Anna and Lily's story

Varicella (chickenpox)

Anna had chicken pox when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Two weeks later her three year old daughter Lily also came out in spots.

“ I think a couple of days before I actually came out in the spots I felt like I was getting a very bad dose of the flu, sore eyes and just feeling very tired, but a lot of it I thought oh I must be tired because end of the year and I have been working and I am pregnant. I was 18 weeks when I came out in the spots, so I probably contracted it a couple of weeks before that.

Three days before Christmas, on the Monday, I woke up with what looked like mosquito bites. Just small little mosquito bites on my stomach. My friend had said oh my children are well and truly over the chicken pox and I thought Lily hasn’t had them. It doesn’t matter whether she gets them or not. I never even thought that I would contract them. I knew I didn’t have chicken pox as a child and I suppose I never even thought you know. I remember a couple of times when Lily was a baby I tried to expose her to chicken pox as a young child, but as a baby she never got them. So I just didn’t even think of myself for some reason.

Family Christmas and I had my family coming over from England with a new baby, so it was a major inconvenience to everyone concerned really. I rang the doctor up to get an appointment. I said I think I have got chicken pox. I went down there several hours later and by that time a lot more spots had emerged. I hadn’t really thought anything of the baby. I wasn’t even thinking of that. I was thinking oh this is a nark. I didn’t know the associated risks of being pregnant and having the chicken pox. So I went down to my local GP and he said well there is a risk but if you were between 1 and 12 weeks or at the end of your pregnancy there is more of a risk, but I suggest you contact your specialist to get more information.

So by that stage, it’s 2 o’clock on Monday afternoon, a couple of days before Christmas, I was beside myself then. There was several hours before my specialist got back to me and I made the mistake of going on the Internet and looking up the chicken pox virus and reading all about the things that could affect your baby. Brain damage development, developmental damage, that sort of thing, so, yes, it threw me into a bit of a state of depression.

My specialist got back to me and he said look there is a risk but it’s fairly minimum and then of course I read on the Internet that only 1 in 2000 women who are pregnant get chicken pox and I thought well this is just my luck you know, something will happen with the baby. But the next four days as the chicken pox came out it was a really miserable time. They came up everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. I had temperatures. I was feeling miserable, tired, and also I got really depressed and especially Christmas Day. The next day afterwards it really affected me and also the spots and the pain and the associated pain. You know baths, Pinetarsal baths in the middle of summer all through the night. They say that you get them a lot worse as an adult and you certainly do and with the associated worry of the baby; it hasn’t been a pleasant time.

It’s the pain. With a mosquito bite or something like that you itch and it gives you immediate satisfaction but if you itch or rub a chicken pox spot it really aches. It’s very sore.

And being pregnant too I was even hotter and underneath my breasts they were just, I had millions of them because it was such a hot place there. And the mouth. I got them in the mouth. I didn’t get any in my ears, unlike Lily and through my head. Mmm!

So when Lily developed chicken pox two weeks later I had every idea of what she was going through. She had a fever and she had a couple of very bad nights when she was very much in pain and it wasn’t so much the itch, it was everything else. It was everything associated with the fever. It was ghastly. She actually has been remarkably okay considering she has had three very bad days but she seems brighter now.

My husband had to go back to work which put extra pressure on me. I had to get friends in so I could go out and do shopping and things like that. I think if I had known now or thought about it I would certainly have had us immunised against chicken pox but it was one of those things. I didn’t actually know — you know Lily has had MMR vaccinations but when it came to chicken pox I didn’t realise you could get a vaccine and prevent this from happening

I don’t think there is any question about it really. In fact I have already been telling people, friends who have called up and who have said they haven’t had chicken pox that they should definitely go and get an immunisation for their children.

It’s not a pleasant illness and if you can avoid it. I mean we don’t think twice about going and getting a flu jab these days. Well this is a lot more serious and can cause a lot more damage, especially when by accident a pregnant woman may be exposed and the dangers of that are so serious.

Especially towards the end of a pregnancy it’s very, very dangerous. So not realising the dangers of chicken pox I think is — yes there needs to be a big education campaign about, because had I known I certainly would have got both of us immunised.”

This story has been edited from a recorded interview for the Piercing Memories project and is posted on IMAC’s website with the consent of the author.