I missed the memo about mother’s milk, medicine, and measles.
Recently, my family endured another wave of stomach flu. It wasn’t as epic as the Great Flu of 2006, but it was pretty bad. We all had some symptoms, but my 2-year-old and I seemed especially hard hit. My poor little guy…he started getting sick on his birthday of all days, which seemed especially cruel given he’d had Roseola last year on his 1st birthday. The kid cannot catch a break.
In the midst of trying to manage what was coming out of his orifices, I was also working on what was going in…since he’s now 2 and all, I’ve been trying to coax him in the direction of weaning. This meant that Daddy has taken over the nighttime routine to try to break the bedtime boob habit. And we’d been making some progress. But as his flu symptoms persisted, I knew my son needed to be with me. And I needed to be with him. I needed to hear him breathe, to hear if his tummy gurgled, or if he made that weird popping sound that comes a split second before he barfs.
This experience with my son’s recent illness called to mind a really amazing moment on a great show, BBC’s Call The Midwife. In the particular episode I’m thinking of, an immigrant mom of many has had a premature baby. She’s sick and so is the baby. As was customary for the show’s time and place (post-war, East End of London), the baby had been born at home, and as the characters worry over his health, they entreat the mom to go with him to the hospital. Her response slayed me:
“I’m his hospital.”
I think for all parents, but maybe moms especially, this is just gut-true. Kids come from our bodies, and we heal our kids, with milk, with the comfort of our softness, with everything we’ve got.
Now in the case of a garden variety stomach flu, I’m probably all the medicine my son would need. In point of fact, the only things a child with stomach flu really needs are someone to do his disgusting laundry, bring him beverages, and offer gentle assurances that, despite all outward appearances, death is not imminent. These are things I am well-qualified to do.
And this brings me to the current state of affairs involving measles. I think most parents are equipped with an instinct for survival and nurturing that they channel in a mostly constructive way to protect their kids. I think this is why that “I’m his hospital” line resonates so much. But I also think that instinct can get morphed into a pretty dysfunctional sort of arrogance. Yeah, no one knows my kids better than I do, but no one knows about vaccines better than, um, scientists. And scientists are fallible and sometimes disagree among themselves, I get it. But I believe in vaccines. And not the way my kids believe in Santa Claus. I believe in vaccines the way I believe in seat belts. Because just like seat belts, the overwhelming truth of the matter is that vaccines are safe and they work.
If my kids were not vaccinated, no amount of breast milk or wishful thinking would offer them any protection from the measles outbreak. Sometime’s a mother’s love is all a child needs, but sometimes what they really need are routine immunizations. Shots administered and memo received.