The agony of a mother whose information could lose a friendship ... or more.
by Shireen Pigott
At some point Angie had started counting the friends she had lost and yesterday it was eleven. Today made twelve.
The voice on the other end of the line had been terse but resolute: "I'm sorry, but we can't have Tess over anymore until she is up-to-date on her vaccines." Angie noted the "we" and wondered wryly if her friend's husband had actually been a part of the decision. It didn't really matter. Tess was Angie's daughter and this made twelve lost friends for her. And now that she was five, she was starting to notice when friendships abruptly ended.
Angie had found herself on the wrong side of the vaccine war when she was pregnant and decided to investigate them. This wasn't unusual for her ... she was known and even teased for her methodical research habits but Dave, her husband, had come to appreciate the savings when it came to big-ticket items like their car and house. He hadn't appreciated it with regards to vaccines and he almost became the first friend lost when she proposed their child not receive any. Angie had been grateful for her early start as it took nearly two months to win his support. In the end it wasn't learning that vaccines had never actually eradicated diseases that convinced him1, nor was it the package insert listings of serious adverse events which included SIDS, anaphylactic shock and autism2. Nor was it a well-written article about the myth of herd immunity by an immunology expert3. What had got Dave's attention was learning that in the '80's legislation had been passed absolving pharmaceutical companies of any responsibility with regards to vaccine injury4. As a lawyer, Dave had experienced first-hand the unfortunate fact that litigation was often the only way to enforce responsibility on big companies--the only way to demand change if a product harmed customers. In an almost amusing reversal of roles, he had kept her up one night protesting the insanity of not only absolving pharmaceutical companies of responsibility, but also setting up the fox to guard the hen-house: leadership roles between pharmaceutical companies and the government agency assigned to oversee them consisted of a rotating cast of characters.5 Citing his favorite Latin phrase "cui bono" he pointed out the fraud rampant in the pharmaceutical industry6,7, gave Angie a hug and thanked her for her diligent research. Tess had been born the next day.
Since then support had been far and few between. Her parents had agreed to disagree, while Dave's mom made a point of expressing over-concern whenever Tess was sick, trying to guilt Angie into a doctor visit for every fever and cough. That had died down as over the years it became clear that Tess was more robust and had fewer illnesses than her vaccinated cousins, both of whom had severe allergies and eczema. Nonetheless, any conversation that veered toward correlating those things was quickly shut down.
Worse than family were the number of friends who slowly but surely withdrew from their lives. The reason was rarely addressed as abruptly as number twelve had done and for awhile Angie didn't catch on to why stroller walks and later park days were so frequently cancelled, until an embarrassing and awkward confrontation. She had decided to take her daughter to the park even though the three other members of her playgroup had cancelled. Pulling into the parking lot she caught sight of all three of them sitting at a picnic table. For one confused minute she just sat there, then quickly put the car in reverse to leave, but by then Tess had noticed her friends on the playground and was squealing to get out.
The tension at the table was palpable. A flimsy excuse was attempted that involved last-minute changes and being unable to reach her, but one finally came clean and admitted that they had decided to institute a vaccinated-kids-only policy. She suggested Angie find a non-vaccinated-only group--echoing a comment Angie had once made about vaccine shedding8 in a half-hearted attempt to sound concerned: "then you won't need to worry about Tess catching anything from our kids." The snarky comment jolted Angie out of her shock. Looking slowly from one mom to the next she said, "but I'm not the one worried about those diseases. You are." With that she rose, gathered Tess who miraculously came without a fuss, and walked back to her car.
Since then she'd tried to be careful about sharing her views on vaccines, but it was a challenge. Her greatest fear was that someone would hear of her views after a vaccine injury and say "You knew this could happen? And you said nothing?" She'd attempt different ways to address it without explicitely stating her own approach but inevitably the truth would come out and inevitably a line would be drawn in the sand.
The latest casualty was number twelve.
Tess squealed with excitement and raced around the island as Angie packed lunch--after a week of rain, cabin fever had set in for both of them. They frequented a different, smaller park now and sometimes there was nobody else to play with, but Tess was creative and rarely acted lonely.
