Too many parents make fear-based choices. Here’s why we shouldn’t, how language affects our thinking, and how to stand up for our rights.
Why Choices Are Important
I wanted to go a little bit of a different way with today’s post. Most of this week’s posts have been sheerly practical — and I promise you this one will be, too, at the end. But the thing is, we — the alternative world — keep running into this idea. The idea that we really shouldn’t have the right to choose for ourselves or our families.
This crops up in so many different ways:
- Whether or not to vaccinate
- Whether or not to go to well-child visits
- Where to give birth
- What type of medicine to use for illnesses (especially in children)
- …and more
Basically, we’re told we shouldn’t get to decide. Worse, in some cases, we’re not given a choice. If your child has cancer, you cannot explore any alternative treatments — you must follow the currently accepted mainstream protocol, or face having your child removed from your care. This happens even if your child is a teenager who can think rationally and speak for him/herself. Plus, several families have had their children removed from their homes for questioning a doctor’s recommendation even over a less-serious situation.
This is scary, for families who choose alternatives. But today I don’t want to address the legal considerations (that’s a hugely long discussion in and of itself and a subject for another day). I want to talk about the importance of having a choice, the language that we use surrounding choice, and how we can make decisions that are not fear-based.
Why We Should Not Choose Based on Fear
Too many parents make decisions based on fear.
Honestly, it’s true. I get into discussions with parents all the time where I hear comments like this:
- “I’m getting my child vaccinated because I’m too scared of the illnesses he could get, that he could die from if I didn’t do it.”
- “I take my child to well visits in case someone ever calls CPS on us — we need a paper trail to prove that we didn’t medically neglect our child.”
- “I’m not vaccinating my child because I’m afraid of what vaccines could do to his developing body.”
- “I don’t let my kids play outside alone, ever, because a kidnapper might come by and take them.”
These honestly aren’t rational decisions. Maybe the parents who say these also have perfectly logical, rational reasons (I’m not judging, I don’t know), but these specific statements are fear-based.
There are a million things to be scared of out there. We can’t prevent all the bad things from ever happening. What we need to do is honestly evaluate our particular needs, circumstances, and all of the facts out there, and then make a conscious, well-reasoned decision about what is best for our children. The ultimate answer is not going to look the same for every family — not even close. But we still need to make decisions based on what is best for our families based on information and not “what if” we do otherwise (fear).
For example, we’ve chosen to have our babies at home. So far three have been born at home, and our fifth baby will be too, barring any complications. We’ve heard “But what if something goes horribly, tragically wrong and you require a doctor’s intervention within 30 seconds or you/the baby die? Then what? If you’re at home it’s over.” Could that happen? I can’t rule it out. Is it likely? Goodness, no!
There is a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal, almost non-existent chance that something that serious would happen that quickly. If it was really that bad, there is no way to know if I or the baby could be saved even in a hospital setting — we’d have to page a nurse, set up an OR, etc. What’s much more likely, especially since I’ve had no complications in any pregnancy thus far, is that our baby will be born safely at home. However, in a hospital, I’d be more likely to be rushed, offered Pitocin and/or an epidural, told my water needed to be broken to “move things along,” denied the use of a tub during labor, etc. (That all happened during my first birth.) Looking at my specific situation, the greater risk to me and my baby definitely lies with a hospital birth.
I can’t say that your risk-benefit scenario on that specific situation would look the same as mine. But that is absolutely true, for me. A hospital birth is riskier than a home birth. And I won’t make a decision about where to birth based on the itty-bitty “what if” while ignoring the very real, likely outcomes in both settings.
The Language That Surrounds Choice
The mainstream plays into our fear far too much, unfortunately. The language that we use surrounding “choice” is a major part of that.
They (mainstream) figure if they can’t talk you into something rationally, or get you to do it because “that’s just what everyone does,” that they will scare you into doing it by saying things like “But your baby could die if you don’t.” (It’s really, really terrible to say that if it’s not truly a life-or-death situation, which is almost never the case.)
This leads to parents saying the following:
- “My doctor won’t let me…”
- “The hospital/practice doesn’t allow…”
- “I don’t think the school will let me…”
Do you see that? ” “Let.” “Allow.”
It’s an appeal-to-authority. We have to ask them for “permission.” Permission to skip our child’s upcoming well visit. Permission to skip or delay some or all vaccines. Permission to hold our babies immediately after birth. Permission not to have major abdominal surgery because we’re post-dates during pregnancy.
We feel caught. We feel like we have to follow along, or like we’ll be refused. And maybe that’s true — some doctors won’t see patients if they don’t vaccinate fully and on schedule, or attend all recommended well visits. Some OBs won’t see patients if they don’t follow recommendations like induction at 40 weeks or a c-section for a “big” baby.
These policies have nothing to do with the patients’ specific needs and everything to do with an authority figure’s policy. And you know, we do have a choice. There are other doctors. There are other schooling situations. We don’t require that particular person or organization’s permission.
Even if there are no other situations — some towns only have one hospital, for example — you still have choices. You still have the legal right to refuse any care that you do not want to receive, no matter how much they bully you. That’s not at all ideal, but honestly, it’s your choice.
It’s time to take back our right to choose.
How to Stand Up For Yourself
Here comes the practical part of this. It’s one thing to rant about it, to say it’s not fair, but when it comes right down to it, how do we change it? How do we –respectfully — take back our rights?
