Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review - Mother Warriors

As promised I am reading and learning more about the GFCF diet/anti-vaccine camp of parents of children with autism. The first step for me was reading Mother Warriors which is, in part, a Jenny McCarthy memoir of her decision to "go public" with the treatments she was using to "recover" her son from autism. Along the way she meets other mothers who have tried bio-medical and other non-traditional treatments to try and better their children's lives. Ms. McCarthy weaves their stories with her own which is distracting at times, but does put it all in context. Reading this book was challenging to me on many levels. I don't intend to alter the approach we currently have with our daughter because it is working, but I needed to understand what all the furor is about. I think I understand pieces of it now...even if I don't fully buy into it.

The most important thing I want to convey is that by and large the parents who tell their stories in Mother Warriors are describing children who are seriously physically ill: suffering grand mal seizures that require resuscitation, severe gastrointestinal distress, rashes, days of extreme regression, etc. and they're being told by traditional doctors that there is "nothing they can do." Watching your child suffer such physical trauma would raise the hackles of any mama worth her salt. I recently had the displeasure of attending our son in the hospital for several days after he aspirated a chewed up piece of apple. On our third day when he wasn't recovering as I expected and no doctors had come by to check in with us you can bet I started to put up a fuss. If I had been told there was nothing they could do I wouldn't have stood for that either. Parents just know there is something that can be done, and we will find it. These parents, facing much more dire circumstances than the one I walked through, are simply finding something they can do for their children, and in many cases in their opinion it is working. This I admire to the extent that they aren't just willy nilly throwing in one therapy after another, which is not the approach that the parents Ms. McCarthy interviewed took. They did their homework. They tried one thing at a time.
If at the same time you were told there is no known cause for your child's severe suffering, you would start to look for the cause on your own. If you became convinced that the cause of your child's severe illness is something that practically every child is exposed to as a matter of course you would add that to your list of things to get out and shout about. This group has a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that their children had severe reactions to vaccinations. They are entitled to their opinion, and certainly it is something that needs to be studied in an unbiased well-controlled experiment. Even with a 1% population affected by vaccines (if the theory is correct) do we risk the other 99% to what can be extremely serious and life-threatening illness? In addition, there are some questionable nutritional/medical sidebars in the book. One mother describes giving her child a gallon of milk to drink every day (hyperbole?) and not wanting to remove that to follow the GFCF diet. I've been told that current best practice is to never give a child more than 24 ounces of milk per day. I'm not at all surprised that her child was having severe gastrointestinal problems.

One thing I did not enjoy is some of the language used in the book. It is, shall we say, uncensored and not PG. I have mentioned my aversion to such things in earlier reviews. I know this is how everyone talks these days and I suppose it makes it "realistic," "passionate," and "cathartic." In my opinion it also makes it unprofessional and crude.

I was also confused by one chapter (Chapter 20, The Power of Believing) which starts with a letter from a parent who wants to know how she can be sure biomedical treatments will work for her child. Given the expense and time required for these treatments she is hesitant to try without assurance it will be effective. Ms. McCarthy admits that she has no idea if the GFCF diet or other treatments she publicizes will work. She even says that many kids don't need the biomedical interventions. She says she wondered about these treatments for all of two hours before deciding to proceed with her son (again if my son were suffering severe seizures I might not hesitate long either). In the next paragraph she is back on her soap box urging us to heal our children and not second guess the treatments. So are we allowed to question them or not?

In that same chapter Ms. McCarthy also discloses her new age approach to spiritual life. Throughout the book she talks about praying to (or yelling at) God, but here she explains (sort of) the "law of attraction" which seems to state that I just have to picture the way I want things to turn out and that will be the way it is. Stunning. Let me just pause a moment to conjure up an image of our family owning a private island complete with mansion, maid, butler, and trained dolphins for pets. I'll be sure to publish a farewell post when this vision becomes my reality. Ms. McCarthy uses this in the context of visualizing your child healed. Did it ever occur to her that none of us visualized having a child that needed healing, and yet that is our reality.

In short, I'm glad I've now read Mother Warriors, and I definitely have more reading to do.


Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting review! As someone who chooses not to spend time or money on books like this, I do yet fully respect and appreciate that you've done so in order to further your understanding of their views and their cause. It was refreshing and original to read what you had to say about what you read.

I would add that I am sympathetic to your point about language too. As adults with an entire language at our disposal, we should be able to make our points without using language that undercuts the message by upsetting and distracting the reader.

KDL said...

@autismandoughtisms - Thanks for stopping by again, and for following on from my other review to read this one, too! I love how thoroughly you read and research. Fortunately I did not have to spend any money on this book - I love our public library for this very reason! It didn't take too long to read (it is not too deep) and I think it was worth it to gain some perspective on this vocal group. Thanks again!


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