Vaccinating Your Mexican-Born Children in Mexico

The following post is in response to a question from a young woman from the United States, living in Mexico with her Mexican husband. She wonders if the vaccine that causes a scar on the child’s arm is mandatory.   

Children in Mexico have immunization scars on their arms that look like the ones the boomers have. When I would get together with other moms and toddlers, some of their children would have the recently-made red welt on their arms.  In contrast, our son was born in Mexico, has a full regimen of shots and does NOT have that scar — ultimately not for cosmetic reasons, but for immunity and health reasons.

I don’t know much about vaccines, but I know that they can be made from live, killed, or modified versions of the disease causing agent. Since I had already grown to deeply distrust IMSS and the national medical system in Mexico due to some bad experiences, I found a private pediatrician in our town that was well-thought of and famous for not giving lots of prescriptions and medicines, especially antibiotics, which tend to be frighteningly overused in Mexico.

You see, seeing that scar on childrens’ arms had gotten me to thinking.  My parents had that scar, but I didn’t. I wondered if it was because we no longer vaccinated for that in the US. I could imagine three different reasons for discontinuing a particular vaccine. Reason number one might have been that whichever disease it protected against was so uncommon it was considered “eradicated.”  Reason number two might have been that a new vaccine had been developed. Reason number three might have been that the vaccine was later determined to cause more risk than benefit. The pediatrician I found helped us to make informed decisions about which vaccines were right for our son.

It has been a couple of years since we did our son’s vaccination series and I am not a doctor, nor a medical professional, so double check all of this info for yourself.  If memory serves, that scar is caused by the tuberculosis vaccine. Our doctor told us that the vaccine does not produce immunity and is only useful to help protect people in high risk situations, such as children who live with a family member who has active tuberculosis. Since no one in our family had tuberculosis, we did not give him that vaccine. Our doctor said that having it can even cause a false positive test for the disease.  Another vaccine I was worried about was the polio vaccine. I don’t remember as many details about that one, but by conversing with this doctor I felt safe giving the vaccine we gave.  Not that everything from the US is better, but this doctor administered the same vaccines that are given in the US. This had the added advantage for us, that if we were to return to the US (where no one seems to know one thing about Mexico), the schools would be satisfied with the shots our son had had.

The shots were expensive — hundreds of U.S. dollars, but I never regretted a single cent. An unplanned benefit of taking our son to this pediatrician when he was healthy was that, when our son was ill, we could call our pediatrician at any time day or night and he would help us without making us bring our son in.  This doctor, like many in Mexico, still serves the parents directly and the relationship with the doctor has been soothing to our nerves. Imagine the difference between heading out to the emergency room at 2:00 am with a baby who is throwing up bile and calling the pediatrician who knows him, getting told over the phone what to buy at the 24 hour pharmacy, and giving it to the child 30 minutes later. Of course, this same sleepy pediatrician didn’t just give us a medicine’s name over the phone and hang up. We talked about the symptoms, then he told us warning signs that might indicate more sever problems, and he followed up.

I was also impressed by his use of lab tests, rather than simple symptoms. One time, this saved our son from being unnecessarily medicated. One time I saw blood in his stool. A friend’s baby had just been diagnosed with amoebas (from blood in his stool) and was taking harsh medicine for it. My doctor ordered lab tests of the stool sample and it turned out to be an extremely acidic stomach. The doctor quickly figured out that I’d recently added Oreos back into my diet! Since I was nursing, the Oreos were effecting my son. That was a simple, safe fix and my son was spared a regimen of harsh medications.

Another friend’s daughter was always on antibiotics for this and that. In contrast, our son never needed them. Our pediatrician always found ways to help him to heal quickly and naturally. He is a standard M.D., not naturopathic, it’s just that he is very smart about how he does things.

When you live in Mexico, see if you can find a pediatrician in your town with a strong reputation. Even if you are “retired in Mexico” and don’t need a pediatrician, I think these anecdotes can give you some ideas of what to look for for yourselves!

*** THIS BLOG POST WAS NOT WRITTEN BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. DO NOT MAKE ANY DECISIONS BASED ON THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HERE. FIND A DOCTOR AND ASK HIM/HER FOR GUIDANCE.***

How I Ensured Natural Childbirth for Myself, My Husband, and our Baby in Mexico

When I was pregnant with our baby, I learned that if you want to have a natural childbirth, you need to find a doctor who is COMMITTED to natural childbirth.  Before I give you tons of heartfelt advice, I want to remind you that I am not a doctor and not a midwife. The advice I share was gathered from the resources I found during the one time I was pregnant. The good news is that I delivered my son naturally and that the experience is a joyful memory for my husband an me.

I also want to say right up front, that my experiences in Mexico cannot be compared to those that I might have had in the US. I’ve only been pregnant once and I was nowhere near the US during this experience. Despite being quite “American” in lots of ways, I know nothing about pregnancy and delivery in the US.

What I learned in Mexico is that a lot of women who say they want a natural childbirth experience end up with caesarean deliveries. The more I learned about the situation, the more I came to view childbearing as a feminist issue. It appears that when childbirth is guided by women, with men in active support roles, births tended to be bonding, positive experiences for family units. On the other hand, when the birth process is in the hands of doctors, it becomes a medical procedure and women’s physical strength and emotional experience is negated.

It’s too bad we aren’t in Europe. There are some places in Europe where the labour and delivery wards are designed to make women and their partners comfortable and to assist in a relaxed, natural delivery. They have cushions of different sizes, areas for stretching and hanging, accessible warm water showers, and dedicated staff. There are even beautiful water delivery options! Alas, that is not for us, but we can still have great labour experiences, if we take charge of our own options and surround ourselves with caring, knowledgeable people.

