Monthly Archives: October 2009

Swine Flu: Just Another Chance for Women to Fail Each Other

I posted a blog about the swine flu vaccine on BlogHer the other day. The vitrolic response was more than a little dismaying. Here’s my response…

Most days its all quiet on the western front. My two teenagers get along, even enjoy each other’s company. My pre-teen does what he can to fit in with his older and thus, by definition, cooler siblings. But some days fighting breaks out. Bombs are lobbed into the air, explosions rock the house. On these days, I find it best to hide from the warfare around me. Yeah, that makes me a chicken but I’ve learned from great war literature that heroes die and the spineless come home.

So, when the latest female warfare erupted, when female bloggers were sending snarky, degrading,dismissive comments to other female bloggers –in essence, bullying each other– I found myself doing what comes naturally, hiding. I’ve seen it before. It starts somewhere around middle school and later in high school when girls decide the enemy is no longer boys but each other. I saw it on my first job working as a fundraiser for a legal advocacy group for women. Our honorary board member, Betty Friedan, told me over dinner I was too “pretty” to be a feminist.  I saw it in my first corporate job, when women whose heads were bumping up against the glass ceiling preferred mentoring the bright young men to the bright young women below them. I saw it when I became a mother  and I continued to work outside the home. The stay-at-home mothers had nothing good to say about my choice. I saw it when, after the birth of my third, I decide to stay home for a few years and my still working for pay friends shook their heads in dismay: “What a waste,” they said.

And now, I see it with the Swine flu vaccination debate. Instead of turning our anger at a health care system in capable of handling the hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions) of sick children (and their parents) across the nation, a vaccine delivery system that has failed miserably leaving the vast majorities who want to be vaccinated at risk, and a government that is hoarding Tamiflu in case we need it, we fight amongst ourselves.

We castigate women who send their children to school when they show signs of illness, even though these sisters might lose their jobs if they stay home with their children.  We accuse each other of failing the social contract for not vaccinating despite the fact that the evidence is proving the vaccination is unnecessary (or perhaps more aptly irrelevant because we can’t get it!). According to the CDC only 530 lives have been lost to Swine Flu despite the 5.7 million cases recorded. Those lives lost are tragic reminders that death lives amongst us but is that a reason for women to make each other the enemy?

Let’s get mad at those in power that tell us we are failing if we don’t vaccinate and then fail to give us enough of the serum to do so. Let’s get mad at the media for creating a sense of hysteria (you know that word, don’t you? It comes from Greek and refers to women who are overly excited, specifically whose wombs are desperate and thus, who simply can’t think for themselves…but I digress) around a health issue related to our children. Let’s get made at those who have made motherhood a profession, something we women must spend our time, twenty-four/seven, at the expense of our careers and ourselves (read Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety if you really want to get mad).

Let’s stop creating more reasons to belittle, demean, and divide women. Let’s stop lobbing bombs and start crawling out of our trenches to support one another. Let’s do it for ourselves, for each other, for our children. That would be the best vaccine around.


What’s A Good Mother To Do?

This blog was originally posted on BlogHer.

I’ve been good mother. I done what I can to keep my children safe. They eat mostly organic fruits and vegetables, and tuna only occasionally. They bike with their helmets and usually with me. School maybe only eight blocks away but I would never let them go alone. They wear

The Good Mother's Reward

shin guards and sunblock. They know our emergency earthquake plan and have memorized their out-of-state relatives’ phone numbers. They don’t have mercury fillings and I try to keep the x-rays down to a minimum. When it was time to vaccinate, I did, but on a much slower schedule to reduce lingering risk.  When they are sick, which is rare because I keep them healthy with regular doses of vitamin C, vitamin D, and a variety of my favorite chinese herbs, I tend to them with the focus of mother lion protecting her cubs. I try not to hover but they tell me they can hear my helicopter even in the dead of night when I insist on leaving their doors open just in case they need me.

But let me tell you, this swine flu thing has me stumped. The news is replete with stories of healthy people who are dying, pregnant mothers who have suffered months in comas, children who suffer needlessly. Just vaccinate we are told and all will be well. Then of course the internet is filled with horror stories of the risks of vaccination. “The manufacturer has not done enough testing.” “The last swine flu vaccination actually killed people.” “It’s a conspiracy!” one email declared. “The government is in cahoots with the pharmaceutical companies in an effort to boost sales.” And by the way, you can’t call it swine flu anymore, its H1N1(the new designation advocated on behalf of the pork industry whose lobbyists worried the negative association would affect their sales: score another one for the conspiracy theorists).

The media has me in a tizzy. Do I vaccinate my children even though the serum has not been fully tested? Do I risk the chance that they will get this horrible disease? And then, I learn there isn’t even enough vaccination to go around. A recent article in the New York Times declared that good mothers vaccinate but limited supplies are rendering we good mothers failures because we can’t properly care for our little angels.

You can imagine my deep anxiety when not one but two of my children recently came home complaining of aches and pains. First, my son showed up one afternoon having skipped his cross country practice declaring he wasn’t “feeling too hot.” He had a fever of 103. I sent him to his room where he spent the next four days battling a high fever, a sore throat, a headache, and a mild cough. He returned to school on the fifth day, fever free but still coughing and weak. His illness reminded me of the flu the entire family had three years before. Horrible, but not life threatening.

A week later, my daughter complained of a sore throat and earache. She was also nauseous and suffered mild diarrhea. She too stayed home for four days. She never had a fever but was uncomfortable. In both cases, the doctor diagnosed H1N1. She told us that it was a waste of time to get a blood test. In 100% of the cases her office had sent to the CDC for testing in the past month, no matter the symptoms, the patients had Swine Flu. “If you are sick right now, you have it,” was our doctor’s conclusion.

Both my son and daughter survived the H1N1. They are weak and tired but they’ll live.   The good news is my youngest son has not gotten sick – yet. Do I vaccinate him now? Do I wait to see if he will get it? What if something really bad happens? What if he is the one in a thousand? Tell me, what’s a good mother to do?