Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.


April 2017
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Thank you Robyn for so eloquently stating some of the obvious reasons this proposed ordinance makes no sense. I intend to be present at the council meeting on the 10th to publicly state my opposition.


Your words are always so inspiring. I also spent 12 years in Catholic school and chose to give my children a Catholic school education. It is the best decision we have ever made!


Birth Announcement: 2016

It used to be that the news of a new baby’s arrival was shared with family and friends through a “birth announcement” printed on paper. It would include the baby’s parents’ names, birth date and time, weight, length, and, if you were lucky, a photograph, which was probably taken in the hospital. Sometimes there would be a “phone tree” in which the new arrival’s nearest and dearest relatives would speak with one of the parents then spread the news to their own extended families.

Flash forward to 2016 and everyone you know can find out everything they’d ever want to know about your newborn, including a plethora of pictures and live video, within moments of his or her grand entrance.

When I delivered my firstborn, Collin, seven years ago, Patrick and I did have Facebook and were able to post a picture of our new family a few hours after he was born.

The upload seemed to take forever and the Blackberry photo was both grainy and blurry, but a little less than a hundred of our Facebook friends, most of whom we knew from college, sent their congratulations soon thereafter. Most of our family members (especially folks who hadn’t recently graduated from college) weren’t partaking in social media, or even texting, so we arranged for all of them to come to our house for a “Welcome Home” party a few weeks later. (They also received phone calls from the hospital or from another family member.)

Three years later, in 2012, I delivered Frank. Again, we posted the news and photo on Facebook.

This time we had twice as many friends “like” our post, including some of our tech-savvy older relatives. But, a new etiquette had also been established in that it was no longer acceptable for your closest loved ones to find out important news on social media. They were entitled to a personalized text message with an appropriate wait-time before sharing the news with acquaintances. Naturally, we obliged…but we still had a big Welcome Home party for our extended family to get to see our little bundle.

The following year, we welcomed Leo on October 18th, 2013. In that short time almost all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, coworkers (past and present), former students, and casual friends were on Facebook. Almost 400 people liked the picture we posted of our giant 11 lb. 12 oz. monster of a baby.  Almost 300 of them wrote comments, mostly about his size or the fact that he looked identical to me or that we were going to have our hands full with three boys!

Our nearest and dearest received texts first, but there was no party. Some people didn’t get to meet him in person until Thanksgiving – or even later – but they were able to keep up with Leo on Facebook and through decent quality pictures I texted them with my iPhone.

On July 6th, 2016, God blessed our family with a beautiful “little” girl named Teagan Rose. I say “little” in quotes because she weighed almost as much as Leo (11 lbs. 10 oz.) and was the longest of all of my children at 24 ½ inches. She was born in four minutes. I was literally texting my three best friends who were checking in on me (thanks to technology we are practically omnipresent) when I realized it was time to deliver the baby. I thought I had a few hours left, but within an instant, Teagan was here.

After giving ourselves some time to get acquainted with the girl of our dreams, we sent out a picture of her and her stats via text. The last few times we sent text messages, it took a while to hear back from our friends and family. This time we heard from just about everyone in under thirty minutes. 

So, when we posted our announcement on Facebook, it didn’t take long for nearly six hundred people to give Teagan the “thumbs up” and offer congratulatory comments. I don't tell you this because I want you to think I'm popular. I tell you this to show how far our reach has become in the digital age. (And to show you how much the quality of photos has improved on smart phones in seven years!) As the messages poured in, we were overcome with joy that so many people were wishing us well.

Two days later, those same people were offering up prayers for Teagan, who ended up being admitted to the NICU for respiratory distress.

We were getting ready to be released when our nurse expressed concern about how rapidly her chest was moving up and down. A pediatrician saw her right away and ordered some tests to be done to ensure that she didn’t have pneumonia, an infection, or a congenital heart defect we were concerned about throughout the pregnancy.

I had never been so scared in my life as I was when they whisked her away. I prayed through my tears, feeling helpless, lost, even angry. But I knew that God would take care of her. And I knew that prayer does work. So, I posted about our ordeal on Facebook and asked my friends to pray for Teagan. Almost instantly, my Facebook page swelled with spiritual support from my Catholic friends, Protestant friends, Jewish friends, Muslim friends, and Hindu friends. Even my friends who haven’t found a connection with God sent up kind thoughts. 

Well wishes came from as far away as Australia from the woman who was making the Baptism invitations I had ordered from Etsy. These would serve as quasi-announcements for our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who choose to live "off the grid." Besides, who doesn't like receiving something other than bills in the mail?

A few minutes after the messages of prayer and positive thoughts started popping up on my Facebook feed, our nurse told us that we could go back to see Teagan. She was in a bassinet with a few wires attached to her to monitor her heart rate and oxygen levels. I held on to her little finger and watched her chest rise and fall, quick and shallow. The pediatrician explained all her testing to us, including an EKG that was about to happen. But, we had to leave for a few minutes.

When I got back to the room, I sent another update, asking friends to pray that her EKG would go well. It did. I let them know when we found out her heart is flawless. All of us rejoiced and sent up prayers of gratitude.

Teagan still needed to stay in the NICU for several days because the doctor wanted to give her antibiotics. He couldn’t rule out infection without the results of blood tests that would take several days to be processed. I was anxious that we would need to go home and leave her at the hospital, but there was a gorgeous new NICU with room for both Patrick and I to stay and watch over her. Dr. Mena, our nurse Sara, and everyone who took care of Teagan also took care of us. They clearly explained the situation to us and regularly updated us on her progress and setbacks. The anxiety we felt earlier was replaced by confidence that Teagan was in the right hands -- God's and Dr. Mena's and his team. 

In a way, the NICU stay was a blessing. The doctor and nurses caught Teagan’s condition before we went home. She received the care she needed right away. It also offered us some additional time to get to know her while her brothers got some special time with their grandparents. We even got to go out to dinner because Teagan needed a procedure that we couldn’t be present for. “We left our daughter with the most highly qualified babysitters in the world!” I told Patrick as we chowed down on burgers and fries.

