Those who have been through it know that having a baby is a time of joy and worry. Between the smiles and sweet baby naps your mind escapes to what could go wrong. How do I keep her safe? How can I make sure that she lives a long and healthy life? You go in for visits to the pediatrician and wonder where you are on the growth charts—is she eating enough? Is she alert and responding the way she should? What about this rash? The list of worries can go on and on.
We moved to Chapel Hill and took our daughter for her first well visit and immunizations at a new clinic. A whole new set of worries kicked in. How would she handle the shots? Would she be a crying mess in our arms? What if they make her sick? I know she needs them, but maybe we can wait until the next visit. I believe I even looked for the exit. I then saw a sign for Vaccine Ambassadors. My wife and I talked about it. You see, we both have worked in international development. We have met hundreds of families and children over the years in places where vaccines were not readily available. We have seen firsthand how good health is a foundation for everything else in a person’s life. If you are healthy everything is possible. If you are sick everything is impossible. The people we met who were sick couldn’t go to school, learn a trade, get a job, or any of the other things it takes to improve quality of life. And some people had to live with the worst imaginable tragedy…the death of a child because they didn’t have vaccines that were readily available.
We sat there thinking about vaccines and our baby. We were swept up in the rush of all the emotions and checklists of having a new baby. Going in for vaccinations was another item on that list. You do it. Your baby is protected. Our community is protected. She goes on to live a life free of preventable disease. We honestly hadn’t put the simple act of routine vaccines into perspective. Back in the exam room the nurse explained how the program worked. We paid an extra two dollars and that money would go to directly provide vaccines in a country where they were needed. Amazing. The connection was real for us and it was a pleasure to become an ambassador for us and our baby.
I believe making a connection is important to the way we give back and help others. That’s why parents take their kids with them to feed the homeless, build a house, or dig a well. Sometimes a check in the mail just won’t do. It’s impossible for us to take a box of vaccines to another country and give shots. As an ambassador, though, I can hug my child while she gets a shot with the comfort that somewhere another parent will hold her child in the same way. With our $2.00, a few seconds of pain on our end was now worth a lifetime to someone else.
We now have two children and I sit here on the eve of my third Father’s Day. The overwhelming theme to my young fatherhood has been to protect and prepare. I keep our children safe by tightening in those car seats, making sure we eat good food, and helping resolve conflicts around the house. I hopefully am preparing them for the future by reading, playing games, and talking through small lessons in life. All the while this daily life is swirling around us there is one way that they are safe and ready for the future. They each have a strong force field of vaccination around them that is silently working to keep away disease.
I am fortunate to live in country where it is easy to guard my children against deadly diseases, so that they can live a healthy life. I am a Vaccine Ambassador because every child deserves the same protection and every parent deserves that same reassurance. I believe in a future where fathers in every corner of the world will be able to sit back on a Sunday in June and know their children are safe from disease that can be prevented with available and inexpensive vaccines.
By Wesley McMahon
Wesley McMahon lives in Chapel Hill with his wife Emily and two kids, Amelia and Ellis. He stepped away from office life to care for his kids full time. In his “spare’ time Wesley teaches English as a Second Language and serves on the board of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Commission.