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Pertussis Booster: Something to Think About

Natalie and her baby Gavin in November 2009 / Image by Natalie Norton

Last week, I kept seeing Natalie’s tear-streaked face on a banner ad at the top of our “Being Pregnant” blog page, and each time I ached inside. I met Natalie, who is an unpaid spokesperson for Sounds of Pertussis, at a photography workshop I attended in Hawaii, a few years ago—when I was still pregnant with my first boy. She was friendly and carefree, laughed a lot, and was trailed by a brood of three adoring/mischief-causing little boys who obviously humored her.

A local, Natalie toted myself and some other workshoppers around the island in her car, and I remember we talked about her brother Gavin, who had died somewhat recently, and also her desire to add another little one to her troop of boys. After leaving Hawaii, Natalie and I became Facebook friends and I started following her then-photography blog. I like her frank-but-positive writing style. Plus, she’s funny and boy humor is sometimes her specialty. No wonder.

A year or so later, I came across an alarming update from Natalie in my news feed. It was something about taking her new baby Gavin—named after her brother—to the emergency room. And then, it seemed just hours later, another update about his being taken to the PICU. The next one said something about Pertussis and contained pleas for prayers on his behalf. And then I remember reading the words “we’re losing him” through tear-filled eyes.

I, along with countless others, (Natalie had a lot of Facebook friends, even back then), collectively worried and ached and prayed for her sick eight-week-old who just days earlier had a slight cough. I don’t think we could believe the reality of it. First, I was inspired by social media’s ability to create an immediate online support group. But I really couldn’t believe that her baby was that sick, and that she could lose him so quickly. Of course my real standout question was, what is this thing called Pertussis? And then, like any mom, why her Gavin and not my Oscar, who I took on a flight (a hotbed for communal germs) when he was only five weeks old?

My own status update, later that day read: “Holding my Oscar a little tighter today.”

Since then, I’ve wondered countless times why I never heard a word about Pertussis in even one of my prenatal exams. My baby’s pediatrician never voiced concern, either, nor the hospital where I delivered. I’m good about washing my hands and coughing into the crook of my elbow, but this one seems to be an easy fix, and it comes down to awareness. It’s nice to know that you’re making a decision, rather than having it be made for you simply because you’re out of the know.

So, soon-to-be moms, here’s the skinny: A Pertussis booster shot is necessary in prevention, even for once-vaccinated adults. The booster makes it easier to prevent the spread of Pertussis, or whooping cough, which is no biggie for adults to get over but potentially fatal to babies who can’t get vaccinated until they are six weeks old.

To learn more you can visit Sounds of Pertussis, and then enter your zipcode in the top right corner of the screen to find your nearest vaccination center.

Mine is less than a mile away.

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