The medical team never could figure out exactly what was wrong with Teagan, but they suspect she aspirated on amniotic fluid because she was born so quickly. I attribute all of the prayers from my friends and family on Facebook and in the real world to the quick progress she made and the serenity I needed to get through a nerve-wracking experience. I especially appreciated the comments and messages from my friends who have had their babies in the NICU. If there’s one good thing about social media, it’s that you can always find someone who can relate to you. You’re never alone.

But, sometimes phone calls and more personal messages, rather than public comments, from people we’re closest to can be the most powerful form of communication. My lifelong best friend Rachel texted me a picture of the cover of a magazine, which had our wonderful doctor on it! She also told me, “The NICU doctors and nurses are absolutely amazing. Stay strong and take it day by day…she will be home and healthy before you know it.”

Within a few days, we were carrying Teagan Rose through our front door and into our lives for good! (And you better believe we posted that!)



July 27, 2016 12:02
By Robyn Barberry

Zika: What expectant moms need to know

I have permanent scars on my feet from mosquito bites I acquired while I was pregnant with Collin in the summer of 2009. I don’t know if it’s my fair skin, my AB- blood, or my vegan diet that make me such a delicacy for mosquitos, but when I’m pregnant and my blood volume is drastically increased, I find my extremities covered in itchy red bumps.

Naturally, when I first heard about the recent epidemic of Zika virus in Central and South America, I panicked. Zika virus is a common occurrence in several African countries, to the point that the virus is considered “endemic,” and people are more or less used to it. Central and South America, on the other hand, are facing a sudden epidemic with possible links to an alarming increase in birth defects in pregnant women bitten by Zika-infected mosquitos. Though most infected people suffer few if any symptoms, babies born to infected mothers are demonstrating a trend of birth defects, most significantly microcephaly, or extremely small heads. Many of the affected babies are dying and those who manage to survive face a difficult life of profound developmental disabilities.

On Wednesday January 27th, a high school classmate and current University of Maryland professor, Dr. Jennifer German posted the following message on her Facebook page: “Family and friends, before you commence with the panicking about Zika virus, please remember that you have access to a virologist that studied Flaviviruses (the family of which Zika is a member) for her dissertation and is happy to answer questions. That is all.” And the questions poured in.

Dr. Jennifer German

Dr. German reassured her friends that the virus isn’t severe for the average person and that scientists aren’t yet 100% sure of a link between Zika virus and the rise in microcephaly cases. She explained that a vaccine is being developed, but that it could take several years.

After gathering more information from Dr. German’s responses, I was feeling better, especially since the two feet of snow covering my back yard reminded me that mosquito bites were two seasons away. Besides, I’m not planning on visiting any of the afflicted regions any time soon. Still, I had my concerns, which Dr. German promptly addressed.

My first question: Is the birth defect likely to develop later in pregnancy?

Being due early in July, I knew those pesky bloodsuckers wouldn’t be making an appearance until the tail end of my pregnancy, but I was still concerned that a late bite would have an effect on my baby. Dr. German explained that the virus would most likely pose a threat in the first trimester and, to a lesser extent, in the second trimester. Towards the end, the baby is “mostly developed and getting fat and happy,” and brain development is unlikely to be affected by Zika virus.

I also wanted to know what I could do to prevent infection. Dr. German suggested I apply lemon eucalyptus oil, avoid going outside at dusk, and wear long sleeves and pants, if possible. A friend suggested to have a fan blowing because mosquitos have weak wings and wouldn’t be able to tolerate the fast moving air.

Even in the rare case that I did contract something, I reminded myself that unlike many of the women in the countries most affected by Zika virus, I am blessed to have access to excellent prenatal care, with frequent doctors’ visits, close monitoring with sonograms and heart monitors, and less than an hour’s drive to some of the best hospitals in the world.  

Still, I can’t help but feel heartbroken for the women who are losing their babies to this epidemic, which may or may not be tied to the Zika virus. Additionally, I’m saddened to hear that in several countries women are being told not to get pregnant for at least two years. I pray that a solution comes soon for healthier mothers and babies everywhere.  



January 29, 2016 10:56
By Robyn Barberry

The upside to falling down

One month and two days ago I stumbled down the flight of stairs that separate the living quarters from the sleeping quarters in my home.  The boys and I had just woken up.

“How about waffles for breakfast?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Collin.  “Can we make a fort?”

“Sure,” I said.

As I was lifting Leo from his crib, I heard a scuffle on the stairs. I turned the corner to find Collin and Frank halfway down the steps, towing a king sized fluffy blanket.

“Whoa!” I shouted, putting Leo down.  I took two steps and reached for the blanket. “Guys, this isn’t safe. Someone’s gonna get – ”

But, before I could say the word “hurt,” I became the victim of my own prophecy. My stocking feet failed to create enough friction to keep me grounded on the slick wooden steps and in seconds I found myself lying in a heap of limbs and blankets on the landing. Thankfully, the boys managed to escape the avalanche, but when I got up, I felt like I was emerging from a rugby scrum.

It was my back that hurt, in an unspecified spot that seemed to float somewhere in the middle of my body. As the day progressed, I discovered that I could walk fine, but I couldn’t sit down comfortably. And I certainly couldn’t bend down to pick anything up. (An essential movement for parenting young children.)

I waited several days before visiting our local emergent care center, where X-rays indicated that my suspicion, a broken coccyx (tailbone), was not the case. After a further examination, the doctor concluded that my coccyx was bruised. I felt relieved, but not for long.

