Monday, June 7, 2010

Whose decision is it?

One thing I wasn’t prepared for when traveling to Spain was the extent of the allergy problem. I had already gone through seasonal allergies at home and thought I was done with it for this year. But upon arrival in Spain, they hit hard, causing me to rub my eyes until they were raw and swelling my sinuses until I could neither inhale nor exhale air through my nose.

I was able to get a generic form of Claritin tabs from a nice pharmacist, even though in Spain, they don’t recommend it during pregnancy (in the U.S. and on the internet, information indicates it’s fine). But I was still having severe problems, especially with my nose. I had difficulty eating and sleeping. Even talking when closing my mouth meant I had no air supply.

I went into a pharmacy looking for a nasal spray. One of my Spanish friends had told me that the Spanish culture expects women to suffer to the point at which they cannot breathe at all before they will be given a medication while pregnant. Some pharmacists are more flexible, but others aren’t. So I didn’t plan to say anything about my pregnancy. I believed I was suffering significantly, I didn’t think an over-the-counter nasal spray posed a high risk, and I thought the benefits outweighed the risk.

Unfortunately, my friend entered the pharmacy with me and told the pharmacist I was pregnant. The pharmacist refused to give me anything. She sent us to a medical clinic, where they also refused me anything. They said if I had asthma and came in unable to breathe, they would give me a shot of the medication in the arm. But since I could still breathe through my mouth – nothing. This was a Saturday, a day on which most pharmacies are closed – and we were in the middle of the Pyrenees. So I had little chance of being able to find anything.

My friend apologized for putting her foot in her mouth. She said that she miscarried her first pregnancy late in the first trimester. “That makes you question everything you do,” she said. She told me she had plans before her second pregnancy to get a vaccine for allergies. When she found out she was pregnant, she refused the shot. “The doctor told me it was fine, that I could get it. But I said unless he gave me a guarantee in writing, which he wouldn’t, I wasn’t going to do anything with even the smallest chance of hurting the baby,” she said.

I’m sympathetic to those who have suffered miscarriages and I know that if I went through that, I would doubt myself and would be extra cautious. But as I told her, I think there is too much of a tendency to blame the mother. Mothers may wonder if they did something wrong. But they can never know. Most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities and probably have nothing to do with the decisions a mother makes. Nevertheless, I believe it was my friend’s right to refuse the allergy vaccine. And I believe it’s my right to take an over-the-counter medication when I believe I need it.

I understand there is now a medication available in the U.S. that helps a lot with continued morning sickness. There are some who say a woman should suffer through morning sickness as a normal part of pregnancy. Others, including a woman I know, says no one else would be allowed to suffer endlessly from any other illnesses for weeks or months at a time. Yes, there is a potential effect on an unborn life. But there is a definite effect on an already existing life. I believe that an adult, with the advice of medical professionals, should be able to decide if relieving her pain is worth the odds of potential harm to the fetus. In Spain, I felt that ability to decide for myself was taken away from me, that they put the well-being of the embryo above my own. That made me feel devalued and powerless. I didn’t like it.

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