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Risk

Confessions of a Toddler School Drop-Out

By December 14, 2015 No Comments
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This post originally appeared on the Graham’s Foundation blog on December 3, 2015

Three weeks ago, my toddler dropped out of school. My husband and I didn’t anticipate it. We started in September just like everyone else…with adorable “first day of school!” pictures on our front porch and excitement for everything my son would learn, and the new friends he would make.

It was a leap of faith for us to try out a group childcare setting in his second winter of life. My son, now 21 months old, was born at 31 weeks and 6 days in January of 2014. When he was discharged from the NICU in late February of that year, we- like all preemie parents- feared colds, flu, and RSV. We limited visitors, bought stock in hand sanitizer, and checked proof of TDAP and flu vaccinations at the front door.

With a thriving toddler interested in learning and socializing, we decided to graduate from the parent-nanny caregiver model and enroll him in a Montessori program four mornings per week. We took careful note of the advice from fellow parents about sickness in the first year of school or daycare.

“He will definitely get sick, but then his immune system will be unstoppable for the rest of his educational career,” they promised.

We thought we’d see a few bad illnesses this year, but for the most part he’d just have a chronic runny nose.

Boy – were we wrong.  

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Toddlers + Preschoolers

The 3 Most Common Arguments Against the WHO’S Findings on Bacon and Cancer…and Why They’re Wrong

By November 3, 2015 No Comments
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Last week, when the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that processed meat should be classified as a carcinogen, the internet went crazy. From passionate vegans to bacon lovers to WHO conspiracy theorists, almost everyone had a strong reaction to this (heart) breaking news. However, the three most common responses, both pro and con, to this story aren’t supported by scientific fact at all, they’re supported by our own cognitive biases.

In scientific terms, the jury is still out as to whether or not there is a causal relationship between consuming processed meats in moderation (as the majority of us do) and cancer.  One thing is for sure, it’s generally not a good idea to eat processed meats on a daily basis over a long period of time.  But chances are, eating bacon with breakfast every once in a while, or a hot dog at the ballpark likely won’t do you any harm.

But I’m not going to get into the science or the nitty-gritty of how the IARC came to their conclusions, because that’s been discussed to death on the internet over the last week.  What I am going to discuss are the logical fallacies that both sides are using to support or tear down the WHO’s findings.

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Categories: Food, Nutrition, + Infant Feeding, Science 101 + Mythbusting

It’s Time to Stop Judging Mothers for How They Gave Birth

By September 7, 2015 3 Comments
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 I have sat down to write this particular post several times. Each time I’ve spent more than half of the post justifying why I had an emergency c-section, and the steps I took to avoid a c-section in the first place. But that’s not the point I actually want to make. I think it says a lot that in a post that I’ve intended to be about how we can support mothers no matter how their children came into the world, I felt the need to justify that I really wasn’t “too posh to push.”

First, I’d like to take the entire concept of “too posh to push” off the table, because statistically it’s not a thing. If anything it’s “I’m posh, therefore I push,” with white women of higher socioeconomic status having a significantly lower c-section rate than other groups. *

But, again, that isn’t the point of this post.

Having an emergency c-section was the single worst experience of my life. It was physically and mentally traumatic. After having an epidural administered approximately 20 hours earlier, its effects had started to wear off by the time the decision was made. For the safety of my son they couldn’t give me any more pain medication in the operating room. The anesthesiologist called a time out, concerned that I wasn’t adequately numb.  I remember the OB saying “we have to go” and then feeling the incision. Let me be clear, I was in pain. I felt everything. Once my son was safely out I asked to be completely knocked out, but not before the stitching began.   I don’t regret the decision to be completely sedated.  I would not wish an emergency c-section on anyone.

I did find it difficult to bond with my son after my c-section, but NOT because we’d been separated for the first 30 minutes of his life (we’d been separated when I requested to be completely sedated). It was because the trauma of his birth was so overwhelming that I had a hard time reconciling this round-headed, chubby-cheeked cherub with how he had come into the world, and that made it difficult for me to bond with him.

Leslie in labor.

