Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Now? And Why Marcella?

A decade and a half ago, while pregnant with my first child, a friend encouraged me to research vaccines and make an informed decision. Until she mentioned this, I had no idea vaccines were a topic to be researched or a decision to be made. I thought they were just something everyone had to do. At that time, I had immersed myself in natural childbirth and was reading everything I could find to prepare myself for the birth. I hadn't thought so much about what would come afterwards. Following my friend's suggestion, I began to read everything I could find about vaccines--books, magazine articles, a little bit of research on the internet, although there wasn't much there back then. By the time our child was born, my husband and I had decided that we were not comfortable vaccinating him as a newborn, but that we would continue to research and would vaccinate if and when we found a compelling reason to do so. After fifteen years and literally thousands of hours of study, I am more confident than ever that we made the right choice. None of our children has ever received a vaccine, and all are healthy, bright, and free from the chronic health issues that plague their generation. In the meantime, I have also delved into my own medical history and discovered startling connections between my own childhood vaccinations and a host of health issues I have battled for most of my life. I firmly believe that my children are genetically predisposed to the same issues, and that their freedom from vaccines has spared them.

For all of these years, I have done my research privately, collecting books, articles, films, and hundreds of internet bookmarks, carefully chosen and viewed with the discernment of my research-based master's degree. While a few of my closest friends know where I stand, most of my friends, acquaintances, and even family members have no idea. This has been a private journey for me, my husband, and our children. That all changed on December 11, 2014.

On that day, a small sub-committee of the Michigan legislature voted in a rule change affecting non-medical vaccination exemptions in the state. With no warning, parents seeking a religious or philosophical exemption would now have to first go to a county health department office to be "educated" and would have to sign an unaltered standardized exemption form, rather than submitting a personal statement to the child's school as we had always done in the past. The announcement of the rule change came after a week of clearly targeted fear-mongering articles about vaccine exemptions in the local media. The rule change, passed without the input of the public or the full legislature, and in direct conflict with the state statute on vaccine exemption, went into effect January 1, 2015.

As soon as I heard about the rule change, I knew I had to take on a more active role. I joined forces with other concerned parents and with the 20-year-old Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines, and we launched a Facebook group that grew to over 1000 members in less than two months. I also joined several other vaccination-related groups to connect with other parents facing similar hurdles around the country. With the hastily applied new rule came a huge amount of misinformation from local health departments, ranging from obvious lack of training to blatant abuse of power. We quickly worked to counter the misinformation and help parents navigate the new rules.

My rapidly expanding social media horizons soon showed me some disconcerting harassment trends that led me to seek protection for my family. While I am confident in my research and have no hesitation about my decisions, my first priority is to protect my children. And so Marcella came to be. I chose my pseudonym in memory of Marcella Gruelle, daughter of Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann. The original Raggedy Ann was a faceless rag doll found in an attic. Johnny drew a face on the doll for Marcella, and told her stories about the doll and her playroom adventures.  Marcella died in 1915 at age 13, of complications from a smallpox vaccine given to her at school, without parental consent. Her grieving father went on to write and illustrate his Raggedy Ann and Marcella stories in her memory, and Raggedy Ann became a symbol of the opposition to forced vaccination. A century later, this conflict is still with us, and it is time for me to speak out.

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