Woman recieving vaccination

A virtual sprinkle, vaccine science, and the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant

Lilly is a part-time Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at a local hospital, primarily working in the joint labor and postpartum unit. She is also an Ovia Health coach. You might recognize Lilly from her many appearances in Ovia Answers Instagram lives where she discusses breastfeeding, including episodes on preparing to breastfeed, overcoming breastfeeding challenges, and breastfeeding your little one from infant to toddler ages. This is her story about her decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant with baby #2.

Published January 27, 2021

In so many ways the world seemed to stop when COVID hit, can you tell us a bit about those first few weeks?

I’m due on May 4th, and keep joking “Not a day later!” but clearly we don’t usually get to decide.

When COVID first hit, my little family of three (plus our pooch) just stopped doing everything. We didn’t even try to see friends with masks on. Our babysitter was 70+, so we easily agreed that she shouldn’t expose herself to me as a healthcare worker.

After night-weaning my first, I had just started ovulating again — but we put off trying because of all of the unknowns. I felt lonely, but it also felt like everyone in our small community was “doing the right thing.” There was so much community solidarity. Our department quickly began testing all patients on admission, so I felt pretty safe at work. I kept reminding myself how lucky we were to have just seen extended family in February, and summer was coming — so at least we’d be outside even if we were still alone.

How has the pandemic impacted your pregnancy?

When things in our island community stayed totally COVID quiet, we decided to start trying for baby #2. I was about to turn 40, and I didn’t want COVID to rob us of a sibling for our son if we waited indefinitely. The beginning of the pregnancy was okay — I missed having childcare help, but as our COVID numbers were non-existent during my first trimester, I felt okay. I felt safe. We got a miracle spot in the sweetest preschool in September when a family moved, and felt really great about their safety measures.

And then late October hit. Cases in our community sky-rocketed over the next few weeks, and by Thanksgiving we decided to pull our son out of preschool. I stopped seeing anyone, even outside with masks. I requested (and was denied) pregnancy accommodations at work. I began to fear co-workers, patients and their partners. PPE doesn’t feel like enough. I cringe watching community members travel, eat in restaurants and ignore their quarantine precautions (a horrible side effect of knowing who is positive and living on a tiny island).

Of course, everyone is dealing with the collapse of their mental health because of COVID in a different way, but it’s hard not to be angry with others and my employer, and hard not to feel sad about the times in so many ways (I also just hate winter)!

But the good news is our second baby has given everyone in my family a bright spot. My sisters are pumped to have a virtual sprinkle to plan (hey, not my idea, but anything to give them something fun to do)! May is a great time to have a baby, given that most of my family travels here for the summer — and my parents have already had their first dose of vaccine and will be here at last. By May, it will have been more than a year since we’ve seen anyone in our families, and so so so sweet to be together with a new person in tow!

When did you decide to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

I was so excited about the vaccine process in general. I’ve been following Moderna’s progress in particular, and am so thrilled with the science! If my community weren’t still a red zone, if I’d been able to work from home — I would have waited until after giving birth. But the risks of COVID for pregnant people are higher than I can accept.

I devoured every piece of information and breakdown of the vaccine science I could find. I deeply wanted it, but didn’t necessarily feel like being a research subject. At the end of the day, the science coupled with so many supportive expert opinions and fellow pregnant healthcare workers all over the country going ahead with it made the decision for me. I wish people saw more of the scientists who worked on these vaccines!

Where are you at in the process of being vaccinated?

I had my first dose five days ago! I ended up getting the Moderna vax — it was just what was thawed that day. I’ll get my second dose the first week of February.

Can you share more about the experience of receiving the vaccine?

Happy to report I had a sore arm for about two days, and I think that’s it. It’s tough when you’re pregnant with a toddler to say if you’re fatigued or have a headache, etc. That’s kind of my life these days! I felt really excited to get the vaccine. And my best friend was working at the vaccine clinic — which helped enormously.

I didn’t feel nervous until after I got home. Maybe it’s knowing there is yet another dose, maybe it’s just all of the unknowns, but I want this baby to be healthy, and ultimately, given the risks of COVID-19 and how bad it can be, this was the right decision for me.

Anything else you’d like to share?

In 2016 I had a really mild viral illness while living in Uganda. I was fine for a week or so after, and then started to feel exhausted. I had a few weeks left on my contract there, and thought it was just burnout. I also thought I’d get home to the U.S. and modern medicine would “figure it out.” (Silly me!) After seeing a million specialists, who definitely took me seriously, I was diagnosed with a post-viral syndrome and told it might be a year before I felt better.

It took close to 8 months. I could barely care for myself, I couldn’t really work. I had good days and bad days, but it was awful. When I first heard about the COVID long-haulers (I have a former co-worker who has been suffering since her initial infection in March), I immediately thought back to 2016.

Part of my vaccine decision is about the sides of COVID that don’t get discussed enough, and my personal history and how much I believe this virus is capable of. Please get vaccinated as soon as you are able. And please support vaccine research for excluded groups like pregnant women and children!

This interview is part of a three part series Ovia hosted with healthcare professionals about the decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Read other stories in the series here and here.

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