Leslie in labor somewhere around hour 18.

What I’ve found since my son’s birth is that my experience was not unique. If you ask any woman who has had an emergency c-section, she will likely tell you that they wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. An emergency c-section is not the easy way out as it is often characterized. It is traumatic, it is painful, and it is scary. It is an emergency life-saving procedure where the comfort of the mother is secondary to ensuring mother and baby survive.

In public health we’re all acutely aware that private decisions often have public consequences. When I told colleagues that I had an emergency c-section, I was typically reminded of the increasing c-section rate, and then asked to describe in minute detail what lead up to the procedure. They were trying to figure out if my emergency c-section was truly an emergency, or if my OB simply wanted to go home and catch The Daily Show at 11pm. I became another data point, which as a data nerd I understand to a certain extent, but sometimes in public health we can forget that our data points are people.

When I told friends how my son was born, I received one of two responses: 1. Empathy and commiseration from other women who experienced an emergency c-section or 2. Disdain from those who have given birth the old-fashioned way or who felt their c-sections were medically unnecessary. From the latter cohort, I’ve been told I did birth wrong, I gave up too soon, I wasn’t fully informed of the risks, I was taken advantage of by the medical profession. The most common and hurtful was that I took the easy way out. Let me assure you, after 26 hours of labor and feeling each individual stitch being made in each individual layer of my body, I can assure you that an emergency c-section is NOT the easy way out.

I have been in tears more than once after a well-meaning conversation with a friend or colleague who needed to tell me how badly I birthed my son. Something Julia and I say over and over again on this blog is that language matters. When we tell women that they didn’t do birth the right way, it breaks motherhood into two tiers: those who are “Mom Enough” and those who are not. The research shows that this judgment of mothers who have had c-sections is ripe among women, with mothers even judging themselves for giving birth the “wrong way.”

Perhaps the most stinging phrase I’ve heard since my son’s birth is one that mothers heap on themselves: their bodies failed them. This is usually accompanied by cries that their bodies let their babies down, fears that their children won’t love them as much because they weren’t able to birth them the “right way.” It breaks my heart when I hear women say it, because it says that their bodies were somehow less natural than other women. It says that at a base, biological level one woman is fundamentally less “female” than a woman who is able to give birth naturally.

This language cuts and we must stop using it against each other and ourselves.

Leslie and her son minutes after he was born.

Leslie and her son minutes after he was born.

It took me well over a year to mentally come to terms with my c-section.  I didn’t set out to do that.  In fact at one point I wasn’t sure I’d ever reconcile my birth experience, what others told me about it, and whether or not I had the mental fortitude to go through it again.  But several events eventually lead me to make peace with my son’s birth.

The first events were unfortunately tragic. A friend of a friend had a labor similar to mine, yet refused to consent to a c-section when it was recommended by the OB on-call. She was convinced the doctor was motivated to perform the c-section for selfish reasons. By the time she consented, her son was stillborn and couldn’t be revived. My friend reached to ask how she could support her friend who was wracked with guilt and grief. My only advice was to not judge her, because whatever my friend thought of her decisions, her friend’s own judgment would be ten times of what anyone could heap on her. The second event involved an acquaintance from high school who had a labor similar to mine. While she consented to a c-section promptly, the procedure was delayed and her son was also stillborn and could not be revived.

To be clear, these events were personally transformative, and that’s why I mention them here.  I don’t mention them to scare women into c-sections.  If you can safely push that baby out, then push that baby out! More power to you!  And it obviously goes without saying that c-sections and specifically emergency c-sections carry risks above and beyond a vaginal birth.  I say this because I know there is a contingency on the web that will be quick to accuse me sharing these two stories in an attempt to scare women into having unnecessary c-sections.  If that’s what you think, please re-read the third and fifth paragraphs of this post.

But, these two tragedies caused me to reframe my son’s birth from something I viewed as traumatic and less than ideal to “there but for the grace of god goes I.” These tragedies reframed birth in my mind from an end in itself, to a means to an end.

