This past spring, while watching the news, a story came on that shocked me. Which is pretty difficult given we live in the age of sensationalized media. There was a Mumps outbreak at Harvard! Like many others, I struggled to wrap my head around the idea that an outbreak of an illness I’d long considered non-existent could happen. How awful it was for the students who had been infected. They seemed to be in real pain, but even more frightening? A fair number of those students were vaccinated. As the segment wrapped up, it left me with a strong sense of foreboding. But like most worries I moved on. There were soccer games to attend, and dinners to make. Life trudged on.
Not too much later, much to mine and my husband’s excitement, we found out we were expecting. After the two little lines appeared, buoyed by my enthusiasm, I contacted my doctor and scheduled my first appointments. Feeling more than a little relieved that at least, this time, I knew what I was doing.
I met with my doctor, who gave me a clean bill of health. Then they requested the dreaded blood work. Now, I hate needles. I’m a great big baby about it, and I don’t even try to hide it (at least I don’t try to run away, the phlebotomist appreciated that).
I sat in the hot seat, survived, and went home. For the next month, I enjoyed the excitement and trepidation of preparing for my second child. And the wonder of excessive morning sickness.
When I returned for my next appointment, my doctor told me everything was progressing nicely, but that my blood work showed that I might not be immune to Rubella (German Measles). I stared back at her. “So...give me the shot?” I saw what happened to those kids; I may be a big baby, but there was no way I was putting my child at risk.
She shook her head. “The MMR vaccine isn’t safe to give during pregnancy, but we can give you the booster as soon as the baby is born.”
I continued to stare, unblinking. The blood whooshing in my ears. “But I can get sick.”
My doctor’s response, “Yes.”
I was never one of those anti-vaxers. My Mom’s a nurse, and both my daughter and brother had auto-immune disorders. I’ve always had a keen awareness of health, and science pretty unequivocally shows that vaccines prevent illness. What my doctor was telling me is that for the next 8 or so months of my pregnancy I was going to have to walk around unprotected, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
I felt sick to my stomach. I’d been taking every precaution. Tried to prevent every risk. I asked my doctor how this happened. I WAS UP-TO-DATE ON MY VACCINES! She smiled kindly and explained that immunity is complicated. How eight years previously, during my first pregnancy, I had been immune, but that it could wear off. Like a friggin temporary tattoo!
I thought back to that news segment. The students puffy, swollen faces. That could happen to me! As soon as I was in the car I Googled Rubella during pregnancy. You know what I learned? According to the CDC, if I were to contract the virus during pregnancy, not only am I at risk for a miscarriage, but my child could be born with congenital heart defects, intellectual disabilities, liver or spleen damage, loss of eyesight, or hearing loss.
And I can’t do anything to fix this.
Frantic, I contacted my friends and family. “Are you vaccinated? Are your kids vaccinated? Have you thought about getting a booster?”
Lucky for me, their answers were yes. Although my Grandpa did say, “Hey, I think I had Rubella when I was a kid.”
What frustrated me most was that I had to ask.
Bottom line: people choose not to vaccinate. And given my circumstances, I just can’t understand that choice. I don’t understand putting your child’s health at risk on purpose.
When you get vaccinated, and when you vaccinate your child, you protect us both.