By Julie Obradovic
When I started eating a lot of tuna while breastfeeding my daughter, I had no idea that I was possibly poisoning her. At that time, there was no mention of mercury toxicity and certainly no alarm bell being rung over how very dangerous this particular food was. Crazy enough, I don't even like tuna (adding tremendous insult to injury), but I was getting ready to be in a wedding and wanted to get my pre-pregnancy body back a little faster than normal. Not wanting to hurt myself or my baby knowing I was breastfeeding though, I tried to pick the most nutritious foods I could find. Over and over and over again, tuna showed up as a healthy choice, a responsible high-protein alternative to chicken. And so I ate it, even though I hated it, several times a week for many weeks.
It absolutely floors me that I took every precaution known at that time to protect my baby during and after pregnancy, and yet one of the most dangerous things I could do was completely unknown to me. I didn't start working out until she was 2 months old, well after the 6 week mark they make you wait for. I didn't smoke or stay around people who did. I didn't drink, and even when I had a glass of wine at the wedding, I tossed the milk out for days. I had the house baby-proofed with locks and outlet covers. There were gates on all of the stairs. My stroller had the safest reputation. My car seat was top of the line. I bought a mini-van with a 5 star safety rating. I washed all of the clothes in the gentlest detergent. I never missed a doctor's appointment; if she needed to be there at 2 months of age, we were there on the exact 2 month date. I read to her and talked to her all day long. The list goes on. You name it. I did it. Anything for the safety and healthy development of my child.
After reading Dan and Mark's devastating account of how we all ended up here (See The Age of Autism Mercury Medicine and a Manmade Epidemic HERE), I experienced a downward spiral of guilt and despair over the way my daughter became so sick, with the true devastation I brought to her health sitting square on my chest. This happens to me every so often after certain triggers, and honestly I wasn't prepared for it. Every time I think I'm over the pain, I find out I'm not. For a few days I cried unconsolably and couldn't sleep without the images of her suffering flashing through my mind. All of the would haves, could haves and should haves came rushing back with a vengeance. It was dreadful. It's not only the pain of the stupidity of it happening, it's also how preventable and treatable it would have been had I known. At every turn that this poison should have been stopped from causing harm, it wasn't. I'm not sure I'll ever understand.
To try and make peace with the tragedy, I tore through my old journals, boxes, and books packed away in the basement from that time 9 years ago. I wrote down everything I ate during that time that I was trying to get in shape, primarily to keep track of my calorie intake and make sure I was eating enough for my baby. I had to know…just how much tuna did I actually eat? Just how toxic was she when I held her down to be injected with more, or conversely, how much had she been injected with already when I added more to her diet? Frantic, I ripped open boxes looking desperately to find it. I needed the evidence to condemn myself to permanent mommy prison, but fortunately or not, I couldn't find it. That spiral notebook is gone.
A few things weren't though. I have kept my library of new-mommy- new-baby books neatly on a little shelf for easy access for years. There on the top row were my bibles of good child rearing. The American Academy of Pediatrics Authoritative Guide on Child Development, Birth to Age 5, a 700 page brick. What to Expect the First Year. The Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. A Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. Could it be that they knew? Was the information actually available to me and I missed it? Is the situation even worse than I thought? After that thought occurred to me, I actually couldn't open them up for a few minutes. I held one in my hand shaking, wondering if indeed they had warned me about mercury and I simply wasn't paying attention.
The AAP book was a gift to me from a good friend going through medical school at the time. The copyright is 1994, and I received it in 1998. Not only is there no mention of mercury, there is no mention of Autism. In 1994, Autism as a potential developmental problem facing your child up to 5 years of age was so rare, so unlikely, that the American Academy of Pediatrics didn't even mention it as a possibility in the 700 page "authoritative guide" they penned. The fact both mercury and Autism are absent from the book in the mid 90's speaks volumes.
I find this fact alone so significant, so telling, I have to say it again. In 1994 the American Academy of Pediatrics didn't even mention Autism or mercury exposure as potential developmental problems in a 700 page book they wrote as the authoritative guide on all things developmental in children.
But the other 3 books were different. They did mention mercury, albeit barely and buried in the back. In one book, there are a few sentences on a page in the 500's. Unless having read the entire book cover to cover (instead of using it as a reference like I did), or having a specific reason to ever think about mercury, there would be no reason to see it. And it simply states in summary that eating large fish is a bad idea because of methyl mercury exposure. It doesn't say what methyl mercury does, or why it's bad, or how it manifests, or how to test for it, or what to tell your doctor. Nothing. It just says, take caution eating fish when pregnant or breastfeeding, as if that translates as anything meaningful anyway.
Likewise the other two books have something similar. Neither mentions mercury prominently, and neither gives more than a few sentences to the topic buried in the back again. They do not explain why mercury is dangerous to you or your child, how it manifests, what to do if you suspect mercury toxicity or potential mercury toxicity or possible susceptibility factors. In fact, both state a few cans of tuna a week "should be fine", really only warning against swordfish and shark consumption. I can state very assuredly that eating shark or swordfish has never been an issue. Even if I had read this, and who knows if I did, this would haven't applied to me. I wouldn't have thought twice about it.