The next two events happened in close succession. I switched OBs during my current pregnancy and requested a copy of my medical records. When I read the c-section report it was like reading a hidden history. The first half read as I’d remembered the day progressing, but many of the details leading up to the procedure and the procedure itself I hadn’t been aware of. Those details made me realize the situation was much more serious than I’d been aware of at the time.  It also put my OB’s comment, “we have to go” into better context.  I’d always thought that his comment had more to do with wanting to keep to hospital policy and in/out times, but after reading the report I realized he meant that my son had to come out now, not five minutes from now.  Despite the trauma of the experience I’m grateful that he made that call.

Shortly after reading the report, and with the knowledge that I was pregnant again, a friend began to lecture me on how I couldn’t let my OB take advantage of me again in this delivery. She repeated the phrases I’d heard before, that I could do it right this time, that with more time and patience my body could do what came naturally.  This time, instead of focusing on the other person in the conversation and trying to validate what they were saying, I stood up for myself. I let them know how her language made me feel, how I felt about my birth, and that their judgment was extremely hurtful.

I expected the friend to get angry, to tell me how she was just trying to empower me to stand up to the medical profession, but what I got instead was a sincere apology. I think the moment was a bit of a wake-up for her as well.  I don’t think she’d realized how much the language she was using to encourage vaginal birth actually stigmatized women who’d had cesareans.

This issue around the language and ranking of birth doesn’t just extend to women who have had caesarian sections, but also to women who became mothers through surrogacy, adoption, or by step-parenting. We must stop defining each other by how we came to be mothers and instead value each other as partners in a shared, wonderful, maddening, frustrating but joyful journey.

Leslie, her husband and son when he was only a few months old.

Leslie, her husband and son when he was only a few months old.

* To be clear this is a vast overgeneralization of the issue. There are many, many factors that go into both an individual’s risk of having a c-section as well as traits and behaviors associated with demographic groups including access to prenatal care, nutrition and underlying medical conditions.

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

Child-Free By Choice: How Old Is Too Young for A Vasectomy?

By August 20, 2015 5 Comments
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Since I was a teen I was not interested in having children. I’m not a kid hater or parent hater, but that lifestyle was never something that appealed to me.  I like kids, I also like to hand them back to their parents at the end of the day.  The decision to be child-free is not something I grew out of as I aged, if anything I became more steadfast in my decision to not have children. As a result, I had decided around age 20 to pursue sterilization. I wanted a vasectomy.

That vasectomy took me 15 years.

Not for lack of trying.

Understand that I have always taken my sexual health very seriously and was not after a vasectomy as an easy way to get away from condom use. A vasectomy won’t prevent certain STDs the way a condom will.  My decision to have one was purely for birth control.  While I understand that sterilization has a permanence to it that other forms of birth control don’t, in my 15 year quest to have a vasectomy it seemed strange to me that I didn’t have the right to control my own reproductive health.  As a man, the only form of birth control outside of a vasectomy that I had at my disposal were condoms, and condoms are all well and good, but they aren’t as effective as a vasectomy.

Before I approached my doctor at age 20 to talk about a vasectomy, I did my research.  I had asked him about it previously in passing and I’d also made a purely informational appointment with a urologist to better understand the procedure.  I understood the effectiveness, side effects, consequences and permanence of my decision.

So, at 20 when I sat down with my doctor to talk about actually going through with the procedure, I made sure I was clear.  I explained myself, my wish never to have children, my research and my understanding of the permanence of my request.

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A comparison of the efficacy of birth control methods, c/o CDC.gov

My doctor countered immediately with the argument that I was too young, and “What if you meet someone who wants to start a family,” and something about how this is usually done when you are married and wish to have no more children.

Bottom line: “No. Come back later when you are older”. No defined time frame, just “older”.

At age 20, although I was headstrong, I never thought to argue or advocate for myself. I mean, you just don’t argue with your doctor right?

Life moves along. I was age 25 and had moved to another city. When I was settled in I found a GP and had a physical done, and again asked about a vasectomy.

Same response. “You’re not old enough, you’re not married with kids, come back when you are 30”. I also got a lecture on the use of condoms. I think my new GP thought I was trying to find a way to forgo condom use, which again, I was not.

