Hi! Today is Kiddos Tuesdays and we will be talking about the dreaded child well visit.
Now before you start thinking that I’m trying to change your position regarding vaccines, I’m not. I’m just explaining the process I go through to make decisions. Wherever you stand on vaccinations, I do believe that we all do what we believe to be the best for our families. I respect your decision. I expect you to respect mine. Now to my story…
I’m just going to put it out into the universe. I was vaccinated. In the country of my childhood, there was no option, so I grew up accepting vaccines as a natural part of childhood. I didn’t enjoy it, but it was expected and it felt completely natural. Perhaps because of that, I have always believed that vaccinations are a highly effective, safe and easy way to help keep my family healthy. My husband shares my beliefs. So, we vaccinate our children. It doesn’t mean that I take the vaccination of my children lightly. Like all medical procedures involving the kids, I ask myself: Am I doing the right thing? Should I get a second opinion? Is it the right time? Does the potential benefit outweigh the potential harm?
The current debate in our family has been over the HPV vaccine, which was first offered to the girls last year when they turned 11. I delayed the vaccination for a year even though my husband strongly disagreed. Yes, I did and do understand that almost every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life without the HPV vaccination. About 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected with the HPV virus each year. While most of the HPV infections will go away on their own, infections that don’t go away can cause serious certain types of cancer. And, of course, I don’t want my children to get cancer especially if I can do something about it. But, this vaccine made me nervous primarily because it is relatively new. And also, because I heard of rumors from other mothers that I would no longer be allowed in the room when my children went to the pediatrician once they had the vaccine.
For the first part of my concerns, I just needed to see what the studies had to say before having the girls vaccinated. I just don’t jump into medical procedures of any type lightly. The HPV research field is currently producing an average of 3,000 papers a year. A lot of these researches are on the effectiveness of the vaccines. Scientists are constantly working to improve their efficacy; the simplicity of use and, of course, for pharmaceutical companies, how to reduce costs. They are also developing vaccines with therapeutic properties, which could be offered to women who already are HPV infected. More importantly, in my case, ten years of clinical studies have found that the 30-year-old vaccine is safe and effective. The scientist in me was satisfied. The mom in me still had another question: Would I be allowed to accompany my children into the examining room when they saw the doctors?
We split our time between Florida and Puerto Rico so I consulted with pediatricians on both the mainland and the island. They assured me that this was not a problem. When children get older, however, sometimes parents, whether it’s the mother or the father, get asked to leave the room because the pediatricians would like to ask the kids some private questions. And they know they might not get a straight answer in front of the parents. For that fact, they know, they assured me, that they’re unlikely to get a straight answer from the kids. And it’s always best for the parents to keep open communication with their children rather than having to rely on emergency situations where the kids have no other choice but to tell the doctors the truth.
Now that both questions have been answered, I have to admit that everything seemed promising. So we decided to go ahead with it this year…
But making the decision was only half the battle. Now I had to tell the girls what was coming. I stopped lying — yes, I have lied to my children the past, about getting shots or fingerprints at the doctors’ office. My excuse is that they were very young. However, the reality is, I can no longer cover myself with that white, okay, maybe gray, lie. This means that I have to tell my girls in advance when they can expect vaccines, fingerprints, or anything of that nature. It’s not that I want to tell them but I know that if I don’t, I will never hear the end of it.
How do you handle the invariable hysterics that precedes the idea of getting a shot or a finger prick? Most of the time the girls blow the whole thing out of proportion by the anticipation rather than the actual experience. Yet for several days before the actual appointment, I have to endure the girls’ melodrama. One becomes the queen of sarcasm, another stops talking, and the other asks 50 million questions about the size of the needle and the depth of the prick. (Luckily, I can still get away with “little white lies” when it comes to Bug, my four-year-old.)
Look, I get it. Shots are never pleasant. But isn’t it part of adulthood developing a modicum of self-control? I certainly feel it is. Nevertheless, I know adults that carry on worse than any of my children. I had a horrible experience of being in an emergency room with a colleague in her 30s who had to have blood drawn. Now, this was a life or death situation so she really had no choice. She understood this. Yet, she had to be held down by four nurses and her brother while she kicked and screamed. When it was all over, she sheepishly admitted to me that it had always been that way. She had done the same thing when she was a kid and just continued the behavior into adulthood. I was both shocked and embarrassed for her. So, yes, I expect more from my children. So, here we are at the pediatrician’s office. The moment I dread is about to happen. I give the girls my speech about not screaming and carrying on because it will scare the younger children at the pediatrician’s office. Not that it works, but I always figure it’s worth a shot. Since they’re older, I tell them, they need to set a good example. As I said, I don’t know why I give them the speech because it doesn’t actually work. Well, except on Emmi. Emmi gives me the look which is asking what it is that I want her to pretend. I respond by trying to give her a reassuring look while Dora sits mutely on a chair and Andy is arguing about her civil rights yet again. I’m still not aware that the Bill of Rights had a clause against vaccines, but she is sure that if I were only to read it in detail, I would surely find it.
