Thursday, 16 April 2015

Vaccinations: a personal case for them.

The government is trying to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. The issue has had plenty of media and social media coverage, and the policy is to tie receipt of some forms of social security to having had your children vaccinated. It seems that informed people know the issues, and the overall consequences of lack of vaccination or low rates. However in some communities there is some opposition to vaccination of children.

Here is my personal experience. It is not easy to write about, despite the passage of 50 years. So if this account sounds wooden, it is because it revives a terrible experience, with profoundly affected me - and, of course, my husband.

I was the second of seven children. We all had our triple antigen injections, but vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and polio had yet to be developed. when the fist polio vaccine was developed, a doctor friend of the family had some reservations about the vaccine - I cannot now remember whether it was the Salk or the Sabin vaccine. Eventually I did receive the polio vaccination.

The link between rubella during pregnancy and birth defects was known. My mother kept saying that it was important to get rubella (then known as German Measles). Every time she knew of a friend whose children had caught rubella, we would visit, in the hope of catching it. We knew families with deaf children. And victims of polio. Many children with such afflictions were institutionalised.

I did not contract rubella. Not during my childhood. Mumps, measles, chicken pox, yes, but not rubella.

I married at the age of 22, and, being Catholic, and prohibited from using contraceptives, became pregnant in the second month of the marriage. A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling very sick. We were preparing to go to a friend's wedding. I noticed I had a rash, and immediately suspected the worst, that it was rubella.

We were living in a rented flat and had no telephone. We had to use a public telephone, and ring the GP. As it was Saturday, it was not easy to get through. When I succeeded, he said he could see me, but as he was going to a wedding, it had to be that morning. It turned out he was going to the same wedding. The doctor thought it was rubella, and managed to get me an urgent appointment with a specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis. The GP, being Catholic, said that he would not terminate the pregnancy, but he could refer me elsewhere. We chose not to terminate, because of the church's blanket and absolute prohibition on abortion. Nowadays I would have no hesitation.

Once I had recovered I returned to work. Pregnancy nausea was rather vile. The worry was much worse. How would we all manage? A few weeks later I had a threatened miscarriage. Off to hospital, but the pregnancy survived.

At 22 weeks, I bled again, and pains started. Back to hospital. Late in the afternoon, and very suddenly, the waters ruptured, and a tiny baby was born, a boy. I thought that it was all over.

But the pains continued, and got much worse. They continued into the night, and nurses were continuously at my bedside. They must had injected pethidine, or something, because I was very groggy and not aware of the time, nor of what was happening - and no one explained. In the depths of the night, I was aware of contractions and pushing, but no one explained what was happening, or what had happened.

In the morning, a nurse came and calling me by name, said, Did you know you had another baby?
No, I said, I want to see it.

It was another boy, much larger than the first tiny babe. And I wept bitterly, for my two dead babies, who had had no chance to live, and who would have faced dreadful damage - sight, hearing and other effects. My husband came in and I had to explain to him. We wept together, and told each other that losing our babies was the best thing, as they would have been so damaged. This was true, but they were my babies and I loved them. They were baptised, and I named them to myself.

The next pregnancy was an ectopic one, and I was very ill.

I do not think we ever recovered from that awful start to our married life, despite continuing our lives, our jobs, our savings and the building of a house, and the births in rapid succession, of our two daughters, followed five years later by the birth of our son. Such memories live on, and while the sorrow and pain is less acutely felt, I feel it still. It lives on. I weep as I write.

I would not want anyone to have such experiences. Thus when I read or hear of people refusing to have their children vaccinated, on what seems to me to be very suspect and specious grounds, I feel very upset. We have personal responsibilities, and social ones. We owe good care to ourselves, our families, to each other and to the whole community.