Why my 2 year-old is vaccinated…

There has been an online raging war about the pros and cons of vaccination, for a long time.  People on both sides say they are basing themselves on science and it gets a bit hard for all of us out here to sip through all the jargon and quoted studies, and to decided what is real evidence and what is not.

This is an open letter of sorts to both sides. I’m not a scientist. I’m only a mother trying to decide what’s best for the little love of her life, sometimes with a superhuman effort to look beyond her own preconceptions and prejudice. And you’re not making my life any easier.

I’m extremely reluctant to use pharmacology. I cringe each time I have to use any kind of medicine on myself or my daughter. Don’t get me wrong. I marvel at the giant steps medicine achieved over the past 100 years. Mortality rates in developed countries today are a thing of wonder compared to the past. Much of it was achieved by the use of medical pharmacology. But it’s still poison that we’re taking in, most of the time, so I don’t like to do it. But when I have to, I do.

When time came for me to decide what, if any, vaccines my child would take, like a responsible mother, I went on a little research trip. I came late to all of this, so by the time I started reading statements on both sides, it was all buried under a huge blanket of sarcasm, witty responses and personal insults. That tends to wear me and my patience very fast.

So I went another way. I talked to my child’s doctor. He’s a great professional who provides information in a level tone, respecting the fact that its the parents who have to make and live with their decisions. We talked about the risks of the different vaccines, and their expected benefits. Some of the vaccines are covered by our National Health Service, some are not, which means we would have to pay for the latter.

I’m fortunate enough to have both my grandmothers and mother alive and well, and I asked them to tell me what it was like for them, to make such decisions. And I discovered that my family history is a stunning example of the social and scientific evolution of medicine in Portugal.

Sixty-something years ago, when my parents were just born, Portugal was living under an oppressive, aggressive, paternalist, right-wing dictatorship, akin to Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy. To the powers that were, the people should be weak, meek and uneducated. Centralized health systems were near to unexistent, but even if they weren’t, knowledge did not flow freely, so it was difficult for doctors to keep pace with science. Moreover, vaccines weren’t abundant or generalized. Child mortality rates were around 144 in 1000.

Socially, doctors were among the most educated people around, and the cultural and educational gap between them and their patients was huge. They tended to be seen and treated like demi-gods and they got used to it. People did what the doctor told them, without question or discussion.

Hygiene and food were not at its best. Malnutrition was rampant. Every time there was news of a sick child in the neighbourhood, reactions were akin to panic. Diseases like measles, smallpox, polio, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, meningitis, and even tuberculosis, were, if not rampant, wildly disseminated and haunting ghosts of every mother’s nightmares. Treatments didn’t exist or were extremely rare and costly, with no promises for efficacy. No mother of that age would have any qualms in vaccinating their kids, had they been asked.

By the time my sisters and I were born, almost forty years ago, things had changed. Democracy was in an infant stage in Portugal, the population was more educated and health services served almost everybody. There was a National Plan for Vaccination, with most of the available vaccines at the time, mandatory if you wanted to enter public school. Smallpox was close to be eradicated worldwide and vaccination wasn’t much more than a trip to your local health centre. Moreover, while you could still get infected with measles and some other diseases, treatment was much more wide spread and its efficacy had raised considerably. Child mortality rates were around 35 in 1000.

Sanitation and food distribution were much, much better. Mothers talked to doctors, if not on equal terms, from a much less imbalanced position. They asked questions and refused procedures if need be, but not often. Vaccines were a normal thing of life and there wasn’t much thought on whether to do it or not. You just did it. The ghosts were still there, but most of them had been rendered almost helpless.

When my time came to make these decisions, things were considerably different. Food availability and distribution are not a problem nowadays, and although we pay much more than we should for it, its quite inexpensive in comparison. Health services in Portugal are efficient for the most part and much more up to date. The National Plan for Vaccination still exists and encompasses most of the available vaccines. Portugal is a success study case for the lowering of child mortality rates, having brought it down from the already low of 10 in 1000 in 1990 to 3 in 1000 in 2012.

I speak to doctors in equal terms, as I would with any skilled professional in an area that isn’t my own. And the internet is around. And I’m connected to the world. And I like to read and learn.