Our lack of respect for and understanding of the significant, vast, variable, and life-altering dangers of mercury in all forms has arguably led to the unbelievably tragic poisoning of humanity for the last 500 years, as Mark and Dan's book will clearly show in a few weeks when it is released. If nothing else comes of this disaster, I hope and pray it will finally be the end of The Age of Mercury. But, that can only start if we educate ourselves and our physicians about what it can actually do and how. What that can of tuna, vaccine information sheets, and books should have said on the label or first page was this:
CAUTION! MERCURY IS POISONOUS AND NEUROTOXIC AND IS ESPECIALLY HARMFUL TO BABIES! DO NOT EAT TUNA OR FISH WHILE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING! DO NOT RECEIVE MERCURY CONTAINING VACCINES WHILE PREGNANT OR BREASTFEEDING! DO NOT GIVE INFANTS MERCURY CONTAINING VACCINES! 1 IN 6 WOMEN IS MERCURY TOXIC! GET SCREENED AND GET YOUR BABY SCREENED FOR POTENTIAL PROBLEMS!
*If you suspect your intake of mercury or your baby's has been high, seek medical help immediately! Mercury can have a cumulative effect and may take months to appear as negative health symptoms. It may not be recognizable to you as causal if you wait! Symptoms of chronic mercury poisoning vary depending on the source of mercury, the amount, the method of exposure, the age, and the genetic makeup of the person.
Mercury may do many different things in different people of different ages, but common manifestations in children include: Asthma, Respiratory Illnesses, Speech Delay, Loss of Speech, Apraxia, Allergies, Seizures, Failing to Thrive, Failing Immune Systems, Loss of Sucking Reflex and/or ability to Swallow, Feeding Problems, Hair Loss or Change in Texture, Constipation, Diarrhea, Weak Joints and Ligaments, Loss of IQ, Loss of Eye Contact, Constriction of Visual Fields, Impaired Attention Spans, Impaired Social Skills, Sensitivity to Sound, Light, and Touch, Loss of Balance or Vestibular Sense, Lack of Sensitivity to Pain, Rocking, Violent Outbursts, Excessive Tantrums, Eczema, Excessive Salivation, Hypotonia, Sleep Disorders, Depression, Changes in Personality, and More! Acute poisoning can cause kidney damage or failure, and even death!
A simple blood test may help determine current levels of mercury toxicity, but results are not always reliable as mercury may go to organs quickly including the brain! In the event you believe you or your child could be at risk for poisoning, seek medical care immediately! Risk Factors for Children Developing Mercury Toxicity may include: A mother's diet high in mercury; A parent's occupational exposure to mercury or mercury containing products; Dental care with mercury exposure; Prenatal and infant vaccines containing mercury; Proximity to mercury pollution; Proximity to wood treated with mercury preservatives; Skin lightening creams that use mercury; Genetic susceptibility to poor detoxification. (This list is incomplete and should be considered so.)
It is my firmest belief that we must focus our efforts now not only on the dangers of mercury in vaccines, which at this point in time is beyond inexcusable, but on the dangers of mercury in general. SafeMinds has provided a wonderful start. People just don't know, and people just don't get how very, very dangerous this metal is. Furthermore, we cannot simply isolate one source of exposure and then subsequently rule out the cumulative exposure possibility as being problematic in the onslaught of health problems our children face.
As I have said many times in conversation, I will never know what put my baby over the edge. Was it the tuna? My amalgams, one of which needed a root canal? Was it the coal burning plant only 5.2 miles away? Was it the HepB shot at birth? Was it all of the other thimerosal containing vaccines over the next two years? I have no idea, and in this lifetime, I won't get to know. But that's not the point. ALL of that mercury hurt my baby badly. And because of our profound ignorance of just how sophisticatedly poisonous it is, she suffered for years before getting the proper treatment.
I call for an all out Mercury Education Campaign, and I am self-proclaiming September "Mercury Education Month". Given Dan and Mark's book drops this month, I think it's only appropriate. Every day on my Facebook page I will post one fact about mercury that the public should know or something we should be doing to prevent this disaster from perpetuating. I'm opening a twitter account and ask you to follow me for the same reason. I urge you to do the same. Educate yourself and those you love.
I plead that just as we screen babies for lead exposure, we do the same for mercury. I argue that all mothers should have their breast milk tested for toxicity. I request that all doctors be required to take a toxicology course on chronic and acute poisoning in children, with a specific focus on mercury. I ask that all children who present with the above mentioned symptoms be properly screened for heavy metal toxicity first, before simply being written a script. I beg that research dollars go towards newer and more promising treatments for mercury and heavy metal poisoning.
And of course, I beg the authorities to stop, stop, STOP injecting babies and their mother's with this poison. It's so irresponsible and negligent that it's criminal. It is not the dose that makes this a poison. It IS a poison. Always. It's not safe at 0.3mcg and dangerous at 25mcg. It's always dangerous. There is no safe amount, and there is no way right now to know just what amount from just what source will be enough to break the threshold of good health for a certain child. The precautionary principle must prevail.
Finally, we have to open our eyes once and for all to properly assess the damage of what our mercury-laden lifestyles have done to our children and loved ones. We have to stop this madness so that we can stop (and hopefully reverse) the suffering. The question is no longer whether or not mercury is connected to Autism and the downward spiral of our collective health, but rather, how could it not be? Our food, our soil, our water, our air, our homes, our medicine, our teeth, our breast milk, our wombs. All of it is tainted, and all of our world's children are paying the price. The time has come to not only end the Age of Autism, but with it, the Age of Mercury.
If my baby's suffering can help do that, then maybe one day I will finally understand. Julie Obradovic is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism