I haven’t gotten a flu shot in almost 5 years. (Sorry, mom.) I’m also pregnant, and I haven't gotten a flu shot yet. I know, I know. But before you start to lecture me or think I’m some kind of reckless human or anti-vaxxer, let me explain.
As a kid and a teenager, I got a flu shot every year, because I didn’t really have a choice. My mom took me to the doctor every year and forced me to get a flu shot, and we called it a day. In college, we had flu shot clinics, and I would go with my roommates to health services between classes. But somewhere along the line, I started developing nasty side effects to the flu vaccine. At first, I thought I might be imagining it, but every year it seemed to get worse and worse.
One of the last few times I had a flu shot was during the holidays one year, when I was spending time with my parents in New York. I had been feeling slightly under the weather after getting my shot, but I didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t have a fever. (It’s worth noting that doctors advise against getting a flu shot if you're already sick, but generally believe that it is okay to get the flu shot if you're not running a fever.) But just hours after leaving CVS, my throat was sore, my eyes were itchy, and I could barely breathe through my nose. I ended up coming down with the flu just a few days later and spent the next few days in bed.
Now that I’m pregnant, I can’t only think of myself and my own health. I have to think about my unborn daughter's health as well.
And this isn’t the only time something like this has happened to me. A couple of years later, which might have been my very last flu shot, I felt fine upon going into the clinic. Days later, once again, I was sick. Incidentally, the CDC notes that while the flu vaccine cannot “give” you the flu, it’s not that uncommon to feel sick with flu-like symptoms after getting vaccinated. About 1 to 2% of people who get flu shots will experience side effects such as fever, aches, and soreness.
Since then, I've avoided getting a flu shot. But now that I’m pregnant, I can’t only think of myself and my own health. I have to think about my unborn daughter's health as well. The concern of feeling sick after getting a shot is real and valid for me, but I know I also need to consider her safety.
Most research suggests that it's a good idea to get a flu shot during your pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association strongly recommends that women receive the flu shot at some point during their pregnancy, not only to protect the mother, but also to protect the baby. Research has shown that babies whose mothers have had a flu shot are protected against the flu for up to six months, which is when they’re old enough to get their own vaccine. And one study even suggests that women who get the flu shot are 51% less likely to have a stillbirth than their unvaccinated counterparts.
What if I wasn't doing enough to ensure that my baby is safe? Am I already progressing into "bad mom" territory, even though I'm just in my second trimester?
I’m definitely feeling the weight of guilt for not getting a shot. Everyone has nagged me about it, from my family, to my doctor. Even a customer-service woman from my health insurance has brought it up. Nonetheless, my fear of getting sick from the shot has kept me from getting it so far. It wasn't until I actually started doing research for this piece that I was hit with a pang of guilt: What if I wasn't doing enough to ensure that my baby is safe? Am I already progressing into "bad mom" territory, even though I'm just in my second trimester?
I suppose this is one of those decisions you have to make during pregnancy, where you can no longer just think about what you want or what you need, or what’s best for you in the moment. Instead, you have to consider the well-being of another person. I’m sure there will be a lot more of those types of situations in the weeks, months, and years to come.
So while I don’t like the idea of subjecting myself to flu-like symptoms (and I’m assuming I’ll get them, since it’s happened before), I also don’t like the idea of my daughter getting sick if I could have prevented it. And while I fully intended to continue my pregnancy by defending my decision not to get a shot and digging my heels in the sand, I think I'm starting to realize that I’m not just making decisions for myself anymore. I’m responsible for a whole other person. And while that can seem scary and overwhelming, at least I have doctors who I trust.
So the next time I go to the OBGYN, I’ll ask for a flu shot. You win, mom.