Today was vaccine day for Maya. And because Maya is autistic, vaccine day is always super charged for us.
Now before you go thinking that this blog post is going to be some diatribe about vaccines and autism, think again. This mother of an autistic child believes in vaccinations. I have read lots of support both pro and against vaccines and lots of the pseudo science and wishful parents who believe, despite no reputable scientific evidence, that vaccines do not cause autism. I personally believe that parents who believe still in this relationship, are driven more by their need to have an explanation for autism than for any evidence of a connection between vaccines and autism. But to each his own. My purpose here is not to convince anyone of my own beliefs, I believe that parents should choose what is right for their kids themselves and if they truly believe that not vaccinating is right for them and their kids, I don't agree but it's fine with me.
I just want to be clear that this post is not going to be some cry out against vaccines or some I-heart-Jenny-McCarthy-stump-speech.
I have an autistic child and I vaccinate her because that is the right choice for our family.
Now that we are done with that, I will tell you that my belief in the good of vaccines is not enough to protect my daughter from not being completely traumatized when it is time to get a vaccine.
I took her this morning. In the Netherlands vaccines are regulated by the public health department and not your own physician. They notify you by mail at the right ages and arrange the vaccines. When Maya was smaller, these were held at the well-baby checkups and annual physicals. But now this age they have all the 8 year olds in your municipality come and get the vaccine in some pre-selected date and location.
I had prepared Maya for the shot and she had said at home last night that she didn't want to do it but she got ready easily this morning and she believed me when I told her it would be over in a second with just a little pinch and it was no big deal. When I told her that I, and her daddy also got the same vaccines when we were 8 years old that seemed to calm her. About 15 minutes later when it started to sink into her she came and asked me if Oma (Leo's mom) had brought Leo to get the shot the same way I was going to take her. When I said yes, she was pretty relaxed about it and even though I didn't know how she would react (her last shot was at age 4) but I figured I had done as much as I could and whatever would happen in the morning, I would just go with it.
Maya has matured enormously in her coping skills and with her anxiety. A couple months prior when we had to be tested for tuberculosis, she was scared, but just by staying with her, explaining what would happen, she grudgingly and without a lot of drama did what was required. So, with that in mind, I knew she would cry after the shot but other than that I figured it would go smoothly.
Boy, was I wrong.
This morning Leo dropped us off at this gymnasium about 2 miles from our house. We arrived before our designated time because I figured earlier was better, perhaps less crowded and earlier is always better for Maya. When we got there the line was out the door and winding into the parking lot. Joy!
We got out and Maya brought her stuffed animals and a plastic basket (which she calls their car seats, they are not allowed to ride in the car without them) and we got in line. In pure Maya fashion, she kept her hand in my arm, a bit afraid and not wanting to let go of me. I showed her the kids coming out of the gym and I showed her that they looked happy, that they had just gotten a shot and reassured her that everything would be okay. I did deftly block her view of the one little girl who came out crying. The woman behind me in line with her son started talking on the phone and said in Dutch to whomever she was talking to, that the woman in front of her (me) was making too big a deal over it and fussing so much. I just love it when people assume, because they hear me speaking English with my child that I don't speak or understand Dutch. I thought of wiping the floor with this woman but decided to take the high road.
The line moved pretty quickly and actually we only waited about 15 minutes in total. There were 15 vaccine stations set up in the gym and when you entered, someone from the health service told you what line to stand in. I have to say that with that, it was very well organized and things moved quickly. So there is such a thing as European efficiency. It shows itself apparently only in vaccinations
When Maya saw the vaccine stations she started to cry softly and I had to pull her by the arm to go wait at our line. I tried to reassure her, I showed her the boy at the station, that he wasn't crying, and look how quickly it was over. I showed her again when the person directly in front of us went, a little girl. That it only took a second and it was over and look no crying. Maya's crocodile tears came and she started talking really fast, like she does when she is upset saying "no, I don't want to, I don't want to, I want my daddy, I want to go home, I don't want to, I want my daddy, I want to go home." Still, I figured she would sit on my lap, struggle a little but get through it.
When it was our turn we walked over, there were two nurses and and admin person there. They asked me for my paperwork, her vaccine booklet and her ID. Maya stood there shaking her head furiously. I whispered to both nurses that Maya was autistic. One of the nurses told me very kindly that for special needs kids it was possible to arrange for someone to come to the house and give her the vaccine (now you tell me, thanks). I thanked her but said that I thought it would be okay and that it would be better just to get it over with. They suggested it would be better if I would put Maya on my lap but first we had to get her shirt off. Maya who was crying, muttering and shaking wrapped her arms around herself. I tried to coax her to put her arms up but she kept crying and saying, "no mommy, no mommy, no mommy" I tried for about 2 minutes to get the shirt off but Maya is very strong and she kept fighting it and by then she was screaming at the top of her lungs, "no mommy, please don't make me do this!"
At that very moment the 200 sets of eyes that were in the gym turned in our direction. And it got noticeably quiet.
And then I started crying too.
We got the shirt off and I put Maya on my lap. She was flailing her arms and trying to get up. It took all my strength to keep her sitting down. Her arms were still going furiously. The administrator got up from the other side of the table and came to sit in front of Maya. She talked very sweetly to her and tried to get Maya's attention, no avail. Maya was completely unreachable, just a screaming flail of arms and legs.
I was reminded of the scenes from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest, anytime someone had to go for electroshock therapy.
The nurse who had the needle asked me if we wanted to stop and I told no, that it would be more traumatic to put her through it again. I said let's figure out a way to hold her arms still, because I needed my arms to keep her sitting and then just stick in the needle. A man from the neighboring vaccine station came over and held her arms still and the nurse put the needle in.
I tried to tell Maya it was all over, but she was still letting out these blood curdling screams and not at all in touch with what was happening.
I let go of her and stopped to wipe my mascara laden black tears off my face.
The nurses gave me back her vaccination book. I thanked them and picked up Maya's coat, shirt, stuffed animals, my bag and tried to get Maya to come. She was still crying really hard but at least the screams had stopped. I pulled her over to the side of the room where the bleachers were all folded up and hugged her, I told her she was brave and that it was all over. I somehow managed to get her shirt on over her cries, tears and trembling and then I just put my arms around her for about 5 minutes to try and calm her.
A man who was standing near us waiting for his son to get his shirt and coat back on looked at Maya who was crying and shuddering and said to me in Dutch, "at 8 years old she should know how to behave by now."
I looked up at him, with Maya still in my arms and answered back in English, "Shut. Up." The Dutch equivalent just doesn't sound as good.
So much for the high road.
About 5 minutes later, when Maya stopped crying enough to be able to listen I asked her if she was ready to go and she said very softly "let's get out of here." So I took her by the hand. I told her it was all over and that I know it was hard but she was still very brave. She didn't answer, just walked woodenly with me, her fingers intertwined with mine.
I decided to walk home rather than taking the bus. I thought the fresh air might do her some good and it wasn't all that far, it was dry outside and I thought Maya could use the time to come back to herself.
For the first mile I did all the talking. Maya is a constant chatterbox, so for her to say nothing for long is a big deal. Her face was pale and splotchy from crying and she just wordlessly followed me except for about every two minutes a tear would drop and she would say "I don't want to, I don't want to." as she was replaying the recording of the trauma again and again in her head. I reassured her that it was all over. And that when we got home she could play or do anything she wanted. She just shook her head and said nothing and once in a while blurted out again, "I don't want to mommy, I don't want to."
That photographic mind of hers is sometimes like a newsreel loop on CNN that they play over and over again and try to sell as breaking news.
Finally after about 15 minutes we were more than halfway home Maya spotted a shell on the sandy grass, it was a teeny tiny conch shell. Maya then asked me if I saw the shell. She told me it was a conch shell and that conchs help to keep the ocean clean. I asked her how she knew that and she said she watched a program on tv about it with her dad.
I have no earthly idea if they really do help keep the ocean clean but I was glad that she was starting to move past the trauma. As we walked on toward home Maya started talking about he crocuses on the grass, which are starting to die to give way for the daffodils that will hopefully appear soon. She started her chit chat, "purple ones and white ones, and look mommy those crocuses are sleeping" as she pointed to crocuses that hadn't yet bloomed. She then started telling me that you had to water flowers or they would die and that she wanted to water the flowers in the back yard but there were no flowers yet. "Why are there no flowers yet mommy? I told her that in our backyard we have roses and hydrangeas and they will only come in the summer when it is warmer outside. She promised me she would water them really good. And then she talked about grass, and the trees and that the sun was behind the clouds.
I was grateful that my Maya was coming back.