As usual, Emmi volunteers to go first. I know this means that she is about to break my hand. She asks if she can mentally prepare herself, but that would take a year. So the answer from the nurse is always no. She gets the shots while squeezing my hand black and blue. I see her face and know her well enough to know that she’s telling me that she is internally screaming, but she has kept it together. I, of course, give her that I’m-so-proud-of-you look while I rub my hand and kiss her cheek. She tells her sisters, “No, it didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even feel it. It’s going to be just fine.” One down and two to go!
Next comes Andy… The argument goes into full force as she demands to see the length of the needle and see just how sharp it is. The nurse advises against it, but, she insists, and so she ends up winning the argument. She realizes the needle is really sharp and she wonders if she can get a needle that would be a little less sharp. Like you would really want a dull needle at that moment, but there is no fighting back with reason when she gets that way. Back to her civil rights argument. I want to laugh but know I can’t. She needs me, and I need to be there for her. Before the needle even touches her, when the area is being swabbed with an alcohol wipe, she starts screaming, “Ow, Ow, Ow!” Lucky for me the decibel doesn’t change when she actually gets the shot. Of course, she looks at me like she wants to blow up my head with her mind. But, she is in pain and needs her momma. So she allows me to console her because she can’t trade me in for a different model.
Dora is last. Now, this is new territory for me. Last year, she didn’t need any vaccines, so this is our first time going through vaccines scene. I know that her mom vaccinated and kept her current. So, I’m thinking she’s gotta be used to it, right? Her selective mutism suddenly ended with unexpected wails. No, no, I don’t want to do this! And, she takes off for the door. The nurse blocks her way and I stare in shock. This was an unexpected turn of events! I have never had to deal with more than unconstitutional arguments at a pediatrician appointment before. How am I supposed to handle this? If only I was the PERFECT MOM, I would have the perfect solution. Too bad. I’m not. So, that’s simply not going to happen. Dora is only 2 inches shorter than me and is a lot physically bigger than my twin daughters. They are already too big for me to physically handle them. Am I supposed to hold a girl who is even bigger than my twins like you would hold a toddler who doesn’t want to get a shot? I take a deep breath and remind myself that even though she has the body of a woman, she is only a twelve-year-old girl. I take her by the hand and led her to the examining table where the nurse is preparing to give her the shot. I give Dora my best stern mom look and say, “We all need to do things that we don’t like. And I’m here for you. We’ll go through it together.” She nodded and allowed herself to be vaccinated wailing like a banshee the whole time. Now, I’m trying to tell her it will be over in a second, but I keep forgetting that at that age, a second can be an eternity. And there is nothing I can do but hold her hand and stroke her back hoping that she is comforted by my loving presence.
After the whole debacle, I have to ask myself how do I teach them to do the hard thing when it’s needed? I know that Emmi is well on her way. Perhaps the fact that she had to have stitches three years ago helps her put things into perspective. Then again, she has always been the more sophisticated of the three. Perhaps Dora and Ruby just need a little more time. I do remind myself they’re only twelve. I don’t think I was any good at it at the age of twelve. Time and life have a way of helping us mature. Just please, heavenly father, don’t let them become like my 30-year-old colleague. Please let them become strong women that can make the hard choices.
My grandmother, with whom I lived for 2 years, returns to my mind. She always said that life is more about making hard choices than making the right ones. And that it’s important for us to learn this difficult lesson because the wheel of fortune can go up and down very rapidly. So we need to be prepared to make the decisions we have to make in life when the wheel goes down and life leaves us no other options. In my life experience, my grandmother has always been right.
In the end, I accept that I can’t control the girls, perhaps anything, for that matter. I just need to use teachable moments life avails me. Point the kids in what I believe is the right direction, and understand that ultimately, their direction may not be the same as mine, and in the end, understand that we are in it together. I, like them, still have a lot of growing up to do and they are teaching me new things every day.