“Sometimes bruises can be worse than breaks. It usually takes 4-8 weeks to recover from an injury like this.  You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

A little over 4 weeks better, I’ve seen some improvement in my mobility, but continue to feel pain whenever I’m forced to sit for extended periods of time or if I try to bend over too much. The doctor is right, it could’ve been worse, but, as always, I’ve been trying to look on the bright side of my current situation. Here are the positive effects of my injury:

1.Since I can’t sit down, I haven’t been watching TV, getting lost in the internet, or lounging around. I’ve been up on my feet, pushing the boys on the swings, organizing cabinets and closets, and actually going places. Unfortunately, I still can't pick up toys or books that without fail manage to find their way onto the floor, but I'm trying to teach the boys to help me out by being more responsible. My productivity has offered a boost to my mood (not to mention my metabolism) and makes me feel as though I’m living my summer to the fullest. The down side is that I can’t take the boys to the pool, but I’m seeking other meaningful experiences for them, like the programs offered at Harford County Public Library. We had a great time learning about the environment at the Abingdon branch just before we went on vacation.

2.I’ve been reading more. As I mentioned, I’m trying to keep up with my boys in their Summer Reading Program, but I’ve also found that reading is a great way to pass the time when the only thing that feels good is pacing. One of the more interesting books I’ve read is "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. She encourages readers to only surround themselves with objects that make them feel a sense of joy. Her book was a call to action for me and the results of my decluttering experience have motivated me to live a lighter existence. I've also been working on Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman." I'm open to other book recommendations if you're reading something exciting, informative or otherwise "life-changing".

3.I’m paying more attention in church. I can’t sit in a pew or kneel quite yet, so I’ve been worshipping from the gathering space as I walk about, trying to find enough comfort to focus on the rituals and messages happening at the altar. My mind doesn’t drift during the homily and I feel more connected to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I’m hoping that when I return to the pew in a few weeks (fingers crossed) I will continue to be more mindful during Mass.

Not being able to sit is an awkward experience when other people enter the picture. When I start to get curious looks, I feel obligated to explain my situation to everyone from waitresses to Frank's teachers, to college professors (yes, I went back to school...stay tuned for more information). It’s uncomfortable being the only person standing while everyone eats or hulking over a coffee table while your child and his teacher play a matching game or leaning against a wall in the back of a classroom (again, more on my awesome grad class later) while everyone else is sitting. I don’t want the company I’m with to think that I’m trying to dominate our conversations, so I’m quieter than usual. I’m a better listener and observer these days.

My mind is being strengthened as my body heals. By falling down, I've been lifted up. And that is the ultimate gift my trip down the stairs has given me.     


August 03, 2015 07:58
By Robyn Barberry

Mary’s strength

Frank has been sick with a terrible virus since Sunday night.  He slept the better part of three days and refused to eat or drink, so his little body grew weak. His skin has become transparent and grayish.  His eyes are as cold and shiny as faded blue marbles.  The skin on his lips is so chapped that it is curling up into choppy bits.  The only word he ever mumbles is, “water,” but he’ll barely take a sip.  There are no tears when he cries.

Because of all of this, Frank became so dehydrated that he needed to be taken to the hospital to receive IV fluids and medication to control his nausea enough so that he would consider eating.  It took three of us to hold him down while they swaddled him tightly in a sheet and pierced the crook of his elbow with a needle to draw blood and attach the tubes that would hopefully return him to a more stable state.

I felt helpless.  I’d done everything I could for him at home, following the advice of my mother, the nurse, and my mother-in-law, the concerned grandmother.  His medical care was out of my hands.  All I could do was comfort him.

As I gazed upon him in my arms, listless and emaciated, I thought about how Mary must have felt when she watched her Son, Jesus suffer.  She knew his fate when she agreed to carry him in her womb, but she agreed to be by His side for every day of His life, up until the tragic and brutal end.

How did she do it? I asked myself.  My little boy is sick, but (I pray) he will get better.  She watched as her Son was tortured slowly until He was violently murdered.  She held His crucified body in her arms.

I pictured Michelango’s “Pieta.”  I meditated upon it while I prayed. 

During Holy Week, we find ourselves drawing closer to God through the Passion of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Some of the world’s greatest works of art have been created to commemorate the events leading up to Jesus’ death (Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” is a prime example).  I spend the time reading devotions and children’s books about Jesus’ death to the boys, but taking the time to reflect upon religious art opens our minds to deeper reflection. 

My mental and spiritual engagement with the “Pieta” reinforced for me the themes of Holy Week and of Jesus’ life as a whole.  I found myself overwhelmed with for the woman who brought our Savior to Earth, knowing that He would die, but possessing tremendous faith that He would return on the third day.  And as a mom holding her little boy in a hospital room, I felt comfort in knowing that God, Jesus, and Mary were present in my vigil over Frank. 

Frank is still not his energetic, curious self.  He’s been curled up on the sofa all day, waking when I try to give him something to eat and drink.  Collin and Leo had the same virus, and were in pretty rough shape themselves, but now they’re happily destroying the house.  I’m not even mad.  Hopefully, Frank will be joining them in their creation of chaos, soon.  I’m praying that he’s well enough to celebrate Easter.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers!

April 06, 2015 11:32
By Robyn Barberry

Empty Bowls, full hearts

Back in January (which seems like forever ago!), St. Joan of Arc School celebrated Catholic Schools week with a “buddy day,” during which older students paired with younger students to paint ceramic bowls for St. Vincent de Paul’s Empty Bowls fundraiser.

According to their website, “Empty Bowls is St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore’s signature event that raises funds, friends and awareness of our work to serve those who are hungry and homeless in our community.” At the event, guests are treated to a variety of (unlimited!) soups prepared by some of Baltimore’s finest restaurants, silent auctions, door prizes, and kids’ activities.

And the best part – you can choose one of over 3,500 (!) handmade bowls to take home.

And so, being the art teacher and a parent volunteer, I found myself surrounded by all of my students at once in the parish hall on that blustery January afternoon, coaching them as they decorated their “blank canvasses” with stars, spirals, swirls, stripes, and…Spiderman (!).

A wonderful lady named Kathy Fick of Kathy Fick Designs offered her artistic eye and ceramic expertise.

It was fun to work with Collin and his 6th grade buddy, whose name is also Colin. Both of them love art, so they had a great time collaborating on their bowl.

After an hour that felt more like five minutes, it was time for everyone to clean up and pack up their bowls to be fired in a kiln (it’s like a super-hot furnace where the glaze on pottery turns into a glassy finish.)

