here and here.
Editor’s note: for the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule for children, Click Here.
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.