When I was around 31 I had a new GP and was in a long term relationship. My then girlfriend also didn’t want to have kids so I thought that for sure I would have success this time around!

Denied. At least he was the nicest out of my doctors. He said that this was a permanent procedure and that most men requesting it were married and already had kids. I did argue a little bit, explaining my firm decision to remain child-free and that I’d asked for the procedure several times since age 20.  He asked me to wait a year, he’d put a note in my file and we’d talk. That seemed fair. Mostly, I just wanted to satisfy whatever arbitrary conditions there were.

Life got in the way.  I married my long-term girlfriend and we moved clear across the country.

Again, I had a new GP and I expected the same kind of brush-off from her that I’d received from my previous GPs. My current GP is a no-nonsense, very clinical sort of doctor. Logical and to the point. I like her. When I told her “I am interested in getting a vasectomy” and said I’d already done my homework she simply gave me a referral.

Since she gave me the referral, I’ve occasion to chat with her and asked about the vasectomy referral. I was specifically curious if she would have referred 20 year old me to the urologist. Her answer was simple. “Yes, you are a well informed patient, and have obviously done your due diligence, so if you were that way at age 20, why not?”

The visit with the urologist was great. He was also very matter of fact, straight up. He asked 2 questions. One: Do you have kids? Two: Is your partner is aware of the procedure?

His response to my child-free status was “That’s OK, I’ve met plenty of men not interested in having children”. I also asked him a few questions. He would have performed the procedure on 20 year old me, if I was as confident and well informed as 35 year old me. This was bizarre.  After being told for 15 years that I was too young, that I needed to wait, I was suddenly being told by two health care providers that they would have performed the procedure on me when I was 20.

After 15 years I finally was able to have the procedure and am confident that my wife and I will be child-free.

But I’m left with some nagging doubts about the path it took me to get here.  Is relative youth reason enough to deny someone the right to control their reproductive health?  Only about 5% of men who have had a vasectomy will ever have it reversed.  I can see my previous providers’ concerns about my age, as a study found that the younger a patient is when they decide on sterilization the more likely they are to try to have it reversed, but that’s still a very small percentage.  I also can’t help but wonder how skewed the numbers are right now, as 90% of those who have had vasectomies are married or are in long-term relationships.  I know that my vasectomy now falls into that category, even though I’d been trying to obtain it since I was 20.  While I know I’m not in the majority, I have to wonder how many men like me are skewing the data, thus making it harder for men like me to obtain a vasectomy before marriage and reaching an arbitrary age.

So I’m left wondering, what was it that lead doctor after doctor to deny me a vasectomy over 15 years?  Was it age, gender or were they placing their own morality above my medical wishes?  I’m not sure, but looking back, it sure seems like it was all three.

In retrospect I would have told 20 year old me to go and find another GP and to agitate and advocate more. Lesson learned, I am now my own fiercest health advocate, as I should be. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn

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Categories: Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

Rear-Facing Car Seats Until Age 2 … And Beyond

By July 22, 2015 1 Comment
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Several readers have written in to say that grandparents claim that keeping toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are age two (and beyond) is cruel or can damage the child’s legs. We tapped an expert for answers. – The Scientific Parent Editorial Staff

Why is rear-facing safer?

Instead of having your head pull violently away from your chest, as happens when you are forward-facing in a frontal crash, the rear-facing child is cradled in their seat in much the same way as you catch a fastball in a mitt. This video shows two 12-month-old crash test dummies each secured in the same car seat but one is rear-facing and one is forward-facing – watch how much the forward-facing dummy’s head and neck move – and remember that this video is slowed down tremendously as crashes happen quicker than the blink of an eye. For more on the physics behind why rear-facing is safer, see here.

Current Research and Evidence:

What seats are big enough for 2-year-olds rear-facing?
Convertible seats are ones that start rear-facing and then convert to forward-facing for older kids; kids typically start using a convertible seat rear-facing after out-growing an infant seat. The weight limit for rear-facing is now typically 40 pounds for most convertible seats, with several even going to 50 pounds rear-facing. The height limit is typically the same for most rear-facing seats – the child’s head must be at least 1 inch below the top of the car seat.

Common Questions from Parents + Grandparents:

DSC_0146-300x198What about their legs?
As kids get older, their feet will touch the back of the vehicle seat; this is both comfortable and safe. Ever wonder why a 5-year-old can sleep comfortably with his chin on his chest and never wake up complaining of a stiff neck? It’s because kids’ joints aren’t fully formed, which lets them sit comfortably in positions that would be painful for even a yoga master. For this reason, a 3-year-old can sit comfortably rear-facing with her legs crossed or in the “frog leg” position.

Other parents worry about leg injuries; studies show that forward-facing kids suffer many more leg injuries than rear-facing kids. The leg injuries to forward-facing children occur when the child’s legs fly up and hit the back of the front seat and the front seat moves backwards, compressing the child’s legs. Rear-facing kids will often go into a “cannonball” position during a frontal crash… meaning that however scrunched they might look, they end up super scrunched in the instant of a crash and we know that this does not cause injury.

My toddler wants to see out!
Rear-facing does not have to be boring! Older kids can ride quite upright so they can see out the side and rear windows. If there’s a head rest blocking your child’s view out the back window, you can usually remove it. By 9-12 months your baby knows you’re there when you talk to them from the front – even though they can’t see you. You can calm and entertain your child with songs and stories – and for older children games of “I spy” – all while they are rear-facing.

My toddler gets motion sick!
Volvo looked at several thousand pre-schoolers and found the same rates of motion sickness in those riding rear-facing as those riding forward-facing. Regardless of the direction your child rides, placing them in the center seat with an unobstructed view out the front/back window (and limited visibility out the side windows) will help keep the nausea away. See here for more info about how to help a child who gets motion sick.

My toddler gets bored!
Here are some toys and games for kids of different ages that are travel friendly.

The Car Seat Lady’s Recommendations

It’s not coincidence that flight attendants sit rear-facing. Rear-facing is the safest way for everyone to travel, not just babies. Therefore, it is our recommendation that children ride rear-facing until at least age 2 – and ideally longer, until reaching the maximum height or weight for rear-facing in their convertible car seat, which for most kids is around 2-4 years old.

Note that it is now law in a few states that children ride rear-facing until at least age 2.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Car Seat Lady website and can be found here.

Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention. Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics. 2011; 127: 788-793.
Henary B, et al. Car Safety Seats for Children: Rear Facing for Best Protection. Injury Prevention. 2007; 13 (6): 398-402.
Bull M, Durbin D. Rear-Facing Car Safety Seats: Getting the Message Right. Pediatrics. 2008; 121 (3): 619-20.
Watson E, Monteiro M. Advise Use of Rear Facing Child Car Seats for Children Under 4 Years Old. BMJ. 2009; 338: b1994.
Arbogast KB, et al. Injuries to Children in Forward Facing Child Restraints. Annu Proc Assoc Adv Automot Med. 2002; 46: 213-30.

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Ages + Stages, Newborns + Infants, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, Toddlers + Preschoolers

How Did E. coli Wind Up in Bottled Water? Spoiler Alert: Poop

By July 14, 2015 No Comments
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Just as summer started in late June, officials from Niagara, LLC initiated a large recall of their bottled water due to evidence of E. coli at the company’s spring water source. This was cause for concern for many people, including parents, as summer is when bottled water is a regular go-to and most in demand, and of course because E. coli has earned a (rightfully) bad reputation.

It may make your skin crawl to think about it, but on and in just about every living thing, there’s a whole host of naturally occurring microbes. This includes humans. That’s right, naturally occurring microbes have taken up residence in your skin and gut and you need them to live.

Eschericia coli or more simply E. coli is a naturally occurring and very important microbial resident in the digestive tracts of cattle, ruminants (sheep, goats and deer), mammals and birds. People often think that E. coli is a single type of bacteria, but in fact it’s a large and diverse group of microbes.

