A few Fridays ago, I was able to get to daily Mass. Always grateful for any quiet time I can get at church, I eagerly listened to the readings. As usual, one of the scripture verses I heard smacked me over the head. I love that feeling. It’s one I’ve heard my whole life and hoped to being able to reference it in a future post. Today’s the day to reference that verse.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31
I’m active on a few message boards about the usual subjects: autism, vaccines, special needs parenting. No matter what message board it is, the rules are the same. They’re simple, too: be kind, be polite, be respectful. One group that I’m a part of is different. We follow the same simple rules, but the content typically discussed has absolutely nothing to do with autism, vaccines or special needs parenting. So when I saw a post being made about those particular topics in that group, I perked up.
Most of the members are young moms, many in their late 20s and early 30s, and live on the other side of the country. Several of them are just starting their parenting journey. Two Fridays ago, around 10pm my time, one of the young moms’ posts caught my eye. She was asking about vaccines. It wasn’t really a question, but more of a statement with a simple request, “I am seeing more articles like this one…it piqued my interest…it concerns me and made me wonder what more a mom like me needs to know…”
I stopped reading.
Which group is this again?
I thought this was the group that had nothing to do with autism, vaccines or special needs parenting.
Confused, I scrolled back up to the top of the page. Huh. It was the group that has nothing to do with autism, vaccines or special needs parenting. I sat up straighter, scrolled back down to the post, and reread the young mom’s plea. She ended it with, “…I’m curious what you all think. Thoughts?”
As long as I’ve been in that group, none of the women have discussed vaccines. To say that this young woman went out on a limb bringing them up is an understatement. She exposed herself, and what followed wasn’t pretty.
It was an innocent post, but surprisingly, she got attacked within minutes of sharing the link to a new docu-series that’s about to air.
While I do have some things in common with these women, I don’t know them very well personally. Most of the time when I log into the group, I lurk – that means I read more than I make comments. Since I felt like I had more than enough experience on the topic that was just broached, I decided to reply and quickly crafted a response in my head. It couldn’t come off too strong – this young mama needed gentle guidance. It couldn’t come off too weak either – she’s putting two and two together on her own and needed to be encouraged to read more!
Since I was typing on my phone and not a computer, it was taking me a little bit longer to write a response. I’m glad I got my reply in when I did. Seconds before, another woman chimed in. Her comment was not as open-minded as mine would be, “This is not the right place to post that. This is not the forum for a debate.”
The young mom replied that she didn’t see how her request for information was inappropriate. Nor did she intend for it to be cause for debate. She did however offer to remove the post if such a post was not allowed.
No. No. No.
We’ve had plenty of OT (off topic) posts in that group in the year or so that I’ve belonged, but none like the one I saw that Friday evening. I read her words as a request calling for honest thoughts, but with how quickly it was judged, it reminded me of another scripture verse – the one where Jesus states that prophets are not accepted in their native town.
They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away. Luke 4:29-30
More like a seeker than a prophet, the young mom came to her own for support. In a group of like-minded women, instead of finding that support, her plea was cast aside. Once that happened, she quietly went away. I was so disappointed. That sort of scenario is all too familiar.
Ask a question. Get attacked.
Ask a question. Get labeled a troublemaker.
Ask a question. Get nothing but grief in response.
How quickly the negativity transpired. It was unfortunate but also reminded of the last verse of that Gospel that I’d heard a few weeks ago at that daily Mass:
And no one dared to ask Him any more questions. Mark 12:34
No one dared ask Jesus any more questions. What he stated could not be argued. What a shame that a young mom, desperate for the truth, was unable to ask her fellow sisters any more questions. I saw it as a potential learning moment as well as an opportunity for women to educate, to enlighten, and to encourage. A genuine request, it was not the impetus to start an online argument. As quickly as her thoughts were shared though, they were shot down and shot down harshly.
Before things got more heated, which I was afraid would happen, I was able to share two comments. I offered our story in the first one and loaded the young mom up with key words in the second. Knowing that other women, both for and against discussing the topic, would still reading the conversation, I made sure to praise the young mom for bravely asking questions. I told her to keep asking them.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Luke 6:35
I’d peppered my comments with key words and terms that I hoped she’d later look up – VAERS, encephalitis, autism is medical, opting out, parents’ rights, and vaccine’ choice. http://www.nvic.org/ Since I knew that many of the other group members live on the west coast, I made sure to mention the difficulties parents now face with the passing of California’s SB277. My replies were precise and based on personal experience. I also thought that they were encouraging. They were compared to what another woman offered. Her reply included what’s become a baseless and regurgitated knee-jerk response, “…and don’t believe the hype…that vaccines cause autism…because they don’t. There is no link.” Afraid that someone would express that sort of response, I’d already started to look for the one hundred plus studies Ginger Taylor has complied. They do show a link. But I’d have to send those to the young woman privately. As soon as her post asking for advice went up, it was taken down.
I was crushed.
Since it was getting late, I decided that I’d reach out privately to the young woman the next day. It was several days later that I actually could send her a message. In my private message, I reminded her who I was. In a kind, neighborly way, I told her how encouraged I was to see her post. I also told her how discouraged I was to see others react to it in an unkind way. As I do with many of the other young parents I encounter, I ended the correspondence with an outstretched hand and with hope:
If you need more information, please don’t hesitate to ask. No question is a dumb question. Ask every single one of them. Get the answers you need. Don’t stop asking, reading, or investigating until all of your questions are answered. Never stop asking questions.
Then I waited.
The ball was in her court. If she wanted more information, she knew how to reach me. The next day, she did. So I loaded her up on even more information about vaccines, autism, and parents’ rights.
This mom is similar to so many other moms – excited to parent but concerned that what she’s being told by the doctor and by society isn’t the whole truth. No wonder she came to the group for advice! Sadly, instead of advice, she got ridicule. It’s too bad that that happened, but I can tell that how she was treated didn’t discourage her. She’s still seeking the truth, just more privately now.
In a few messages to me, I learned that she already knows a lot about vaccines and autism and the link between the two. She wants more information and is proving that she will stop at nothing to get it. My role will be minor in her search, but I couldn’t be more pleased that this young mom chose me to be part of her journey. Where other moms shunned, I promised to stick around. Not only that, I promised to help her find the answers for every question she has.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.