After all this, the only available vaccine my child didn’t take, was the rota-virus one. And only because of the perceived low efficacy. There are a lot of strains around and the vaccine only protected her from one. After a general risk-benefit assessment, we decided not to inoculate her with that one. This means that, without major side effects, my child is now protected against every major disease she could contract otherwise. And those ghosts don’t haunt my nightmares. And I’m a mother to a very smart, happy, healthy child 🙂

So this was my decision, based on my experience and my family history, as well as on what I read online. I’ll finish by saying that although both sides of this discussion equally villipend and insult each other beyond any rational discussion, science as surely the better case. The studies are there to prove that vaccination has saved and continues to save countless lives. It doesn’t do its work on its own. Better sanitation and better nutrition obviously play a part in this equation. But vaccination has provoked quantum leaps in the fight against disease, and people living in developing countries, where it is not readily and cheaply available, are the main proof that it is needed and it works.


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My sins are not your business…

Neither are anyone else’s but yours. Be warned, this is a rant. It has been brought about by the recent wave of panicked homophobia unleashed by the gay marriage and  adoption laws being passed a bit all over the western world.

Me, personally, I couldn’t care less about what goes on between consenting adults, without malice, abuse or violence. And it doesn’t even matter if it is a life choice or not. IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS! I do care, however, if people are discriminated because of who they are. It is not my place to deny people what I think are basic human rights, based solely on my private sense of morals. I KNOW my run-of-the-mill straight marriage will NOT suffer for it. Which, by the way, is none of your business too.

Sin and hell and dissolution are favourite buzz words of the homo-freaked. Who gave you guardianship over my soul, or anyone else’s but yours? Even in a scenario where you are absolutely right and God will come and pass judgement on us all, who are you to judge? And what makes you less of a sinner? In your ideal god-fearing, church going, “perfect” community are there no adulterers, thieves, liars? Since by all Christian definitions of sin, it is impossible to be alive and not be a sinner, who are you to judge? I reserve my right to hold a place in hell for me. It is my choice. And it should be everyone else’s too. Even you.

And then there’s the kids. They will be raised by rampant sinners and every kid from a gay marriage will turn out to be gay. I think that sums up the rhetoric. Since all the gay people I know come from straight, and in most cases god-fearing, households, I fail to see what that has to do with anything. I do know, however, that gay couples have to be screened and evaluated and jump through hoop after hoop after hoop of bureaucratic mess, before they are allowed to adopt, as any couple seeking adoption should. If it ever comes to that and something happens that my child finds herself needing adoption, I’d rather have her in a loving, stable home with people who dedicated themselves to her, rather than in some institution or in foster care, where the check she brings at the end of the month matters more than her.

All I see is a bunch of people desperate to force their morals down the throat of everyone else. Or so insecure about their own life choices they want to deny everyone else’s. Either way, shut up and go sulk in the corner because IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!



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In memoriam…

There are people who touch our hearts just by entering a room. People with such selflessness and genuine love for the world that it’s almost impossible not to feel good around them. I had such a friend. And this New Year’s Eve I lost such a friend.

Gonçalo Cardoso Dias was a fellow gamer, but that doesn’t cover the miriad of things he was. He was a dedicated architect, a talented artist but most of all he was a dear, dear friend. A friend I got used to seeing around my dinner table on Sunday nights, a friend with whom I laughed and built entire worlds with. There was a peaceful sweetness about him, a kind of loving acceptance of the world around him that fascinated me. During the hard days that followed his death I met his family and a lot of his friends. Every single person I met had been touched by Gonçalo in a special, loving and personal way. Because Gonçalo always saw us as individual persons with our own funny quirks and interests. He remembered them and value them, surprising us with the care he took in every thought he had about us.

He was but thirty, which leaves us with the bitter taste of wondering what he could have done and what people could he have touched, if his lifespan had been longer. However, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is also the joy and pride of having had the privilege of knowing him and shared a small portion of his life.