We start by knowing what our rights are. Legally, you do not have to:
- Take your child to every recommended well-child visit
- Get some or all vaccines on a specific schedule (even if you receive WIC or other assistance, or if your child will go to public school)
- Go to every prenatal visit (or even any)
- Get a routine ultrasound or any other prenatal test
- Accept recommended treatments for specific conditions — you can ignore, or seek a second opinion
- Be induced because your baby is “too big” or because you have reached a specific week of pregnancy
- Have your child given vitamin K, eye ointment, or circumcised immediately after birth
- …you do not have to accept any form of mainstream recommended “care” with very few exceptions
Exceptions include: if your child is in an immediately life-threatening situation, if your child is a foster child and you are not the legal parent, if your child will go to public school in WV, MS, or CA (most vaccines are required by school age but still not on a specific schedule), vit K and eye ointment are required in NY, if you are found for any reason to be not of sound mind, if you are in a custody battle with your child’s other parent (and they disagree with your intended course of action).
That’s about it.
You have the right to choose.
Knowing that is only half the battle, though. What happens if you actually face a tough situation, where someone tries to tell you “No, you have to….” Then what?
1. Tell them the laws
Some people honestly do not know the laws. It’s not uncommon for school secretaries to say “They have to have a shot record before they can start school,” and not mention exemption forms. They really may not know. Politely inform them of what the law is and state that you will follow it by providing the alternative, if one is required (in some cases, like if someone says you “have” to take your child to well-child visits, simply state that it is not legally required — you do not need to provide an alternative). If you like, you can even print out a copy of the law and offer to let them keep it, in case the question comes up again with another family.
2. Bring an advocate with you
If you will face what you know is a tough situation — for example, if you are giving birth in your area’s only hospital and they don’t have a good reputation for respecting families’ wishes — take an advocate with you, preferably one who can focus only on advocating for you. Many women would hire a doula during a hospital birth so that her husband and her doula could take turns supporting her and advocating for her when she is in labor and unable to do so. Your advocates should know your preferences inside and out, and be willing to stand up for them, even if the staff doesn’t like it. It helps to have someone who doesn’t mind being rather firm if needed.
3. Respectfully refuse
Simply say “no.”
If your doctor says, “If your baby doesn’t arrive by your due date, we’ll schedule an induction,” then say no. “No, I’ll discuss induction if and when there is a medical indication that there is a problem with me or my baby. I’m not going to be induced because I have reached my guess date.” Do it respectfully, don’t get angry, but stick to your guns. “No, my child will not be receiving any vaccines at today’s visit.”
If they push, say, “I don’t wish to discuss this any further. I have made my decision.” Leave, if needed. If they actually try to “force” you (I’ve heard of this happening very, very rarely), threaten to call the police or a lawyer. I have heard of doctors saying “Your child is not leaving here today without vaccines.” Simply say, “My child will not be receiving vaccines today and we are leaving. If you do not allow us to do so, I am calling the police because you are kidnapping us.” Follow through if needed. This is very rare but you should know what to say if it does happen. You do not have to give in.
4. Don’t sign any generic consent/refusal paperwork without reading
Be cautious before signing anything.
Some doctors have “vaccine refusal forms” which contain language to the effect of “I know I am placing my child at risk…” Don’t sign that! Offer an alternative form, or cross out those parts and initial that you do not agree with them. You can also write “signed under duress” if you have to sign the paperwork for any reason (Michigan just passed a law requiring refusal forms to be signed and you cannot alter them).
Or, if you are pre-registering for a hospital stay — like before birth — read the paperwork carefully. Many have some generic language about “consent to treat” which will legally protect them later if you refuse something and they do it anyway. You will have given them general consent and you will not have a legal case should something go wrong. (Or at least this will make it harder.) Again, cross out parts you don’t agree with. Talk to a lawyer if you have specific concerns.
5. Fire them
You do not have to work with a care provider who will not respect your wishes. If you and a doctor continue to butt heads over care options, then leave their practice and find someone else. You are (usually) not stuck with this one person. Look for a different OB or midwife, explore a new pediatrician, or consider a family doctor.
Depending on the circumstances, you may choose to write the doctor a letter, letting them know specifically why you chose to leave the practice. Keep it respectful, but outline their unprofessional attitude, and that you and s/he simply didn’t see eye-to-eye, as well as how important it is to have a partnership between you and a doctor, not a dictatorship. I wouldn’t do this unless the doctor behaved rudely or unprofessionally.
6. Report to a higher authority
If you run into a situation where someone is absolutely refusing to listen to you, and possibly even violating your rights, it’s time to report them. Call the police if you are in an immediately scary situation (like if a doctor won’t let you leave without receiving vaccinations). If it is not that serious, then report to a higher authority at a later — but relatively soon — time.
If a secretary in a school will not accept a vaccine waiver, talk to the school nurse, or to the principal, or even the superintendent. Take it as high as you have to go to get your rights respected.
If a doctor bullies you, report them to the medical board. They do not like this because it negatively affects their professional career. If they mistreat you and ignore your wishes, though, then they deserve to be reported. Most people do not know that they can do this. I’m a big fan of this because I believe doctors have to be held accountable — and chances are, if one has bullied you, they have done it to others and will keep on doing it unless someone stops them.
As a last resort, if an authority figure violated your rights and this resulted in some sort of permanent damage, I would sue. This is an absolute last resort, but if you’re facing ongoing trauma or extreme medical bills due to negligence on a doctor’s part, then it’s time.
7. Share your experience
If you are bullied or have your rights violated by anyone, make sure you share that story. Tell other parents in your area what happened and who it was. Let them know so they can avoid that person (if possible) or fight alongside you if needed. People deserve to know if doctors or others who are providing a service are doing a poor job.
Many people just want to move on from tough experiences, but we have to be willing to stand up for ourselves. Do what you can, but stand firm. We keep our rights only, at times, when we insist upon them.
How do you feel about fear-based decisions and the language of choice?