To find a doctor who is committed to natural childbirth, ask people about their doctors and delivery experiences. You have to compare stories. There were some doctors in our town who were well thought of, but most of the women that I talked to about their deliveries had caesareans…. Ask doctors what percentage of their deliveries are natural. WHO says that 20% of deliveries should end in caesarean. If the doctor says 80% of his/her deliveries are caesareans, you have not yet found your doctor.

In our town, La Lega de La Leche was a good source of information on local doctors and their tendencies, but there isn’t a group in every town. Another good source of information was our pre-natal class. We attended free trial sessions of two different classes to see which one we preferred. The one we chose really stood out to us. The instructor included the partners (mostly fathers, but other “coaches” were also made completely welcome. The instructor’s objective was to give the mother full support during labour and delivery), rather than focusing only on the women – she even had a special form for fathers to complete while registering.

By learning the stages of labour and pre-labour you and your partner are better prepared to set yourselves up for success and have a natural delivery – even with a caesarean liking doctor. This class also included a small percentage of partners who chose home delivery. We were not considering delivering our baby at home, but that showed that it was a community of people who were dedicated to natural childbirth.

A strong indication of a doctor’s commitment to natural childbirth is if they charge the same no matter what kind of birth it is. The doctor I most preferred in our town was known to be committed to natural childbirth and she had only one fee – no matter which way the delivery occurred. Doctors who charge more for a caesarean are more likely to deliver that way. It’s a racket, really. They show you two prices, one for natural childbirth and one for caesarean. They tell you that there is “no reason” you shouldn’t have a natural delivery. You like the lower cost of the natural delivery, so you feel like you are getting a deal. What you don’t know is that by delivering caesarean, not only do they earn more money the process is more under their control. They don’t have to wait around for natural processes to unfold. They don’t have to put in the hours of helping you relax, walk around, sit in a hot shower, etc, etc.

On the flip side, just by not doing these things, they make it more likely that you won’t be able to deliver naturally. (This is really a key point that first-time moms rarely take into consideration – and doctors bank on it – literally.) Before we had our son, we heard lots of stories from other moms and I observed that even when parents were clear with their doctors that they “wanted” a natural childbirth there would always be “something” and they’d end up with a caesarean (and convinced that they needed it, so don’t let that be an indicator for you).

I think it’s important to mention that at first our pre-natal class appeared to be overly expensive given our earnings and our usual spending habits in Mexico. I asked my husband to attend the free trial visit to the class before I would even tell him how much it would cost! In the end, we both thought it was worth every peso. I was shocked when my husband – who normally won’t even spring for pollo rostizado if we can make scrambled eggs at home, said so to his family and friends. It was lovely to hear him telling his BROTHER all about the stages of labour and how to help his wife during delivery. Both of us strongly advise first time parents to take a pre-natal class together (called clase psicoprofilactico in Spanish) – and the more committed to couples and to natural childbirth the better. This class got us started on the path of parenthood as a united pair. Friends and family commented on how we were unusually relaxed as newbie parents. Not to mention that we had a dream delivery with our son, that is a sacred memory to both of us.

Here is the kind of story you are looking for when you are researching doctors. One of my friends delivered her baby before I did and she chose the same doctor I preferred. She told me that during transition (that’s when it hurts the most and most women end up getting an epidural, even if they didn’t “plan” one in their original birth plan) she asked for an epidural and the doctor told her, she would not give one because the baby would be born before it could even take effect. In the moment, my friend felt angry. After delivery she said she wanted to give the doctor a big kiss and hug for saying, “no.” She and her baby were both more alert and ready to begin nursing than they would have been if she had gotten an epidural – not to mention that an epidural would have greatly slowed the process down, reduced my friend’s experience of the actual delivery, and introduced unnecessary risk. She had her next two babies with this same doctor.

Maybe you can turn this into a question for doctors you are “interviewing.” Something like, is there ever a point during labour that you would refuse a mother pain relief?

In my case, the first doctor we went with was highly recommended by a friend, so I was convinced that he was just the greatest gynaecologist in the world. Luckily for us, he chose to blatantly lie to us so that he could begin to steer us toward a caesarean. If he had been less bold, he might have kept us as clients. As it turns out, we had already started our prenatal class and when I told the teacher what my doctor had told us, she told me to get a second opinion. When I got the second opinion, his lie was exposed and we never went to see him again.

The short of it is that I had asked my doctor about a condition I thought I might have. He used that little bit of fear that I had to tell me that I needed a caesarean. He even had my husband look at my cervix through a special instrument so he could “see” how much I needed a caesarean. When I got the second opinion I was told that my cervix was completely normal and healthy looking. This other doctor probably knew that to any regular guy, like my husband, a normal cervix looks terrible. He literally banked on freaking my husband out. This is so unethical it makes my stomach ache! It is also not that uncommon. In a different context, I heard our prenatal class instructor say that doctors commonly manipulate the fathers into pushing for the caesareans by scaring them about the “consequences” of not getting one. This is why it is so important that each expectant mother have a birth coach that attends the classes with her and can support her during labour.

You might also ask around and see if there are any professionally trained midwives or doulas in your town. Una “partera” can mean a lot of things in Mexico, so do your research well, but there is potential there for a lovely delivery experience. Even if you talk to a midwife or doula, but don’t choose to deliver with her, she will likely know which doctors in town are committed to childbirth, which ones ‘ride the fence’ and which ones have earned the nickname “Dr. C-Section.”

Once you find the right person, it will be lovely.

I’m so very glad I delivered in Mexico because our family had a beautiful natural birth and my husband was involved in every stage. He was my hero all of the way through, providing pain relief with acupressure, coaching, encouraging, and caring for me. He will never forget seeing his son born. Also, Mexico is a wonderful place to have little children.