I’m honoured to have called myself your friend, Gonçalo. I know that you will remain alive in my memory, as long as I live. After that, who knows, maybe we’ll meet again and share laughs again. Farewell, sweet, sweet boy…

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A new life in a new year…

My child is born. She is now almost three weeks old and she is the love and the bane of my life. I never knew that someone could survive as tired as I am. I fret over every single hiccup she gets, I feel ever so incompetent when I fail to ease her suffering in a short time. I don’t get enough sleep or nourishment, I walk  and talk in a semi-zombie state. It’s the first New Year’s Eve I can remember being in bed before 2 AM. And yet I’m as happy as I ever remember to be. Miserably happy 🙂

It helps to have a fantastic husband. He has been my saviour when I get so tired and so frustrated and so worried I can hardly function. He has nurtured and upkept my sanity. He has stepped in for me whenever needed, even when he’s not quite sure of what to do and how to do it. He has conquered every new fear and helped me navigate through mine. He has been a true hero in my life and in my daughter’s brand new existence.

Amidst the pains and aches of a brand new motherhood, it has been a constant source of wonder and delight to see him so in love with our daughter and with me. His happiness and glee, as he contemplates the miriad of expressions she delivers, is a constant source of endearment to me.

And so it is. My child is born. And life could not be better… or worse 🙂

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Geeky Dreams…

Sharing a bed with someone every night means your sleep environment is never fully under your control. For example, you can be lying there very still and feel your body literally take flight from the matress, because your spouse, who has nearly two times your body mass, decided to turn around in bed. The first few times this happened to me, I woke up a bit confused, trying to assess what was going on, but went back to sleep easily. In time, I got used to it to the point it doesn’t wake me at all. It’s what usually happens as time goes by. You get used to variations in your environment and adapt accordingly.

Nothing could prepare me, though, for what happened just the other night, nor for the next day’s explanation that was given. I had been having trouble falling asleep and I had been tossing and turning for a while, when my husband turned on the light, half rose in bed and gave me the most confused look of indignation, before turning again, turning off the light and going back to sleep. I tried to interact with him and asked what was wrong, but he was clearly half asleep and didn’t say a word. So I tried to get back to sleep myself and dismissed the whole thing as just another one of his sleeping quirks.

The next morning he told me what had happened from his point of view. In one of those strange overlaps between sleep and waking state, my tossing and turning had crept into his dream and he turned on the light to figure out …what kind of spell I was casting. Now, at this point in our marriage, I have but a few illusions. I know I married a consumate and proud-of-it geeky gamer. I know that RPG’s and Sword and Sorcery will always be a part of our lives. But to hear my husband tell me, even if half asleep, that he was trying to ascertain what spell I was casting gave the equivalent of a brain crash. For the next five minutes I could do nothing but laugh, while my mind tried to even make sense of the sentence.

I guess I should be glad that after ten years of marriage he can still throw me off like this. My life is still full of wonder and surprise and my husband is still responsible for most of it. All I can say is envy me, for I am truly happy.

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Viva a RepĂşblica!

The Portuguese Republic reached her first century today. There have been good times and bad times during these past 100 years, but the principle is still the same. There are no special instituted privileges attached to your family name. Everyone is born equal under the law.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we all have equal opportunities automatically, or that money or connections don’t make a difference to where we’ll end up in life. However, there’s a stated hope that it will be possible for everyone to start in the same place and get ahead through their own merit alone. It’s huge collective breakthrough in any society, when it stops being normal that a small group of people get a set of special rights and immunities simply for the sake of tradition. It makes a world of difference when we stop accepting the division between first and second class citizens within a nation.

To me, it’s not enough to be a Republic. To reach the full merit of hope in a better nation, that Republic has to be a Democracy also. People need to have a say in how they’re governed and by whom. They’ll choose wrong sometimes, but that’s their privilege. Having a choice is more important than choosing right. And if we are true democrats, that is the only thing we don’t question. Right or wrong is a relative position. Choice is absolute. The price to pay is to accept that our choices won’t always be in line with the majority ruling. But you can’t always get what you want.

The first republicans believed in this also. In many ways they were dramatically ahead of their times and let enthusiasm curb their rationality. It led to the downfall of Democracy. But they sowed those first seeds and made it almost impossible to return to a regime where your future was more dependent on a genetic lottery than on anything else. My homage to them for that. May the Republic last forever.