Still-wet grass explained the nearly empty playground, but Angie spotted one small girl she did not recognize, going down the slide. The mother was sitting on a bench nursing a baby and looking at her with an inviting smile. Angie's heart leapt - a newcomer!
Three hours later they'd shared stories while their daughters had shared snacks. Sally had moved to town almost 5 months prior but a strain during the move had kept her bedridden for the last 3 months of her pregnancy. Her daughter Bella, a pale girl smaller than Tess though she was 6 months older, had been a preemie, which was why the doctor had been so cautious with her second, a boy who thankfully went full term. This was their first playground visit since the baby had been born 6 weeks ago.
When Angie tucked Tess in that night she was still bubbling over her new "bestest" friend and she asked Angie to help her pray that this one wouldn't move away. Angie held her daughter's hands and was glad she'd already turned down the light so Tess couldn't see the tears trickling down her cheeks. "She's moved away" was a white lie she told Tess whenever a friend stopped returning her calls. She didn't realize Tess remembered that it happened regularly. She silently promised her daughter it wouldn't happen again and made a private vow to keep vaccines out of the conversation at all costs.
Over the next few months Angie managed to avoid the topic. When Sally complained about the number of vaccinations or a fever and crying following vaccines, Angie sympathized, and left it at that. Her heart would ache for little Jasper but a glance out the window or across the park at her blissful daughter would steel her reserve. She taped the words to an old Kris Kristofferson song beside her desk:
If you waste your time talkin' to the people who don't listen,
To the things that you are sayin', who do you thinks gonna hear.
And if you should die explainin' how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin', who do you think's gonna care?
There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
'Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.
She wouldn't let Tess be crucified any longer over her own compulsion to tell what she knew.
She avoided thinking about the last refrain where the singer challenges that belief:
If I never have a nickel
I won't ever die ashamed
'Cause I don't believe that no one wants to know
One day Sally was distraught. Shots were due tomorrow and Jasper was still on antibiotics for an ear infection. He'd been clingy and irritable and Sally was worried about burdening his little body even more. She'd called to reschedule the appointment but had given in to the nurse's obvious irritation that if they rescheduled every time he was sick he'd never get all his vaccines in time. It was an exaggeration and Sally knew it, but she didn't know what to do. "I feel guilty if I take him in and terrified if I don't!" she wailed.
This was Angie's opening, her chance to come clean and gain an ally. It was time to share what she knew. She would start with what was most pressing ... Jasper's shots tomorrow. She would point out that with his immune system compromised his body could be taxed attempting to detox the adjuvants and battle the viruses injected to stimulate his body's defenses. She wasn't sure she'd bring up the connection between vaccines and SIDS9, vaccines and autism10, and government/pharma company complicity in covering those things up11,12 ... no reason to panic Sally, she just needed to buy time for her to research.
Angie finished filling tea cups and brought them to the kitchen table. "Well, ..." that was all she got out before the girls rushed in clamoring for juice and a snack. Angie cut an apple into slices and put it on a plate with cubes of cheese while Sally filled their cups and then shooed them back outside. With a smile she brought Angie back on topic "well ... ?" They were used to these interruptions and had learned to continue threads of conversation without a hitch.
But Angie took this interruption as a warning--a gift of grace to remind her what was at stake. Time and again this same topic had resulted in broken hearts--hers and Tess'. She couldn't, she wouldn't fail again. She sipped her tea to buy time and reformulate her answer. "Well ... maybe you should pray about it. I've got a lot of faith in mother's instinct and it is your decision, you know."
That was ambiguous enough. If Sally sensed she'd changed what she meant to say, she didn't let on and when the visit ended an hour later Angie was satisfied that she'd given good advice without compromising herself. That lasted only until morning when she woke with the shameful realization that she'd been a complete coward and selfish. She called her friend but got voice mail. Half an hour later she received a text: "was driving, at docs now, will call when home."