In animals, E. coli is classified as a commensal microbe, which means that the bacteria lives within these animals without causing disease and helps the animal’s digestive tract extract important nutrients from food. These bacteria, like the ones that live in our guts, eventually they die and are shed when the animal defecates (see: poops).

So, if E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria why is it a problem when it gets into the human food supply?

In 1982, a new subtype of E. coli was discovered in cattle that were very distinct from the standard E.coli shed by animals for the benefit of their health. This new subtype named 0157:H7 still lived in the animal’s gut and was shed through the same method (see: poop). In 1993 the new subtype was identified as the cause of a large outbreak of an illness that caused hemorrhagic diarrhea, kidney failure and even death. The common thread among all of the victims were that they’d consumed undercooked beef from a large fast food restaurant.

So if E. coli 0157:H7 lives in the guts of animals, how did it get into hamburger meat in 1993 and how did it get into the Niagara, LLC bottled water supply?

In 1993 the outbreak was traced to meat processing plants that lacked protocols to ensure that bacteria from the animal’s gut didn’t contaminate the meat used for human consumption. In terms of the issue with Niagara, LLC it comes down to how we handle poop: our own and that of animals.

Humans have built intricate sewage systems that handle our waste en mass, but the same cannot be said for animals such as cattle. During periods of heavy precipitation or snowfalls, E. coli can potentially be washed into bodies of water used for swimming and drinking. Another potential source for E. coli are from raising cattle. Human farming practices such as irrigation can carry animal waste from fields into close contact with crops and potentially into bodies of water used by humans.

E. coli infections with the serotype 0157:H7 are the most common cause of disease via the production of a shiga toxin. The toxin and the resulting disease can infect almost anyone but the very young and the elderly are most at risk. The primary symptoms are abdominal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. These populations can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure and death.

Niagara LLC acted very responsibly after learning that the potential for infection was present and began the recall. Their products reach a very wide customer base in multiple states through a number of retail outlets. Prevention is typically the best method of reducing chances of infection and these preventative methods are usually very simple.

  1. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, prior to and after preparing food and after changing diapers.
  2. Avoid swallowing water when swimming in lakes, rivers and kiddie pools.
  3. Properly handle and cook meats.
  4. Do not consume raw milk or unpasteurized juices.
  5. If you suspect that you or your child is sick, consult with your health care provider immediately.

These outbreaks do not occur as often but when they do, the effects have a major impact on the population at large. As consumers, we have to be very prudent in the choices we make and using the prevention methods at hand to keep our families safe. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn

 

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Categories: Food, Nutrition, + Infant Feeding, Infectious Disease + Vaccines

Which Fireworks Are The Safest This July 4th?

By July 2, 2015 No Comments
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When I was five years old, my neighborhood held a July 4 block party. I still remember snippets of the warm, sticky evening vividly. There were games for all the kids to play, and tables full of hamburgers, hotdogs, and sugary treats I ate with abandon, as my parents were too busy socializing to notice.

And then came the most thrilling part of the night. One of our neighbors handed all the kids a sparkler. I felt so lucky and happy to hold that spectacular, flickering stick in my hand. It was a mesmerizing, nearly magical moment. That is, until the sparkler fizzled out. To keep the fun going, I searched around for another sparkler, and snatched up one lying on the grass. The sparkler was no longer visibly burning, but the end I picked up was still searing hot. I can still remember the throbbing pain as the intense heat burned my fingertips. In an instant, my glorious July 4 evening came to an end. The pain from that sparkler lasted for days, causing blisters on my thumb, middle and pointer fingers.

While that injury didn’t cause long-term damage, the pain was so intense that I suspect it’s why I still remember the evening with such clarity.

Decades later I now work at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and I learned that sparklers – that celebratory stick often considered safe enough for young children to hold – burn as hot as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, wood burns at 575 degrees, and glass melts at 900 degrees.

Between my personal experience as a little girl and as a professional at NFPA, the thought of having my boys hold a sparkler is unthinkable. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) 2012 Fireworks Annual Report showed that in the month around July 4th, sparklers alone accounted for two out of five of the emergency room fireworks injuries.

