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Through Shingles

by Maureen van der Stoel, Enchant, Alberta

I had quite smooth deliveries of our first three daughters, but the forth threw everyone, including, our doctor, for a loop.

At thirty nine weeks of pregnancy, I was admitted to the hospital thinking I was in labour; the pain was extremely, but strangely, not in my uterus-more like my back. After an examination it was found I had a case of “shingles” - the latent chicken pox virus in my body was causing my nerves to become inflamed. It is the chicken pox virus, but occurs only in adults who have had chicken pox at one time in their lives. You get a rash anywhere on your body, but frequently around your ribcage where a great deal of the nerves are concentrated. The rash is like a severe case of the chicken pox, but the accompanying pain of inflamed nerves is indescribable.

When the doctor confirmed the diagnosis, everyone was really puzzled. It rarely shows up in younger adults, it tends to be something older people get. In addition to that, it was even more unusual to get it at this stage of pregnancy!

I couldn’t be treated with Acyclovir, which could have limited the severity of the shingles, and I was limited in what I could take for painkillers. A serious concern that we knew could happen would be if I was to go into labour in the middle of this. My doctor felt if I had the active virus in my system for at least seven day, the baby would have enough passive immunity to protect her at birth.

I was fortunate that Bianca Shelagh, weighting 10 lbs. 14 oz. was born exactly seven days later. The birth was more difficult because I was very weak after being in incredible pain from the shingles. It also did not progress as quickly as the nurses would have liked to see, after finding some amniotic fluid stained with meconium had been passed. After being given a “deadline” and doing a lot of walking in the halls, it was decided some inducement would help. At this stage it seemed like the wisest thing to do.

I was on an IV with a gradually increased dosage of oxytocin. It still took a lot of waiting, but Baby Bianca was born at about 5:15 p.m. with a nurse in

the delivery room, with my doctor joining us in the last few minutes. He delivered the placenta with a twisting method to keep it intact.

The next step in protecting the baby from the chicken pox virus was to keep her from having direct contact with the rash on my chest. To do this, the nurse applied a plastic bandage used with burn victims that covers the area of skin, but still allows the skin to breath. In truth, the risk of contamination was almost certainly going to happen as I was in close contact with the baby. All the precautions may have been useless, it is most likely she had already picked up some immunity in utero.

Our other three daughters did not however, and all caught chicken pox in succession after I had shingles!

The rash and pain of shingles gradually went away for me and the baby was never seriously affected, except for having to go through an induced birth, which didn’t seem to have much affect on her.

One of the causes of shingles can be stress - the chicken pox virus is present in everyone after having it once, but at that point in my pregnancy I was under enough stress that my immune system just couldn’t fight it. I realized I was putting myself under a lot of stress at that point. I had this big panic that I had to have everything done and under control before the baby was born. It was almost like I expected life to be put on hold after the birth! I was just trying to cope with an unknown situation by having control of all the known things that I could. As I lay in bed trying to get through that week with shingles, I realized I really couldn’t deal with stress like that. Trying to “do” so much wasn’t solving the problem.

While I was sick, and after Bianca was born, I got a lot of help from my husband, Jeroen. He did everything in the house, because I could barely move. I could hear the kids in the kitchen telling him, “Mommy doesn’t do it like that!”, and at first I still wanted things done my way. After he let me know he could do it his way, I gradually started to let go of my need to retain control.

Three years later, I still feel a certain amount of nerve irritation that remains from the shingles when I am under stress. I still have trouble giving up control to others; I have learned to mellow out a bit in some situations, but I still struggle with trying to “do” too much sometimes. My husband does a lot around the house different from the way I do, but I can better accept that my ways aren’t necessarily better. It was a strange way to learn such a lesson!


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