Had Sally mentioned the appointment was first thing in the morning? Angie couldn't for the life of her remember that. Suddenly it felt urgent to get her friend's attention ... but how? This wasn't the kind of message you could text: "Stop vaccines immediately ... will explain later." She finally settled on "been thinking of your concerns about the vaccines ... you really should hold off until you feel completely comfortable." Heart pounding she hit send and prayed Sally would see it before it was too late.
Her concern was rewarded that afternoon with a call. "Thanks for your text, it came just in time," Sally sounded breathless with excitement, "I was still on the fence while I was in the waiting room. Your text came just before I got called in and it gave me the strength to say thanks, but we'll wait till he doesn't have an ear infection. You should have seen the nurse's face ... if looks could kill!"
"Sorry I didn't mention it earlier but I've been wanting to tell you ..." Angie stopped when she realized Sally was still talking.
"I wish I could have done the same for Bella though ... she got her 5 year shots and she's been whiny and clingy since we got home. She finally went down for a nap, poor dear."
"5 year shots ... ?" Angie's voice trailed off.
"You know, the ones required for kindergarten, and they added a flu shot ... I would have delayed that one too but Jasper distracted me just then." Sally's voice was bubbling with her new-found confidence. She paused then seemed to realize she'd interrupted Angie ... "sorry, what were you wanting to tell me?"
"Well actually, I'd been, um ..." Angie's voice trailed off again. She hadn't planned to discuss this over the phone, but she'd been swept up in Sally's excitement and now she was caught off guard. Besides, it sounded like Sally had been searching for assurance that she could delay shots, not necessarily stop them. Flustered and unable to think of something else, she came clean: "I'd been meaning to tell you ... we actually don't vaccinate."
The silence that followed was undoubtedly shorter than it seemed. In that eternity Angie wished a thousand times she could take back her comment. When Sally finally spoke her bubbly excitement was gone: "why haven't you mentioned that before?"
"It's just, I dunno it seems like such a personal decision and so many people seem offended when I bring it up ..." Angie knew she sounded pathetic. Her strength and resolve, her passion for truth, her deep conviction that she was doing the best thing for the health of her child dissolved in the fear that she had just lost her another friend.
Sally was quiet a bit longer, then Angie heard a crash in the background followed by Jasper's unmistakable howl. "Gotta run, talk later," and Sally was gone.
Angie was on pins and needles for the rest of the day and Tess seemed to sense her agitation. It made for a stressful evening and her husband went straight to bed while she was putting Tess down, so she settled in the bathtub to think things through.
Surely Sally wasn't mad at her? She'd avoided vaccinating Jasper while he was sick and was grateful to Angie for her advice, wasn't she?
Surely she wasn't going to discard their friendship over any imagined diseases Tess might be carrying?
Surely her tone had been interested, not judgmental?
Her questions unanswered, Angie slept fitfully and woke unrefreshed.
It was the day of their long planned and twice-rescheduled zoo visit. It would be a good opportunity to talk, with Jasper in the stroller and the girls focused on animals. Angie packed lunches and they headed to Sally's. She and Tess were walking up the driveway when an ambulance pulled up, siren blaring. The front door burst open and Sally's husband rushed out carrying Bella. Sally followed holding Jasper, her face streaked with tears. The firemen pulled out a cot, gently took Bella from her father and laid her down. Immediately one put a mask over her face and a second started CPR. Angie picked up Tess to comfort her and turn her away from the scene. She prayed her daughter hadn't seen her friend's face, perfectly still and ashen, with grey blue lips. Angie could not breathe. Though her mind was screaming please save her, her heart knew that Bella would not be coming home.
Sally handed Jasper to her husband and clambered into the ambulance after her daughter, her shocked glance resting on Angie for just a second as she did.
In the deafening silence that followed the fading siren Angie could hear a distant roar that grew and grew until she thought she'd go mad from the noise of it, the shame of it, the guilt of it. The words Sally didn't utter but that one brief glance said in no uncertain terms:
"You knew this could happen? And you said nothing?"
Though a work of fiction, due to the controversial nature of this story, the author has chosen to include references.