Beyond sparklers, I would never let my boys use any type of consumer fireworks, nor would I let them go anywhere consumer fireworks are being used by other people. They’re simply too dangerous.

According to the CPSC report, three out of five of the fireworks injuries were burns, while one-fifth were contusions or lacerations. Two out of five people injured by fireworks were under the age of 15. The risk of fireworks injury was highest for the children under five, followed by children 10 to 14 years of age. Males accounted for 57 percent of the injuries overall.

Of course, I still plan to enjoy and celebrate July 4 with my boys just like everyone else at my town’s public fireworks display, which is put on by trained professionals. It’s the safest way to enjoy fireworks. And let’s face it, they’re more spectacular than any display you’ll see in someone’s back yard.

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse

Two Months After Whooping Cough: An Update from Tara Hills and Her Family

By and June 16, 2015 5 Comments
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We’ve received a lot of questions from our readers about the status of Tara Hills, the formerly anti-vax mother whose 7 children caught whooping cough, just a week before their updated vaccination schedule was supposed to begin. It’s been a couple of months since we’ve posted an update, so we interviewed Tara this week.

Read more about Tara’s story:
Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science – April 8, 2015
Whooping Cough is so Rotten, That We Couldn’t Post the Video – April 9, 2015
With 7 Kids in Recovery from Whooping Cough, Tara Hills Answers Your Questions – April 15, 2015

Here’s what she told told us:

So first up, even though it’s more than two months later we still get emails and messages asking about how your kids are doing now. How is everyone doing post whooping cough?

I’m touched that 2 months later people around the world care enough to ask about our family. Really touched. Physically everyone is well. The 7 kids responded to the antibiotic treatment and turned a corner within days. That cough is awful though and has lingered in our youngest. It can linger up to 12 weeks so we’re hoping it goes away soon. Mercifully no one went into respiratory distress so we don’t expect long-term damage.

Emotionally the kids are fine and life is normal again. I’m another story. I still think of this everyday. Painful reminders, what ifs, gratitude, self-consciousness as strangers say they ‘know me’. Many, many lessons learned the hard way.

How about how the medical community in Ottawa responded to you during and after the crisis? Did you feel any judgement from your doctor, the hospital or public health agencies?

They were excellent. We were assigned a nurse from Ottawa Public Health from day 1 when the results came back positive. She was our go-to through and after the crisis. She worked with us (over the phone) step by step, was very calm, helpful, and professional. We were in great hands.

Something which shocked Julia and Leslie was that other parents seemed to be understanding and supportive of you online, but both the pro-science and anti-vaccine communities seemed to have harsh words for you but for different reasons. Have you lost any friends in either camp due to your post?

Our story hitting international news was shocking and surreal. I was willing to ‘speak into the microphone’ even though I felt sick in front of such a huge audience. But we stood by our core message and still do. I stayed away from news comment feeds because I was too involved and overwhelmed with everything. It was all so “out there” so the harsh words didn’t affect me. Closer to home, all our key relationships were fine. Some friendships were strained temporarily and only 1 was lost, mostly due to disagreements with how I handled what was a very difficult situation for our family.

It was hard to hear the harsh judgement from the pro-science community. We thought they’d embrace us with open arms. We had already learned our lesson and booked the catch-up appointments. We expected the anti-vaccine community to react harshly to us, but to have the pro-science community rub our faces in a pile of shame was disgustingly unhelpful in advancing their cause. Some asked “what if it had been polio?” I know! Don’t you think I KNOW? That’s exactly why we shared our story and withstood the firestorm from every angle.

WC TimelineWere there any misconceptions that bothered you?

Some people have said that whopping cough is no biggie so they “aren’t convinced” or alarmed enough to reconsider examining the vaccine issue much less get their kids or themselves vaccinated. For most of our kids it wasn’t a nightmare, but it was awful for the youngest ones. The two youngest would cough so hard they threw up, none of us slept that week.

