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I home birth, I use cloth nappies and I immunise

This woman was disppointed by the anti-vax messages in her own community. So she started a campaign to show that even mums ‘like her’ believe that vaccinations are safe.

I was 36 weeks pregnant when I finally decided to have a homebirth. I was clear on the research and best practice, and was privileged to be birthing with Western Australia’s Community Midwifery Programme which gave me choices.

Once all the pieces were in place intellectually, I waited for instinct and circumstance to guide me. Reading a beautiful home-birth book to my daughter and being surrounded by women I valued as sensible informed my decision. I feel that this experience has given me some insight into how we make important decisions about our children’s well-being and weigh up risk; facts, values and emotions are all involved.

The Fremantle community is is a pretty left-leaning, progressive, culturally vibrant and free-thinking place. After my son was born, I was eager to make more friends in the home-birthing scene, but apprehensive about exposing my son to unvaccinated children. When the topic of vaccines arose in that circle, not every voice was virulently anti-vax, but many said they didn’t know whether to vaccinate, or that they hadn’t vaccinated older children. This was reinforced on cloth nappy and baby-wearing forums where anti-vax sentiments were explicitly linked to other practices that I considered to be wonderful and important.

I made the decision to go public because I was concerned that others were not daring to speak up, or were absorbing the message that to vaccinate was to be out of step.

I wrote an opinion piece for the Fremantle Herald critiquing my community’s values. I had experienced excellent support in my decision to home-birth, and through informal peer education in using cloth nappies and baby-wearing devices. If we were so good at looking after each other, then why was this one decision so out of step with all the others?

I was asked to join the Immunisation Alliance of WA, Australia’s first not-for-profit community organisation providing an authentic and organised counter to the anti-vax voice. So began my apprenticeship in the science, delivery and politics of vaccines.

I wanted to continue the conversation about values and ethics and what it means to identify with less mainstream parenting practices. From there grew the I Immunise campaign.

My peers within the Immunisation Alliance – people from the community but not my community – were excited by my idea of getting other like-minded parents to ‘come out’ in favour of immunisation. We sought and attained funding to run the campaign, and I was employed to design and deliver it.

I found five other parents to produce my vision of six posters. In each, we share our lifestyle practices and our support for immunisation. On the I Immunise website we discuss our values and decision-making processes.

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We are clear that immunising is entirely in step with our ethics. It is an important choice we have made to protect our children and the people around them. Some of us have had very personal motivations to keep other loved ones safe through vaccination, like Rachael.

We felt that if our daughter was not immunised, we would have a social responsibility to keep her home every time she was slightly ill, until we could be sure it wasn’t whooping cough, chicken pox etc. in case we were to come into contact at the park, shop, BBQ or beach with a pregnant woman, newborn, or someone going through chemo.  This would have meant limiting her life experiences and social contacts significantly, at an age when we wanted to let her be part of everything the world has to offer.

It turns out that she is an extremely outgoing and confident child who loves parties and music festivals. Secluding her in that way would have broken my heart.  A very close family member did end up going through chemo when our daughter was very young, so our decision to immunise meant that their close relationship wasn’t affected.

– Rachael, I Immunise.

We’re not seeking to go head-to-head with anti-vaxers. We’re simply hoping that new parents entering our wonderful community in Fremantle, and similar communities around the country, will be able to recognise parents with similar values making the decision to immunise.

Are there people you don’t want you children around because you’re worried about the anti-vax movement? Do you think Katie’s campaign will work?

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