A few weeks later, Kathy sent our marketing director, Margie Forbes, a picture of our fired bowls. It reminded me of the upcoming event, so I called my beloved Aunt Anne, who attended last year, and she organized a table for us to attend. I was excited to be a part of such a wonderful cause and couldn’t wait to see my students’ bowls in person!

When the big day, March 28th, finally arrived, my parents and I piled into my mom’s car and headed to Timonium Fairgrounds to experience firsthand the Empty Bowls experience. We arrived 5 minutes early, and there were already hundreds of people in line, waiting to enjoy this special event. 

As soon as the doors opened, I rushed to the table where all the bowls were lined up on display, glancing at the picture of Collin and Colin holding up their bowl on my phone. I really wanted to find it and bring it back home with me. “We have more underneath,” a man told me. I looked and looked and looked some more, but I never found it.

I was slightly disappointed because I wanted a keepsake of that fun day we spent brightening up our winter with colorful glaze. I guess in a way, I wanted to hold on to a tangible piece of Collin, but his art has found a new home in someone’s sunny Baltimore kitchen. (I’ll face this again on a larger scale someday, when Collin grows up, but art and children are meant to be cultivated and shared with the world.) I imagine the new owner of the bowl said, “Collin and Colin…That’s funny!”

I did, however, discover several bowls that my students created. I even helped with one of them. So I chose two, and purchased a third for my principal.

Even though the ceramic bowls we selected were empty, the insulated paper mugs everyone was carrying around were full of hot delicious soups in a slew of flavors. My cousin Kathy was a big fan of the Maryland crab soup from Bill’s Seafood. My mom couldn’t stop raving about the coconut curry from KidzTable. And I was head over heels for Gertrude’s Portuguese kale soup. (I had 3 bowls!) Served with a side of H&S Baker’s sesame seed speckled Italian bread, it was the perfect complement to a somewhat snowy late March day.

The cold outside was a harsh reminder that while we were enjoying a modest gala inside of a massive exhibition hall, complete with enormous blue and yellow balloons and lanterns, there were people just a few miles away who were starving. Statistics about hunger were printed on little papers and stuffed into the ceramic bowls and posted on signs throughout the hall. The facts about the children hit me hardest.

I’ve witnessed childhood hunger firsthand as a teacher in low-income schools. I’ve seen the impact that starvation has on the body, on the mind, on the soul. It’s a condition that we must fight with whatever resources we can find. This event alone wasn’t going to solve world hunger, or even Baltimore hunger, but it does bring to light the grim picture of families without food.  But St. Vincent de Paul’s serves over 30,000 people, and the proceeds from Empty Bowls would feed many of them.

True to their mission, the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers were the most gracious hosts. I had a nice conversation with a college student about our vegan diets. I met two quiet, gentle ladies who run a summer camp for underprivileged kids and offered to ask some Harford County farmers to donate food and milk to their program.

A grandmother with the spirit of a teenager hugged the air out of me when I told her I was the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc and that my spectacular students had created 100 beautiful bowls. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she said. Her smile and her energy were contagious.

“We’ll be back next year!” I told her.

“You better!” she said.

March 31, 2015 02:28
By Robyn Barberry

Voices in the vaccine debate - Part 3

In this three part series, I will share the perspectives of three different women (who also happen to be mothers) when it comes to the vaccine debate. I asked all of them the same exact questions and will run their responses in their own words.

This is Part 3 - The public health expert

Mrs. Bethney Davidson earned her undergraduate degree in Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine with a minor in Sociology from Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina. Mrs. Davidson was an active member of the US Army for five years as an Outpatient Mental Health Specialist working in the Community Mental Health Clinic, Social Work Services and the Alcohol Substance Abuse Program (ASAP).

Ms. Davidson has been working for the U. S. Army Public Health Command since 2005 and supports the Tri-Service and DOD needs in training and consultation work from her location in the Health Risk Communication Program under the Portfolio of Health Risk Management, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Q.  Describe your professional and/or personal experiences with vaccinations.
A. Personal:  According to my parents, I received all my childhood vaccines at the appropriate times to include the smallpox vaccine in 1968.   I continued routine immunization as an adult in college and then upon my entry to the US Army (Vaccinations are a way of life in the U.S. Military.  All new recruits (both officer and enlisted) are vaccinated against various diseases during enlisted basic training or during officer accession training) in 1992 (age 25) as a basic trainee I had the following:  MMR (again), Meningococcal, Polio (again), Tetanus-diphtheria, Influenza (required yearly as a service member). I was required to also have the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B as a high risk occupational group.  I have not had the Varicella vaccine as I had chickenpox as a child in the 1st grade.

In addition as a rapid response team member I have received a second smallpox vaccine and I currently must maintain the following yearly: Influenza, Typhoid.  I have also received two Anthrax vaccinations and will eventually complete the 5 shot series as required.

Depending on the area that I may find myself traveling to for rapid response/crisis response I may in the future be required to have the yellow fever vaccine or the JE Vaccine (Japanese Encephalitis).

Q. What are vaccines?
A. I consider vaccines to be another protective measure you can take to minimize illness or the extreme severity of an illness.

Q. Do you have your children vaccinated?
A. Yes, my daughter of 19 years has always been vaccinated according to recommendation. In addition, she has received all three doses of the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Immunization (given at the recommended age of 11) and the Varicella vaccine as she did not contract chickenpox.

Q. Why do people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A. I can say that most of the people (family, friends, and co-workers) that have also vaccinated their children did so to provide a protective measure for their children and for themselves. 