Our story was illustrative of a vaccine-preventable illness sweeping through one family. That’s why I shared our story in that context. Some people online dismissed it and acted like the whole thing was one big stay-cation for our family. That truly shocked me. I couldn’t believe that after hearing the sounds of our children struggling to breath through coughing fits they would dismiss the risk to infants. It was beyond shocking.

Waiting to make sure our 5-month-old niece and 2 immune-compromised family members were going to be okay was indescribable. I had so much guilt and fear, there are no words to describe the waiting to hear if our infant niece was hospitalized or worse, all because of us.

For me one of the most shocking things was people alleging there were ‘holes’ in my story and that I was a paid actress. Even more bizarre is that some people alleged that I was covering up a more scandalous truth. Are you kidding me? I would have given anything for our family to not have gone through what we did!

When you changed your minds about vaccines do you think (honestly) there was anything anyone could have said to you to change your mind?

Maybe? How they approached me would have made a huge difference. Respectfully validating and addressing versus sarcastically dismissing my concerns and questions would have made a difference. Building our trust through caring, patient dialogue would have helped. Just talking to me at all like an intelligent caring person would have helped.

If someone had said in a genuinely kind tone. “Tara, you are a great mom who loves her kids dearly. I know there is so much confusion about vaccines. I care about you and want to help you make a informed decision you feel really confident in. Would you be willing to share some of your concerns with me so we could go through them one by one? In the end it’s your decision. I want to make sure you are totally confident in your decision since it’s so important.” I would like to think I would have stepped willingly into that kind of conversation. There was no threat or attack that would trigger defensiveness.

It’s hard to talk to loved ones about vaccines. Hopefully our sharing will help people have those talks in a constructive way, guide them to a starting point they can relate to, and maybe help save some lives.

You said in an earlier post that the Disneyland measles outbreak was part of what contributed to your rethinking of your anti-vaccination stance. When you finally began your new wave of research, can you clarify how that happened, and how did you look for and find your information?

It had been building for some time. Seeing the hatred and fear towards people who didn’t vaccinate (like us) was alarming. I knew if push came to shove, and we lost the freedom to choose, we would have to be rock solid certain of our stance. So in February, I came out of the anti-vax closet by posting on my personal Facebook wall that I was that mom. That I felt caught between a horrible rock and terrible place. That somehow no matter how much I searched for solid answers I’d never really know. That it would boil down to a coin toss with our kids’ health in the balance. So I set out to prove we were right NOT to vaccinate. I had my kids’ health at stake and my pride to defend. So I started reading anti-vaccine books, publications, and popular sites to bolster my position. But I knew a fair trial demanded I listen to both sides. A public health advocate (The Scientific Parent’s Leslie Waghorn) suggested I list my key concerns/questions, and offered to go through them with me one by one. She disarmed my defensive posture by validating that it was okay to ask questions and even better to seek solid answers. Turns out that all my concerns boiled down to only a few key questions, which I addressed in my first Q&A.

Were your older children aware of your decision to stop vaccinating, and if so how did you talk to them about your decision to resume vaccination?

Our oldest (10) and I had discussed it back in February or March when she saw me doing a lot of research and reading about vaccines. So she had the backstory when the pertussis hit our family. I talked to her using an analogy of imaginary kids playing at our park. It went like this: What if after playing Johnny, Suzy came along and whispered “don’t play with Johnny. His family is dirty and will make your family sick!” What should you do? Just believe her words or go check her story to see if it’s true? How could you know for sure? Then I bridged to the vaccine issue, shared our story from when she was little, how all the Suzys were talking and we got scared and confused. We froze when we should have dug deeper for solid answers. A painful life lesson I hope our children will not repeat.

Do you have any advice for parents who are skeptical about vaccines or have questions?

That I commend them for taking the time and effort to focus on this vital part of parenting! To make sure to consider their biases and check their sources carefully and to not cherry-pick the information they like best. They should also talk to their doctors before making any decisions about vaccines. Our doctor was very understanding when we said we wanted to catch the kids up on their vaccines. We didn’t consult him before we stopped vaccinating because we were afraid of being judged or worse. I now wish I’d talked to him because he was very understanding.

 

– Edited by Leslie Waghorn and Julia Bennett

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines