There has been a rise in the number of reported cases of Whooping cough, so far in 2012 there have been three times the cases of the entirety of 2011. Children in the UK get vaccinated at two months old meaning there is a window of time where newborn babies are incredibly vulnerable. Whooping cough can be pretty nasty for adults and older children but as nine sets of parents have learnt so far this year, it kills babies.
The good news is that on Monday, vaccines started being rolled out for women between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant. Given to expectant mothers (whether they’ve previously been immunised or not), the resultant antibodies we produce get passed onto our unborn children fortifying their defences for those vulnerable first eight weeks. Of course, there are plenty of women angry that it has taken so long. I cannot imagine the impotent fury of those with newborns or whose labour is imminent as this has hardly come out of the blue.
The stories started slowly on Mumsnet; GP surgeries that hadn’t seen the news (or read their emails) and who weren’t giving appointments for jabs. While I’ve read positive reports of GPs calling their pregnant patients to offer them the vaccine, plenty of us have had to fight.
I called on Tuesday and was told they weren’t doing them yet. I’m 34 weeks pregnant today (which according to some reports is the best time to have the jab) and fortunately had read the story of a woman who knew the NHS from the inside. I politely explained that I required a service that was government policy and that I’d be getting it somewhere. If they couldn’t provide the care I required could they please give me a contact number so I could book with another surgery. The receptionist said she’d check again and amazingly it turned out I could have the vaccine and would I like an appointment for the same afternoon as I was booked to see my midwife?
I think the worst argument I’ve read was the woman who managed to speak to a manager who was deciding between allowing her the vaccine that was earmarked for the booster jabs of school children. The plan was to treat the school children and give the pregnant women the delivery due in a fortnight. The manager asked the pregnant women whether she wanted to deny children the vaccine. Of course she did! Two weeks would make no difference to the children already immunised and with relatively developed immune systems but she was already 36 weeks pregnant and every day she was producing antibodies, the better for her baby. She got the vaccine.
I’m not objective, I recognise that. This is a clear indicator of how I’m starting to take policy and its enactment deeply personally.
That’s not to say I’m not new to fighting. I successfully got a GPs appointment (as opposed to a nurses’) at the family planning clinic when I had my coil fitted. It was a second attempt and I wanted anaesthetic gel. But it was different. In that case I saw my request as exactly that, a request. While I believe women should have choice regarding their treatment but fair enough if that means waiting longer or having to travel further.
With demanding my vaccine I was defending my child. I wasn’t prepared to wait until it was convenient for the surgery to help him, I’m his mother and it’s my job to take care of him.
My midwife asked whether I’d considered having the flu jab at my appointment and I said I was about to have it. She smiled and made a note on my record. I added that I was having the Whooping cough jab at the same time. “I didn’t think we were offering it yet” she said. “That wasn’t going to stop me” I replied with a smile. She laughed despite herself in a way that clearly demonstrated approval.
It has to be a tough job and I imagine midwives are having a frustrating time as they are the ones that deal with the majority of the fears and concerns of the hormonally unhinged section of society that I currently enjoy membership of.
I feel a bit like a pin cushion having had a jab in either arm and like previous times I’ve had the flu jab I’m starting to feel like I’m coming down with a cold. But I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that every bit of neck ache and extra tiredness is for him.
This new subjectivity serves a purpose. By losing my ability to prioritise anything over my child, my body ensures that he never slips far from my thoughts. Frustrating as baby brain is, I remember every antenatal appointment and class. It’s comforting as for several months now I’ve felt somewhat dreamily that I’ve suffered an invasion of the body snatchers. If it achieves something then I can live with that.
Still, the slippery slope starts here I fear...