Wanted: negligent mom

My 9-month-old daughter sat on my lap as I planned my defence.

I hold to a few alternative theories about infant vaccinations and I had a growing suspicion that I was about to be court martialled for them. After a long silence, the nursing sister turned her cold eyes upon me. She had missed her calling as a lieutenant captain in the South African Airforce and had settled for being a nurse at my local clinic.

‘You are 6 months late for your daughter’s 10 week vaccination.’ She accused, tried and convicted me, in one short sentence.

Now, it wasn't so much that I was negligently late, but that I was indecisive. I had heard that infant vaccinations had been linked to health complications later in life and so I wasn’t yet sure whether I would do them all. I was still busy weighing up my options when I was faced with a nurse who did not take kindly to the notion of options.

I found myself wishing I had dressed a bit more authoritatively - traded in my slops for high heels, scraped my hair into a bun instead of letting it hang in my eyes. I wished I looked a bit more like a real mom, instead of looking like a teenage hippy who needed to be told what to do.

The nurse banged a few bottles, slapped a few pieces of paper and jabbed a few needles before dismissing me.

I did have the courage to return a few months later for my daughter's 14 week vaccination. I was dressed a bit smarter, I had read the Patient’s Rights Charter (the bit about me having a right to a health care provider who was courteous, patient and empathetic) and I was armed with a genuine request: ‘Please can you give me just the Diphtheria Tetanus part of the DTP injection.’

A friend’s infant had had convulsions after his DTP injection and some research suggested that the Pertussis part of the vaccination could have caused it. The nurse's eyes narrowed into tiger slits, ‘The D. T. P.’ she fired each consonant through my hot air theories, ‘comes as one unit. We do not split it up.’

After that, I moved towns and tried a new clinic. This time I was 2 months late for my second daughter's 10 week vaccination. ‘You must come on time. These injections have to follow on each other exactly. If there is too large a gap they are ineffective.’ The nursing sergeant stared me in the eye - every button was shining, every badge was polished, every lapel was stiff. She didn't look the type with whom that I could share my new theory: delaying your child’s vaccinations helps their immune system develop. So in the end, all I said was ‘sorry.’

Leaving the clinic, I resolved to keep my medical theories under wraps and I resigned myself to visiting a new clinic every few months. Assuming that my previous nurses didn’t put up a Wanted: Negligent Mom poster around town, I could probably go unnoticed at each late vaccination appointment.

Defeated and submissive, I arrived 3 months late for my second daughter’s 9 month injection. I started to explain. ‘Oh, don't worry,” the nurse interrupted laughing, ‘I’m a few months late for my own child's vaccination.’ She smiled, she patted, she bustled around, she dished out teddy bears and she chatted. ‘There you go. That's all done. There might be a little fever, but she’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a few weeks then.’

‘Wow, you sure will,’ I thought. ‘I’m coming to you for my first-born, second-born, third-born and unborn children’s vaccinations. And what's more, you are so nice, that I might even come on time.’

Which situations make you feel judged as a parent?

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