This is one of those posts where I feel sure I’ll alienate at least a third of you, but both my husband and I agreed that this is something I must blog about. So at the risk of doing just that, I’d love to tell you why my family will be getting flu shots this year, and why we will continue doing so as long as there’s a baby in the house.
Flu Season, 2010
About a year ago, I went in for my monthly prenatal checkup. My OB’s nurse, who I happen to love, by the way, partly because she totally salvaged my ability to nurse my firstborn child, asked if I would be getting a flu shot. Ever the cautious and skeptical pregnant lady, I told her that I’d like to check with my doctor and see what he thinks. She said “Oh I can tell you right now what he thinks. He would want you to get the shot.” Since we love and completely trust my OB (he’s a family friend), I dutifully got my flu shot.
My husband got his flu shot at work. My daughter, however, was another story. She came down with her first round of croup in October of last year (she’s had it three times since then). When I took her in for a follow-up appointment, her pediatrician said we should wait another week or two before getting a flu shot for her. Unfortunately, that sweet pediatrician passed away a week after Izzy’s croup episode. We didn’t want to switch offices, so we waited for his replacement to arrive, but to this day, the practice is not up and running again. Needless to say, my two year old never got a flu shot.
Fast forward four months. Andrew was born in early February, and as always, my family drove up to meet the new baby. My mom and sister planned on staying for a while to help out with Izzy and the new little one while I recovered from my c-section.
Andrew was born on a Friday, and everyone met him, held him, and relished the sweet little bundle of joy, the first grandson in both of our families. Saturday, my step-dad planned on driving back home to Lake Charles, so he stopped by the hospital. I offered Andrew to him, but Jerry declined, saying that he had a little cough and didn’t want to give Andrew his cold, if that’s what it was. A nurse brought the baby to the nursery because my younger brother, JJ, was also feeling poorly. JJ wanted to meet Andrew, so he just looked through the nursery window.
Jerry & JJ drove home Saturday night. On Sunday, the same day that Andrew and I were discharged from the hospital, Jerry woke up in Lake Charles feeling miserably. A visit to a doctor showed that he had the flu. Back in Texarkana, we all breathed a sigh of relief that Jerry didn’t hold the baby on Saturday, although he did on Friday.
But then my sister said she had a bit of a runny nose or something going on. She often has allergies, so this was no surprise. Still, she’s our resident germophobe, so she insisted on going to an ugent care clinic “just in case.” She tested positive for the flu. That night, she and my other brother, Rylan, stayed at a hotel to keep the germs away from us, and we Lysolled everything in the house.
My husband, mom, and I were the only ones left at the house, and we were getting pretty anxious. It felt like the flu was closing in on us.
Monday morning, we had Andrew’s 4 day well baby visit with the pediatrician. When we woke up, we discovered that Isabelle had a fever of 102.
We decided we would try to get her in to see the pediatrician too, so that we could confirm a flu diagnosis. I basically barricaded Andrew and I in the back of the house while my mom and Damian got Izzy dressed and ready. Isabelle felt terribly, and was crying and upset. She wanted her mommy more than anything, but I had another baby who needed me as well, and he needed me to be germ-free. My mama-heart ached to meet the needs of the child I’d been caring for over the past two years, but my newborn had needs that only I could meet (I was nursing), and he had to be my priority.
We put Izzy’s car seat in my mom’s car, to keep her from breathing on her baby brother, and mom followed us to the pediatrician. The large clinic did not want to permit Isabelle to see the pediatrician on such short notice, so we got a friend to pull some strings while I begged and even cried to the employee to break their precious protocol and let my daughter see a doctor. She eventually agreed.
I sat in the well-baby area with Andrew while my mom and Damian sat in a separate room with Izzy. The doctor confirmed that she had the flu, so we went home. We shipped Izzy, my mom, and the flu off to Lake Charles as soon as humanly possible. Izzy stayed in my mom’s car while I madly packed her bags and Damian filled her prescriptions. It hurt that I couldn’t hug and kiss my daughter goodbye, and my mom couldn’t hold or kiss Andrew, for fear of spreading germs.
Alone in our sick house, my husband and I disinfected everything we could. We looked at each other and wondered which of us would be next. Influenza had creeped closer and closer to our baby, until only the three of us were left.
Our pediatrician had advised taking Tamiflu prophylactically, that is, as a preventative measure against the flu. One doctor friend of ours gave us samples of Tamiflu to help us do just that, so we decided Damian would take it and I called my OB to get a prescription and find out if it is safe for nursing mothers. My doc called me back after 9:00 pm (told you he’s pretty awesome!). He had spoken with a NICU doctor to find out if this was advisable, because everything he’d read said that there’s no evidence to support taking Tamiflu prophylactically (although the makers of Tamiflu certainly advise it! I wonder why? $$$). The NICU doctor agreed that taking Tamiflu wouldn’t keep me from getting the flu. But what was really nice was my doctor’s complete assurance. He said “the baby’s going to be fine. You’re not going to get the flu because you had a flu shot. Gabby, your baby will be fine.”
The next night, friends brought us dinner. The woman who cooked for us was also reassuring, but for a different reason. She knew that I breastfeed my babies, and as a nursing instructor, she had been teaching recently on the benefits of colostrum, the substance that comes in prior to mom’s full milk. She said that among other benefits, colostrum also protects against respiratory illness. How incredible is that?
Afterwards, I remember other friends giving us great reasons why Andrew did not catch the flu. My husband finally just said “I don’t know which of these things God used to protect the baby, but I just know that He did it.” I completely agree.
That said, we became firm believers in flu shots after that experience. Mom and Rylan never did get the flu because they had already had the flu once that season. Otherwise, the only people who didn’t get the flu were me, Damian, and Andrew.
Can you imagine what would’ve happened if Andrew had gotten the flu? At the time, I was so upset about the possibility because I knew a baby less than a week old with the flu would definitely end up in the hospital. None of us had any idea yet that Andrew had a rare lung defect. He would’ve ended up being flown out of town for emergency, life-saving surgery, which is what really did happen. But instead of having a lobectomy (lung removal) in his fifth week of life, he would’ve had it in his first week of life. There’s no telling what sort of result we would’ve had with that situation. God is good!
Both my husband and my mom have joked that next time we have a baby, we’re not going to let anyone hold him if they haven’t had a flu shot. But I think they were only halfway joking. Everyone at my mom’s house has already gotten their flu shots this year, and my kids have appointments next week to get them as well. I can’t remember if their flu type was A or B, but it was consistent, and evidently it was the strain we’d been vaccinated against.
I can’t help but think that perhaps the reason that OBs and pediatricians are so pushy with flu shots is because by and large, flu shots work. Do I still have concerns about some of the ingredients and processes involved in making them? You bet.
So do what you will in your family. I know that every family has to make the decisions they feel are best for them. I’ve done a decent amount of research regarding immunizations in general, enough to make me a bit concerned. But after looking at the information, my husband and I decided that for our family, immunizations would be best. I know that others have done their homework as well, and for different reasons, you may choose not to immunize at all or sit out the flu shot. I totally respect thar. But for anyone who is on the fence on this issue, I thought you might be interested in hearing our story.
I’ve always had reservations about getting flu shots, but not anymore. You can bet that as long as there’s a baby in our house, we’ll be the first in line.