Well, I bit the bullet last week (and I sincerely hope I’m only speaking metaphorically here) and got the swine flu jab.
It was, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make and one that took some serious thought…and then a simple leap of faith. Seeing as I’m in the third trimester of pregnancy, I was faced with a thorny dilemma before I eventually took the shot – compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get a consistent response from the many health workers I consulted.
Like many of my generation, I was reared to believe that you take NO medication during pregnancy. Even a couple of weeks ago, when I was crippled with acute sciatica, I didn’t want to take a paracetamol. I avoid having my hair coloured throughout the nine months and do my best to stay away from strong cleaning chemicals, like oven cleaners (okay, I admit it, I kind of enjoy shunning the latter). Our trusted medical professionals don’t tend to vaccinate pregnant women against anything for fear of altering their body systems so it went against everything I believe in to readily seek out a vaccine the long-term effects of which people don’t yet know.
At this stage, the World Health Organisation still estimates that only one in seven pregnant women are stepping up and getting immunized. Though the numbers speak for themselves as more and more pregnant women are having some very serious outcomes from contracting swine flu, mothers-to-be are still terrified of harming their unborn baby in any way. More than anything else, the fast development and distribution of this vaccine has freaked me out. Surely it is too new for anyone to be sure of its safety? Studies on the vaccine have been limited and have not had long-term follow up hence, in my book, there is no guarantee that the vaccine is safe.
Though the forecasts started months ago that a swine flu pandemic was imminent, the message was never been consistent to expectant mothers. During the summer, I was led to believe that good hand hygiene would be enough to protect me from the virus and that pregnant women should continue to go about their daily routine. Then the advice changed to ‘avoiding crowded places’ and travel. And panic set in when some ‘experts’ advised women to avoid trying to become pregnant until the pandemic was under control. Believe me, pregnancy is an uncertain enough time, without this type of hysteria getting under your skin.
Then there were the mixed messages regarding the plans for the vaccination itself. First I asked my GP, in whom I have great faith. Her initial advice was to wait a week or so and see whether there would be any noticeable reaction amongst my ‘at risk’ group to the vaccine. However, she revised her opinion when she learned of a number of pregnant women in Waterford locality who had become seriously ill as a result of contracting swine flu.
During a visit to WRH, one midwife told me ‘unofficially’ that she wouldn’t dream of getting the vaccine as so little is known about its long-term effects. That same day, another health professional told me that it would be irresponsible of me NOT to get the jab. My mind was fit to explode and I became obsessed, questioning literally every health worker I came across.
In the end, I deduced that I’m probably less at risk from the vaccine than the disease and so I went for my shot. That night, I heard on the news that a pregnant woman in the east of the country had died as a result of swine flu so I allowed myself to be a little relieved that I’d made the right decision. And yet the mixed messages continued: when I received my vaccine at the HSE clinic, staff could not give me a definitive answer whether or not I’d need a second shot. If I did, I’d be notified in the coming weeks, I was told.
So I continue to live with the uncertainty and, may God forgive me, I’ll just have to live with the consequences if it transpires that I’ve made the wrong choice and my baby is in some way affected by the vaccine. And I thought the pressure on my bladder was bad!
Footnote: for any pregnant woman reading this who hasn’t yet gotten the vaccine but is considering doing so, this was my experience. I initially felt absolutely fine after the shot – not even the sore arm that so many people complain of. The following day, I felt like I had a flu coming on, including a profound tiredness that knocked me for six. A good night’s sleep (well, as good as any woman in the third trimester can expect) put paid to all this and within two days I was back to normal. Here’s hoping.