Q. Why do people choose not to vaccinate their children?
A. I can imagine that fear of the unknown could be a factor in choosing not to vaccinate.  As much information that is accessible today can be overwhelming and confusing to a concerned parent wanting to do the right thing for their child/children.  I do believe that those who choose not to vaccinate make the decision they feel is right for them but not necessarily for the community.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose NOT to have their children vaccinated?
A. Just as there are unknowns when the choice IS to vaccinate, there are unknowns when the choice to NOT vaccinate is made. Many wondered what would happen when the anti-vaccine choice began years ago. Many considered the potential future ripple effects there would be and as evidenced recently, we have a number of outbreaks (predicted) of preventable diseases (mumps, measles) that are now threatening young, old and immune compromised. Those that cannot be vaccinated (medical exemptions) are most at risk for life threatening outcomes. I feel medical exemptions are valid and believe most would agree...but exemptions just because threaten everyone....including those who have NO choice.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A. Just like all medications, vaccines are not perfect and can have side effects. This goes for the cold remedies, prescriptions, and over the counter items that are available for illness ... we take a chance each time we take or administer one of these (none of them are 100% effective). So the realization that if you choose to vaccinate it may run the spectrum of results must be appreciated ... however vaccines ask us to do something very different; take a healthy person and introduce a combination of ingredients that might keep us healthy if we are ever exposed. Whereas if we are sick, taking something that shows we improve is much easier to tolerate as you see the results. Out of sight illness mean out of mind for most ... the problem is vaccines have worked so well we don’t see most of what we are preventing.

Q. Who benefits from vaccinations?
A. Everyone!  It is so important to know that vaccines for one will keep many safe.

Q. Do you believe parents should be legally obligated to vaccinate their children?
A. This is tough, it is the parent’s responsibility to care for the child and for many it is simply the right thing to do and has been mandated for certain places/activities like school in order to keep all children safe from getting or giving dangerous and deadly diseases.  I wonder if it were not mandatory what we would find ourselves experiencing?  If we went back to the days before ... what did that look like, what number of children became ill and unable to go to school?  I think the science backs up the obligation, just wish more understood or cared to learn the science.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say about this issue?   
A. I wish to see more discussion without finger pointing and degrading ... so much of what is available is bias ... it is no wonder that we are finding a line drawn in the sand with two sides unwilling to budge.


February 19, 2015 04:14
By Robyn Barberry

Voices in the vaccine debate - Part 2

In this three part series, I will share the perspectives of three different women (who also happen to be mothers) when it comes to the vaccine debate. I asked all of them the same exact questions and will run their responses in their own words.

(If you missed it, here is Part 1 - The pediatrician)

My name is Leigh Tsottles. I am a mother of three girls, whom we are/will be homeschooling, and wife to an amazing husband. I run a horseback riding, training and boarding facility as well as a homestead where I raise sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys.

I worked at a local hospital for several years as a nurse assistant.

Q. Describe your professional and/or personal experiences with vaccinations.
A. I have no “medical experience” with vaccinations other than the hundreds of hours I have poured into my own research of them. I have broken down each individual disease and each individual vaccine to determine if I felt the disease was something I could support my own child through, with the help of my naturopathic doctor and the use of herbs, oils, homeopathics and other immunity supports.

My personal experiences with vaccines was during the times I spent soothing my daughter, who at the time we were fostering and pursuing adoption, as her body was dealing with the side effects of the vaccines. She was an exceptionally happy baby (even the social worker noted how pleasant she was and that we had to be “doing something right”) but the hours and days following her vaccines, which I even had spaced out so as not to be overloaded, she screamed and screamed high-pitched shrieks, had golf ball sized hard lumps at the vaccine site, and her entire leg was swollen. She refused to eat, ran low grade fevers and couldn’t even sleep well because she kept waking up screaming. This is still after I had given her supplements, orally and topically, to assist in her detoxing.

Q. What are vaccines?
A. Vaccines are a mixture of substances that are put into a body by means of injection or aerosol that generally causes antibodies to form.

Q. Do you have your children vaccinated?
A. My two biological daughters are not vaccinated at all. My adopted daughter was vaccinated her first 9 months of life. Because she was not legally adopted until just before her first birthday we were forced to have her vaccinated or she would be removed from our home.

Q. Why do people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A. People choose to vaccinate because they are led to believe, mostly by their pediatricians, that it will protect their children by giving them immunity to specific diseases.

Q. Why do people choose not to vaccinate their children?
A. People can choose NOT to vaccinate their children for several reasons. 1) Religion: they know that God has created living creatures, the human body in particular, to be flawless and to be perfectly able to support themselves by means of their immune system and other supplementary products, such as herbs, created by God. 2) Toxic overload: the list of ingredients in these vaccines is enough to make people question how in the world bodies (especially new born babies) can handle the poison and not suffer at least minor lifelong complications. 3) Liability: if there is an adverse reaction, vaccine manufacturers are not held accountable. In fact they are totally protected! 4) Effectiveness: there is no proof that these vaccines do work. Wait, there ARE tests ad research done to “prove safety” but they are all internal! You cannot have studies done on something when it is being paid for BY the company seeking positive results.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A. Potential consequences are allergies, asthma, ear infections, ADD/ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, auto immune diseases and death, to name a few. The spread of diseases from the vaccine itself. Weakened and faltered immune systems. You have new strains of diseases that are evolving and are no longer affected by certain vaccines. Positive may be for people in third world countries where they are drinking water contaminated with feces, where they have no sanitation, no food etc. Their immune systems are not able to support the attack of diseases so therefore vaccines may be their only option. But to be perfectly honest I have still yet to find a study done by a third party stating that this is even true. Vaccines still may be hurting them more so than we actually know.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose (NOT) to have their children vaccinated?
A. There are no consequences to not vaccinating. You have children with strong, thriving, healthy immune systems. Bodies and immune systems are able to develop properly, how they were created. The topic of “herd immunity” usually comes up at this point and non-vaccinating families are being blamed, however true herd immunity is ONLY ever established when everyone has lifelong immunity to the disease by actually contracting that disease..and vaccines do NOT provide that kind of immunity.

Q. Who benefits from vaccinations?
A. Obviously people who benefit from vaccinations are those people/parties involved on the financial end of this. People are making billions and billions off of these vaccines. Of course drug companies are going to hire research labs to prove their product, then pay doctors to push those products. It’s a vicious cycle that will not be broken until lots of brave people with lots of money to fight can stand against this.