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Alien Life Form…

I have an alien life form growing inside me and it’s the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had. She’s been there for about six monthes now and it’s eerie feeling her move around in my womb, without any say from me. It’s also extremely daunting to think that a new human being, with all the potential she brings, is so wholly dependent on me and on what I do to survive and thrive. Like all of us, she will bring something new to Mankind. She will be a new link in the immense network of souls that sustains and develops our species. She will touch other human beings just for being born. She will learn to love, to think, to play with us and she will teaches to do all that in return.

I know she will probably be a gamer and a geek at a really tender age, if her father get’s his way. And he probably will. The love I feel for the two of them right now is overwhelming. I know the feast of hormones raging through my body has much to do with it, but I don’t care. It’s uncanny and blissful to be able to love like that. It’s almost liberating to be overrun with your own emotions in such a way. My husband’s smile is precious to me like never before. The connection I feel with him has never been stronger and it has never ache so much to be away from him, even for a short while. I hope he’s willing to accompany me every step of the way in this adventure, because there’s nobody on this planet I’d rather share this with.

I can’t even describe what I’m feeling for that tiny speck of life inside my belly. Although I know that pregnancy is a perfectly normal and straightforward biological process, I’m still in complete awe of my ability to generate a complete new life. That an independent conscience is forming inside me is still a miraculous event to me. I have never felt so totally immersed in another human being and she hasn’t even come out yet. It has never been so easy to give up or sacrifice anything for anyone else. I’m almost afraid of the eagerness I feel to begin to watch her bloom and grow out here with us, to witness every aspect of her discovery of the world. I hope I never let her down as a mother, because I already know she can never let me down as a child.

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Unexpected lessons in life…

We’re used to think about our younger siblings as someone you always need to protect and teach. Being the older sister, this is twice as true for me. My preconceived views of my sisters never allowed me to see them as full grown women, perfectly capable of catching up to me and even surpass me. Our mutual childhood memories only contributed to that mental model and to stave off introspection into the subject. I unwillingly positioned myself a step further, being able to teach but not to learn from them. I got wrapped up in a kind of age arrogance, convinced I would always be the pathfinder, opening the way for all of us. After all, it was always so, as we were growing up. And then I got blindsided by how fast and how well my kid sister turned into a beautiful mature adult.

My kid sister is a wonderful mother. I’m awed by how easily and calmly she deals with my nephew. I mesmerize at the love that emanates from her, even when a scold is in order. My admiration for her as taken a giant leap forward since my nephew was born, as I watched her cruise through her first pregnancy, facing every challenge with serenity, never loosing the wonder of discovery. Then, I marvelled at the way she cared for her first born, taking everything in stride, learning when to hold on and when to let go. Today, I marvel at the way she teaches her toddler, at the patience she shows him, through his natural whims and tantrums, having become a master at diffusing them.

Through all of this, she never lost sight of herself. She remains confident in who she is, and in what she can do to make this world a better place. She is, today, a far more accomplished woman than I am. She turned into a woman I would be proud to know in any circumstances, a role model to me, when I finally decide to be a mother myself.

Thanks, sis’!

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The abusive strength of our convictions…

I haven’t written for a while. This may happen at some time or another, because life tends to get in the way of our best intentions and my blog has been low on my priority list for some time. However, one of the advantages of our righteous indignation is that it might prompt us to action 🙂

The dogmatic use of labels in american culture to define and classify people always seemed to me a funny quirk that only added to the amused acceptance of the tough negotiation between different ethnicities the USA were forced to make. Today, they seem to me just dangerous.

I’ve been reading about a story of a New Jersey Med School student who got into trouble and was suspended because he defined himself as a white african american. Paulo SerĂ´dio is a 45 year-old student, born and raised in Mozambique,  now a naturalized USA citizen. For all intents and purposes, and forgetting the color of his skin, he is an african who acquired american citizenship. And he happens to be white (or at least more white than black).

In a cultural exercise in class, when asked to define himself, he said he was a white african american. Some of his black colleagues took offense in this and the case found its way to the dean’s office and eventually to his suspension from school. In an attempt to explain his position, SerĂ´dio wrote an article in the school’s newspaper. The comments I have seen label this article as racist and stereotyped. And I don’t get it.

