I had The Flu During Pregnancy

It's end of September now and the weather's getting chilly again. Winter is ahead of us.

My mind wanders off to a time in my third trimester of pregnancy, when winter was in full swing.

Despite my best efforts at avoiding crowds, washing my hands frequently and loading up on Vitamin C, I contracted the common cold at 31 weeks of pregnancy. It took 3 full weeks of fluids, chicken soup and bed rest for me to considerably feel better.

Finally just when I thought the sneezing and coughing days were behind me, my health hit rock bottom at 34 weeks of pregnancy.

It started with exhaustion one day after a heavy lunch. Nothing out of the ordinary, I thought. With a heavy belly, I was lethargic most of my waking hours. I took a nap, hoping that rest would do some good. When I awoke in the evening, I felt achiness and soreness all over. My body didn't feel right.

I reached for the thermometer and was taken aback to see 38.7°C. Going into a slight panic attack, I called up my obstetrician-gynecologist (obgyn) who advised me to monitor my temperature and take Tylenol to bring down the fever.

Nighttime saw me running a 38.7-39.5°C fever which couldn’t be staved off even after three doses of Tylenol. For the record, I had stayed away from painkillers in my first and second trimesters even when I was experiencing terrible headaches. This was the first time in my pregnancy that I'd taken so much medication. I felt inexplicably guilty popping so many painkillers but the raging fever within me refused to be quelled.

Through the dark, long night, my husband managed to sponge me down to 38°C with iced towels. Things were looking serious now that I've run a high fever for 12 hours. We rushed to the hospital Emergency Room (ER) the first thing in the morning for medical attention. I was beside myself with worry, wrecked that I could be harming the little life within me with this terrible illness that was ravaging my body. With every movement she made in my womb, I couldn't help but visualise my baby writhing about in an overheated oven. Questions flooded my mind.

It must be boiling in there. Is baby able to withstand the heat?

The third trimester is the period when baby's brain undergoes the most development. Would my fever affect her brain growth?

I feel so stressed and worried sick. Would my negativity send the stress hormone cortisol to baby and impact her long-term?

The doctor and nurses didn't have a definite answer. When they told me not to worry unnecessarily with good intention, I felt that they were dismissive of my feelings. I was inconsolable and weepy, and my pregnancy hormones made it worse.

In the ER ward, I was quickly hooked onto the IV and my stats were taken. The nurse remarked that my heart was working very hard at 138, and asked if I felt breathless. I replied that I had no difficulty breathing. The medical team assured me that they would be getting someone from the Childbirth Unit to come over with a CTG scan machine to check on baby.

For the next four hours, I underwent a battery of blood tests including a Nose Swab test. Five hours after being admitted, the ER doctor came back with a grave expression. Putting on a face mask, he said solemnly, "You tested positive for The Flu. It's an Influenza A strain."

I had not gotten a flu shot during my pregnancy and my obgyn had seconded that decision as I am allergic to eggs. Being unvaccinated meant a higher severity of my flu symptoms, and potentially a longer time to recover from The Flu.

The ER doctor also shared that pregnant women are particularly susceptible to flu complications because pregnancy suppresses the immune system to protect the fetus. The growing baby makes it harder for a mother to clear her lungs. Seeing that I had been coughing for way before I contracted The Flu, the ER doctor discussed my condition with my obgyn and together they insisted that I undergo a chest X-ray to clear me of pneumonia.

I burst into tears. I didn't want to subject my baby to radiation from the X-ray!

The medical team assured me that the radiation dose was insignificant to cause fetal harm and that there would be more danger for my baby if I was down with undetected pneumonia. The radiology nurse went the extra mile to reassure me, saying she would put two layers of lead aprons on my belly.

I relented.

Thankfully, X-ray results came back negative for pneumonia.

At the same time, a nurse from the Childbirth unit arrived. She started me on a fetal non-stress test to observe baby's heart rate fluctuations. The test involved attaching two belts to my abdomen - one that measured fetal heart rate and another that measured contractions. Movement, heart rate and baby's heart rate response to movement were measured for 30 minutes. I was really nervous, not knowing how baby was faring in my feverish body.

"Excellent, baby's heart rate is spiking with movement," the nurse said comfortingly as she gripped my hand with a smile, a couple of minutes into the test. She continued to monitor the results for 30 minutes, before declaring that all was well with my baby. That was all the good news I needed on a very lousy day.

I was discharged from the ER ward in the afternoon and prescribed a 5-day course of Tamiflu, an anti-flu viral medication that would be effective since I was in the early stages of The Flu. My obgyn also asked my husband to take Tamiflu as a preventive measure, in case I passed on The Flu Bug to him.

At home, I continued to run a high fever for the afternoon and throughout the night. I recall shivering so violently in the dead of the night that I developed morbid thoughts of not making it. I'd Googled and read articles regarding pregnant women's mortality rate when it came to The Flu. I was honestly scared to death and sick with worry. But each time my mind wandered to those poisonous thoughts, I forced myself to think positively for the sake of my baby. I must get well!

When dawn broke, my fever miraculously subsided to the 37°C range. The worst was behind me.

In the weeks that followed, I continued to have Flu symptoms of running nose, hacking cough and nasal congestion that made it difficult to sleep and breathe but at least I was free from a high fever. My husband eventually nursed me back to health.

Being plagued by The Flu during my pregnancy remains one of the most traumatic and trying experiences I'd gone through in my life. When I read news articles of pregnant women and their babies succumbing to the deadly flu, my heart goes out to them because I know just how difficult it is for pregnant women to spring back to good health, unlike otherwise healthy individuals.

Today, my baby is a vivacious 5.5 month old who chuckles loudly at the funny faces I make and whines when I get out of sight. She is perfect in every way. But there is a spot in my heart that aches whenever I recall what this episode put my little baby through, my failure to shield her in my womb, and the paranoia in me wonders whether there are any long lasting side-effects to her development or health from the illness or Tamiflu medication. The guilt is real but thankfully my days are packed with caring for her needs so I have little time to dwell on the what-ifs and fruitless worries.

To my baby girl, my brave little trooper - thank you for your resilience, for making it through this ordeal with Mummy, for being okay when I wasn't.

I couldn't have chosen a better name for you, my daughter - you're "a blessed child" like your name.

I had The Flu During Pregnancy
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.

Hi! Thank you for taking time to read my blog. I am a stay-home Singaporean mama living in Seattle who is passionate about child-led and open-ended play for children in a conducive home environment.

Discovering Montessori and Reggio has been a life-changer for me. It made me an empathetic and mindful parent who follows my child’s needs and interests in the activities I plan at home. I hope the Montessori-friendly and Reggio inspired baby and toddler activities I share here inspire you too.

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