Q. Do you believe parents should be legally obligated to vaccinate their children?
A. I absolutely do not believe parents should be legally obligated to vaccinate. Should we REALLY have our rights taken from us? In America we have the ability to have those freedoms. That is what America was founded on. When the government starts taking away our rights it is taking away our freedom. If they start taking away our parental rights at what point will it end? This is only opening up the door to more laws and restrictions.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say about this issue?  
A. My personal conclusion was that I felt more comfortable if my child contracted the diseases, and potentially needed hospitalization, than injecting them with substances and ingredients that are known to be hazardous to living things. I have read testimonies of countless families who have either lost a child to, or had a child severely damaged by the reactions of being vaccinated. I could NEVER EVER live with myself if I had allowed my children to have that done to them. Bottom line is this: there is absolutely NO proof ( other than from the labs paid by these pharmaceutical companies) that vaccines work, and I will not allow my children to be guinea pigs. I am doing everything I can to support my children’s immune systems by feeding them well quality foods and providing them with healthy lifestyles. To those families who believe I am putting their children at risk by not vaccinating: well I’m sorry they feel that way but my first and foremost obligation is to MY children’s health, not theirs.


February 17, 2015 11:01
By Robyn Barberry

Voices in the vaccine debate

Part 1: The Pediatrician

In this three part series, I will share the perspectives of three different women (who also happen to be mothers) when it comes to the vaccine debate. I asked all of them the same exact questions and will run their responses in their own words.

Dr. Lainie Holman specializes in Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (dual board-certified). She finished residency in 2007 and has two grown, not-autistic children. Here are her responses:

Q. Describe your professional and/or personal experiences with vaccinations.
A. I’m a pediatrician and have cared for a number of children affected by vaccine-preventable illnesses.

Q. What are vaccines?
A. They are compounds that resemble pathogens enough to engage the immune system. After the body “sees” the vaccine, it “remembers” it enough to fight it better or entirely when exposed to the wild pathogen.

Q. Do you have your children vaccinated?
A. Yes. Although my partner at the time was afraid of vaccines, so my oldest was not completely on time.

Q. Why do people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A. Because they don’t want them to die from something preventable. The same reason they use car safety seats. Also, because they feel a social obligation to protect others.

Q. Why do people choose not to vaccinate their children?
A.Because they are afraid. Because they don’t remember the diseases that are now mostly eliminated. Because a now-discredited physician wrote a false paper linking MMR to autism. Because we have the blinding privilege to think our children are more special than others’. Because they don’t understand epidemiology.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose to have their children vaccinated?
A.Pain at the injection site, fever, rash, allergic reaction. Sometimes, a fever can trigger a seizure. This is rare and not dangerous. There is some association rarely with transverse myelitis. But that is unclear.

Q. What are the potential consequences (positive or negative) when people choose not to have their children vaccinated?
A. Death. Brain damage. Permanent disability. Hearing loss, blindness, sterility, pneumonia, epiglottitis. Did I mention death?

Q. Who benefits from vaccinations?
A. Individuals and society.

Q. Do you believe parents should be legally obligated to vaccinate their children?
A. Almost. I believe that parents should be educated. Most either don’t understand or have erroneous information.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say about this issue? 
A. I have many patients with congenital rubella who are profoundly disabled. I also have patients with permanent encephalopathy and seizures from preventable meningitis or encephalitis. I have a patient who has an anoxic brain injury after cardiac arrest as a result of sepsis. I have seen a 14-day old die from pertussis. They don’t really cough much, they just stop breathing. I have cared for patients with complications from hepatitis and pneumonia. I personally have taken care of many children hospitalized with influenza. I also care for patients who are immunocompromised who cannot be vaccinated. I have had patients with post-polio syndrome. I hope these epidemics will be enough of a wake-up call that people will stop being so impervious to science and fact. If not, well, enjoy polio.

Also, if you don’t immunize your children, please, please, do not lie to health care providers about it. Vaccination removes many diagnoses from the thoughts of most of us. Not being vaccinated returns those possibilities. Please don’t lie.

Dr. Holman also shared this interesting article with me about the link between vaccines (and everything else) and autism.

February 13, 2015 02:23
By Robyn Barberry

Chelley’s courage


Chelley Vukmanic is a lot like me. A graduate of Salisbury University’s English program (where we met), who became a teacher, a wife, and a mom in rapid succession. She’s a cheerleading coach, too, which, along with her Catholic faith, has brought her the optimism and hope she needs to face a serious medical illness. Here you will find her story. Here you will find a way to help Chelley and her family.

Fifteen Minutes

For the past five months, my favorite event of the day is my mid-afternoon shower. It’s not because I need to wash away the sweat and grime of a hard day’s work, though I wish it were. It’s not because the warm shower is relaxing, and it’s certainly not because I love our bathroom’s old fashioned tiling. It’s because for those 15 minutes each afternoon, I am standing and able to feel “normal.”

My Painful Diagnosis

This journey – my journey – began the first weekend in August when I got out of bed and felt the worst headache I had ever experienced. It felt like my head was imploding, and I assure you that this is not a hyperbole. My neck was sore, and I also couldn’t hear anything in my left ear. Once I began vomiting and could not even think straight, I went to the ER. I used trusty WebMD to diagnose myself with Meningitis, however, the ER doctor calmed me down and told me I was suffering from painful trigger point muscle knots in my neck and shoulders. He gave me pain medication, recommended physical therapy, and sent me home.

Being a high school English teacher and cheerleading coach, the end of August is usually exciting and fun. I get to help with Cheer tryouts, set up my classroom just how I want it for the new school year, and then plan out the first few weeks of lessons. Needless to say, this was an awful time of year to suffer from debilitating headaches. Instead of enjoying my reunion with colleagues on my first day back, I only survived the last 20 minutes of a department meeting with an ice pack held to the back of my head before needing to go home and lay down. Even though I was taking the maximum dosage of Ibuprofen and Tylenol each day, the only relief I felt came from lying flat on my back. The constant pain was keeping me so nauseous that my weight plummeted down to 82 pounds.

