I had a real worry about being judged (Picture: Jen Sizeland)
When my midwife first mentioned that I could soon get the vaccine, I was hesitant.
For one, I’d assumed it wouldn’t be an option for me until after I’d given birth in September.
Not only that, but the ever-present backdrop of the pandemic has taken away the support system for many pregnant women, meaning I faced making the choice without the input of anyone apart from official advice and the NHS website.
In normal times, there would be antenatal classes to attend as well as conversations with friends and colleagues in the same position.
Then I came down with a cold during my second trimester at 24 weeks, and its ferocity in my immunocompromised state caught me off guard. During pregnancy, some parts of your immune system are suppressed and others are enhanced, a delicate balance that makes pregnant women really vulnerable to Covid.
It’s unusual for me to get colds at all and it took me nearly three weeks to recover from it.
Not being able to breathe out of my nose for the majority of that time was a stark reminder of my vulnerability as a pregnant woman. People with Covid are also advised to sleep on their front, something you simply can’t do with a growing bump.
There was also the rapid dispersal of the Delta variant, with cases surrounding my local area in North Manchester. As a result, there were more vaccines available here and I didn’t want to be responsible for further spread, end up in an ICU bed and nor did I want to spend the entire summer indoors alone.
Two weeks after that conversation with my midwife, I came to my decision. I didn’t want to wait for a midwife referral so I booked in at the Pfizer clinic, as only mRNA jabs are currently recommended for those who are expecting.
I was 28 weeks pregnant so I wore a huge dress to disguise my bump – I presumed I’d be the only person there with another inside them, and I had a real worry about being judged.
I thought I would be regarded as selfish and making the wrong decision for my baby. Sadly, I have heard of a small number of women who have been abused or questioned at vaccination centres, either by other attendees who disagree with their decision or inexperienced volunteers who haven’t received training on dealing with pregnant people.
But I couldn’t hide it for long as my vaccine card was partially obscured by a huge orange sticky note, added by the reception volunteer, reading ‘28 weeks pregnant’ that marked me out from everyone else.
Apart from the vaccinator asking permission from a supervisor before jabbing me, as he hadn’t vaccinated a pregnant woman before, it was quick and pain-free with no side effects afterwards. While in the waiting room, I could feel the baby kicking and I felt like I’d done the right thing by them.
My vaccine card had a huge orange sticky note reading ‘28 weeks pregnant’ that marked me out from everyone else (Picture: Jen Sizeland)
Both vaccines and women’s bodies are two things that have been heavily politicised and continue to be, meaning that I found myself at an unfortunate intersection of both.
I feel like being pregnant, being a mother and baby’s health are topics that people feel they can comment on in a way they wouldn’t do otherwise, something which is anxiety-inducing to face now the world is opening up.
I didn’t even post on social media as there was a very small part of my brain that felt like I’d committed a divisive act. While I know my friends are supportive, I know that people jump on hashtags regarding vaccines and motherhood, something I didn’t want to invite onto my feed at such a vulnerable time.
In contrast, when I was offered the whooping cough vaccine at 16 weeks pregnant, I didn’t hesitate to get it – and felt no fear that I would be judged. But something about coronavirus vaccines gets people riled up.
While I’m obviously pro vaccines, if an expectant parent chooses to wait until the birth to be vaccinated, then that is their decision and I respect that.
However, there’s no doubt in my mind that vaccines have allowed me to live the life I’ve lived and that they have given me the freedom to travel around the UK and the world without sickness, hospitalisation, or worse.
Prior to Covid and pregnancy, I’d been backpacking around the world and received many of the vaccines currently available from yellow fever, encephalitis, hepatitis, meningitis and everything else I could get.
Now, I wish that same freedom for my unborn child. I still remember getting the BCG stamp test for TB immunity at school and the six dots puffed up on my wrist as I inherently had full immunity to it from my mum.
I like to think I’ve given my child the gift of health and to help them feel safe in a complex world, which is the only thing that any parent cares about, once everything else is stripped away.
I’ve now booked in to get my second vaccine during pregnancy, this time without any doubts.
Find the latest NHS advice and resources on vaccination in pregnancy and while breastfeeding here.