I read the article and the positions SerĂ´dio defends seem everything but racist. No matter how wide the range of skin color among the so called “latinos” in the US, the fact is that most of time, I would be classified as one, even before I opened my mouth and spoke. By the way, my native language is latin based, just like the spanish most central and southern americans speak. For most portuguese native speakers, the accent is much the same as a “latino”, when they speak english. Just ask Joaquim de Almeida who doesn’t seem to get any other roles than those of a “latino”.

I live in Portugal. From a very early age, I remember listening to racist comments from random people around me and not getting it. I was fortunate enough to be born to an extremely tolerant set of parents and the rest of my environment was also conducive to that tolerance. So when I heard a racist comment made around me, it felt alien and wrong. Furthermore, as I studied Portugal’s history, it dawned on me that the portuguese were extremely good at two things: sailing from one place to another and making babies with whomever.

Today I know that between the people who came and settled in Portugal (Celts, Phoenician, Goths, Greeks, Romans and Moors) and the places the portuguese sailed to and settled in (Ceuta, Cape Verde, Guinea, St. Thomas and Prince, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, India, Malasia, Timor, Macao, etc.), defining ourselves as white, black, brown or yellow, is a visual artifice. It is known today that northern africa is in our blood, in our words and in our music. In at least 10% of us there are sub-saharian DNA markers. Without excusing the abuses that did took place during the portuguese colonization process, not forgetting that the portuguese were the first to capture and sell african slaves, the fact is that I am descended from both opressors and opressed. Although I would be classified as caucasian, mainly because of my immediate family, the fact is that my skin is darker than that. There is a hint of India and Northern Africa in my facial features and tone of skin. I have two sisters, one of which is even darker than me, while the other might almost be considered milk skinned. And I love it that it is so.

I love the fact that the mix of cultures that permeated my own is fully expressed not only in my language (there are a lot of arabic words in portuguese, and some celtic and gothic based too) and in the traditional music of my country (fado being the best known but not the only example), but also in the miriad variations of skin color and facial features around me. Labels don’t make much sense to me. Dogmatic separation of people by groups, be either by race, language, ethnicity, or any other criteria seems to me stupid and senseless. It is an artificial crutch for our fears, a prop to inflate our own ego or exarcebated sense of self. It is not real and tends to crumble in face of true and genuine human relations.

I hope that the New Jersey courts have enough sense to understand this. I hope that racism and self-righteous indignation don’t prevail ever, no matter where they come from.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” (Martin Luther King)

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Frozen in time and space…

Last month we went up north for another RPG retreat. We stayed at an old manor on the biggest mountain range in Portugal. (Thanks for that, Sofia. You’re a life-saver.) The house was beautiful and full of hidden secrets, as all old manors are. And it was cold. So very cold that it was silly.

We spent most of the time in the one den that had a fireplace, where we played and had our meals. In that one room, it was possible to function and think. We played two sessions a day, a long season of PTA and Storming the Wizard’s Tower. (well, at least the first level 🙂 ).

My main problem was going to the kitchen and cook our meals. Having your hands dipped in almost frozen water and then trying to operate a chef’s knife is an adventure on to itself.  But it gets very scary, if on top of that you just can’t stop trembling with cold. Never have I wished for an “Endure Elements” spell so hard in my life!

Bedtime was hardly a comfort. Had we known in advance the conditions in the house, we would have prepared with hot-water bottles and the like. But we didn’t know, so changing clothes became an almost unsurpassable challenge. When we finally got ready to go to bed, we almost didn’t want to, because it would be colder inside the sheets than it was outside of them (at least for the first half hour, after which your body heat would make the bed almost, and I do mean almost, comfortable). To make you get the full meaning of how cold it was, let me tell you my husband as a very particular attitude about the cold. And I saw him shiver seriously. So seriously, that at times it seemed he had swallowed a small diesel motor. That was the fun part ;).

With all that, we managed to have fun playing, nonetheless. Although I can tell you that I don’t recommend a long season of PTA to a small group (there were four of us). The filler episodes tend to be too many. Storming the Wizard’s Tower turned out to be a fun game to test. I hope my husband posts his comments on the subject. I’m eager to have the whole game written and ready to play on all levels (kudos for you, Vincent! 🙂 ).

So now, we’re back to our all-year round campaigns and our projects to start some new ones. Let’s see what 2009 has in store for us.

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