After weeks of physical therapy, three visits to my primary care physician, and a round of steroid medication, I was finally sent for an MRI of my brain just to “rule out anything serious.” I was very nervous about the MRI because I live with a panic disorder and being trapped in that small tube for any length of time will inevitably trigger an attack. My husband was able to stand in the room with his hand on my ankle for reassurance as I kept telling myself that the MRI would be over soon and the images would confirm that there was nothing seriously wrong with me. I repeated this like a mantra: “It’s almost over. You’ll find out that nothing’s wrong. It’s almost over. You’ll find out that nothing’s wrong.”

My husband and I had only driven about 10 miles away from the imaging clinic when I got a call asking us to turn around and return for more scans. By then I had been upright for too long so my brain felt like it was being ripped apart. I couldn’t handle it any longer, so as soon as the technician ushered us through the door, I pushed the patient chair out of my way and threw myself down on the floor of the neuroradiologist’s office. My pain completely overshadowed any embarrassment I might have felt from being sprawled out on the floor of a medical professional’s office as he was greeting us. When I apologized for having to lie down, the doctor’s response was, “Oh no, I would do exactly the same thing if I were you.” Then, he went into a detailed description of spontaneous intracranial hypotension caused by a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Leak.

In the most basic of terms, a small tear in my spinal dura is causing spinal fluid to leak out of my spinal canal. Without the proper volume of spinal fluid to support my brain, it sags. The sagging pulls on the meninges, which connect the brain to the skull. Hence, the horrible headaches whenever I am upright. The neuroradiologist added that I need to lay flat as much as possible because if the meninges stretch too much, they can tear and cause a hematoma. There are also potentially life-threatening risks involved, such as a stroke. He told me to stay on strict bed rest and see a neurologist for further instructions. He helped me off the floor just to put me back into the tiny, constricting MRI tube for an even longer period of time to scan my entire spine in search of the leak. I did not need my mantra though. I prayed instead. My entire focus was on asking God for help while tears flowed nonstop.

How Many Spinal Procedures Does It Take To Seal A Leak?

I have been blessed with a phenomenal neurologist, Dr. Price, who has been amazingly supportive through this entire ordeal. She graciously came into her office early to see me the morning after the neuroradiologist called her. Dr. Price informed me that my images did not display the exact location of the leak, so the protocol is to go through a spinal blood patch procedure. She made some calls to an interventional radiologist friend and was able to get me an appointment for a blood patch at the hospital that same day.

Looking back at how quickly events occurred over those two days, I recall thinking to myself, “I’ll be back on my feet in no time!” Unfortunately, I was not one of the lucky people whose leak sealed with the first blood patch, or the second, or the third.  

I can say with complete honesty, brimming on the edge of desperation, that I hope no one I know ever needs any of the spinal procedures I have received over these past five months. My panic disorder definitely makes most medical experiences more frightening and intense for me than the average person, but I cannot imagine them being enjoyable for anyone. I don’t feel it’s necessary to go into much detail for this blog, but the blood patch procedures consist of the Interventional Radiologist using a long needle to inject a collection of my own blood into my spinal canal with the hope of my blood coagulating over the tear in my spinal dura, which would seal the leak. My lower back is numbed for the procedures, but I am awake on the table and able to feel the manipulation of the needle, as well as sensations caused by the needle entering the spinal area. Sometimes I would feel intense pressure, while other times, I would feel an electric shock shoot down my leg or across my hip.

Following each blood patch procedure, I was told to do nothing but lay flat for twenty-four hours, and then slowly regain a normal routine with fingers crossed that the leak had sealed. It was emotionally draining to be filled with fear and anxiety leading up to and during the procedure, followed by physical pain for a week, and then a complete hopeful desire to make it through each day without a headache only to crash into a solid wall of disappointment when the symptoms returned. A few weeks after each blood patch when I would feel the headache and neck pain return, I would sink into despair, anger, and shame.

After three blood patches and one special spinal imaging procedure, my Neurologist and Interventional Radiologist referred me to a Neurosurgeon at John’s Hopkins Medical Center. Dr. Price thought that Hopkins might have better luck identifying the exact location of the spinal fluid leak, which could possibly require surgery to seal. After a very frustrating month of commuting to and from Baltimore and two more MRI scans, we were no closer to a solution. My neurologist had heard of a CSF Leak Specialist who works at Duke University Hospital, so she referred me to him.

Ask, Believe, Receive

I cannot recall another time when I felt more hopeless and defeated. Since I am on unpaid medical leave and my husband had to resign from his job to take care of our six year-old daughter and me while I was on bed rest, we are approaching the edge of a cliff plummeting down into financial crisis. We are a young married couple who just purchased our first home and a new car now wishing that we had stayed in our little apartment and pushed our decrepit car around for at least one more year. Hearing that my only hope of leaving behind this permanently horizontal life involved traveling to North Carolina to see a specialist seemed impossible. I prayed to God and asked the questions that I didn’t know the answers to - How many months will I have to wait before the specialist could fit me into his schedule? How can I afford the trip? Who will look after my daughter? How will I handle more tests and procedures with my panic disorder? God answered each of my questions in his own unique way.

About a month after my diagnosis, I had a dream that I was at Salisbury University and failing Sociology because my professor didn’t know that my reason for missing class was a CSF Leak. In the dream, my roommate was Marissa, a friend I hadn’t spoken to much since we graduated from high school. Thinking it was a random humorous dream, I wrote about it on Facebook and tagged Marissa.

This sparked a conversation between us, which led to Marissa’s Bible group being generously supportive of my family. At the time, I thought the dream was a way for God to bring this supportive soul back into my life.

