This is me, age 35, pregnant for the third time. This picture is hard to look at I know, but I wanted to share with you my experience with shingles in pregnancy.
I was 11 weeks pregnant when we took the girls to Florida for our last trip as a family of four. About a week into the trip I got so sick! I spent the next 5 days in bed or at the walk in clinic. First I had flu like symptoms and then the pain started. Everything was painful, my skin was raw, it hurt to chew, I could literally feel every fibre of the towel when I tried to dry my face. It felt like someone was holding a cigarette to my face. For days I had shooting pain through my nerves every 20 seconds like contractions. Then a few days later, I started to get what looked like hives on the parts of my face where my skin felt raw. The doctors did not think it was shingles at first as I had three nerve paths involved and usually it is just one. The most commonly affected nerve path is on your torso, but it can occur along any nerve path. Usually it occurs in a population older then myself. It is extremely hard to put into words how excruciating nerve pain is! This pain lasted for weeks. Because I was pregnant, I was not allowed to take anything for the pain. The best was extra strength Tylenol which did absolutely nothing. The pain lasted 6 weeks and then one day it was gone and intense itchiness began. I am not sure which was worse! I could not sleep; I could not stand even one single strand of hair touching my face. I would scratch constantly for hours. I once sat in bed for an hour scratching the inside of my ear with a Q tip until it bled. Every time I ate chocolate (which I LOVE), I would pay the price of an intensified itch for about an hour and a half after. A sweet Doctor at work figured out I could have numbing cream, which to my relief after 3 months of this itchiness finally allowed me to sleep even if was only for a couple hours at a time. I never realized how long it takes for nerves to heal. I still a year later have an itchy face, it is tolerable, but still with sugar it makes it itch more. I have so much more understanding and empathy when I have patients with nerve pain now which is one positive aspect that came out from this journey.
But the biggest blessing out of this entire experience was my baby was not affected! Shingles does not affect your baby if you have had chicken pox previously or the vaccination. The antiviral medication that I had to take to slow the spread of the Varicella virus did not affect my baby. This was the only thing that I said to myself as a kind of mantra over and over to get me through this. There is a risk if you have not had chicken pox or the varicella vaccine, which is why your are tested for varicella immunity during the beginning of your pregnancy.
If you have had chicken pox, you can get shingles. It lays dormant and can flare up at any time. When you are pregnant you are also considered to be immune compromised. It is only contagious when the fluid in the blisters comes in contact with some person or little people that have not had the virus. I was so careful. I was virulent about hand washing. I had hand sanitizer bottles in every room. I had separate towels that I used to avoid any cross contamination.
The hardest thing for me during the time that I had these horrible blisters covering my face was not being able to kiss and hug my kids. This lead to a LOT of tears shed into my pillow. I missed their tiny arms around my neck and their pudgy wet lips on my cheeks. I miss sniffing their hair and kissing their chubby cheeks. It was so hard but made me so grateful when I could again hold them close.
Our families’ journey with the Varicella virus made another surprise appearance a week before I was to be induced with my son. My youngest daughter who was 3 years old at the time developed 10 tiny itchy spots on her arms and legs….you guessed it….she had chicken pox. Seriously!!! I could not believe it. Luckily she had received the first dose of the chickenpox vaccine at 12 months which decreased the severity substantially only getting 10 spots that were not too itchy verses hundreds of spots that I got as a child. The spots crusted over within 48 hours of appearing and our son made his surprise early arrival the following day.
He is beautiful, healthy and happy and our family is now complete. And fingers crossed that this is the end of our adventure with Varicella.
Questions? I am always happy to chat! Contact me here
Kate Macdonald, RN, Lactation Counselor
The Mama Coach- Okotoks