Fast forward to the end of November when Marissa sent me a message just to see how I was doing, and I explained that my best chance is to try to get an appointment with the specialist at Duke. I told her that I was feeling hopeless about the situation, and Marissa’s response was that she works there! I knew she was living in North Carolina, but since we had lost touch for so many years, I had no idea that she was working at Duke. Marissa offered to email the specialist for me and she even offered to host us while we are down there. Within two weeks of Marissa emailing the specialist, I had an appointment set up for early in January. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that I dreamt about a high school friend who I had not spoken to in over a decade and she just happens to work at the hospital where the only CSF Leak specialist on the east coast is located. I believe that Marissa is an answer to my prayers.

A few of my colleagues who had heard of our financial burden offered to begin an account for me at to help raise money for my trip to Duke and the unpaid bills quickly accumulating. I thanked them for the offer, but wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with publicly requesting monetary donations. After much discussion with my family, my sister set up and began sharing the link on Facebook. I thought that if we were lucky, we could raise half of the money needed for gas, food, and a hotel room close to the hospital so we would not be an imposition to Marissa and her family. In less than 20 days, the account raised $3,350! I cannot look at the webpage without crying tears of joy and gratitude. Family, friends, as well as current and former colleagues and students have been donating money. My heart swells even more when I see the names of kind strangers who are donating to help me and my family. I believe that everyone who made a donation is an answer to my prayers.

My 6-year-old daughter has been such a trooper through all of this, even though she has been worried for me and a little frustrated that her mommy cannot get out of bed. The last thing I wanted was to scare her more by bringing her to Duke with us during my upcoming spinal procedures, but we will need to be there for almost a full week.

My mother-in-law just recently lost her job because the company had to make cuts for financial reasons. Upon hearing what we are going through, she immediately offered to stay at our home and take care of our daughter while we are away for the week. She can work on her resume and look for job opportunities while providing our daughter with the comfort of a normal routine during this difficult time. I believe that this is an answer to my prayers.

As I mentioned earlier, medical tests and procedures are extremely challenging for me because of my panic disorder. I have tried medications, meditations, and therapy, but the anxiety lives on until the panic attack rises. During one of my last MRIs, my anxiety was worse than normal so I kept moving. The technician told me that she needed to re-do the scans because they were blurry from my movements. When she pushed the button for me to slide back into the enclosure, I tried to focus on calming breathing exercises, but it wasn’t working. Then, I began reciting the Rosary to myself. My focus transitioned from the loud clanking noises and the suffocating confined space to the Rosary. I was able to remain still and calm for the remainder of the scans. Even though my anxiety is a constant battle, I believe that turning my focus toward the Lord calms me much more than medication.

One Day At A Time

It is hard to live a life in a bed. I feel my muscles weakening, and I mourn the activities I can no longer do. I celebrated my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, Halloween, my daughter’s sixth birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year while lying flat in bed. I wish I could say that I’ve been optimistic and positive through this entire journey, but that’s simply not true. I have my bad days where I fear never returning to a life outside of my bed. But I’m trying to take it one day at a time. I’m learning lessons about humility, appreciation, family, friendship and faith. And as I await the upcoming spinal procedures at Duke that I pray will seal my leak, I’m really enjoying my daily 15 minute showers.

January 08, 2015 05:51
By Robyn Barberry

Vow of Silence: Lessons learned from laryngitis

I have been without a voice for five days. With very little warning, it was gone when I woke up Saturday morning. Instead, I was left with a coarse whisper and occasional bursts of pitchy, creaky utterances. I feel fine, but I sound terrible. I’m not sure when my real voice will return, but I’ve come to think of this time as a learning experience. I’ll share my lessons with you:

1.     Without a voice, parenting becomes even more complicated. Though I wouldn’t say I “yell at” my children, I do from time to time raise my voice at them from across the room, particularly if they are at risk of hurting themselves or each other. Leo finds one of Collin’s Legos and puts it in his mouth. Frank jumps off the back of the sofa. No matter how childproof I try to make my home, they always find trouble. For that reason, until my “mommy voice” returns, I keep Frank and Leo at arm’s reach, literally. I don’t get done everything I normally would accomplish, but at least they’re safe. Collin seldom finds himself in danger, but at 5, he’s still needy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t read fluently yet, so writing notes to him is out of the question. Instead, I croak out responses to his questions and demands. He keeps asking where my voice went. Wouldn’t I like to know.

2.    I’ve become very selective about choosing when to speak. What I have to say must be important, as should be the recipient of my message. I’ve just about abandoned the Bluetooth that enables me to hold phone conversations through my car’s audio system. I’m more focused on the road now. When I’m not in the car, I count on text messages and social media to speak for me, unless I’m in a quiet, one-on-one conversation - the briefer I speak, the better.

3.    I’m becoming a better listener. At Patrick’s surprise birthday party, I didn’t talk about what was going on in our lives, I got some organization tips from Alex as she discussed her new built-in cabinets in the den, discovered the benefits of Melissa’s interesting new “cruelty-free” diet, and learned how Ms. Joan’s grandkids got their names - a topic I’ve always loved. At Mass, I concentrated on every word of the Apostle’s Creed, rather than mumbling along as I tend to do. I also have a better appreciation for nuances in music and have even come to love the whir of the ceiling fan as I fold laundry.

4.    I’ve had a taste of what it must be like to have a disability. I got frustrated within a few hours of whispering Saturday morning. There were so many words in my head that I wanted to get out, but I couldn’t. This must be how Frank feels, I told myself. No wonder he bites! On Sunday, we spent some time with our friends and their two children, one of whom is deaf. She and I were frustrated because we could not communicate unless our faces nearly touched. It made me wish I knew sign language. I also faced challenges handling customer service phone calls, making requests of Siri, ordering my lunch (Pita Pit because Chipotle is too noisy), and yelling “Stop!” at the woman who was about to back into the grocery cart containing my children. Thank God for Good Samaritans.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “Let your voice be heard.” In many instances, this is true, such as standing up for your faith or protecting your children. But, I know I tend to overuse my voice and underuse my ears. When my vocal cords finally decide to return from their summer vacation, I’ll remember what I’ve learned during this time of silent reflection.

August 06, 2014 03:53
By Robyn Barberry

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