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Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 17:24 UK
'Pregnant with swine flu, but it'll be OK'

Helen Westaway
Helen thought she had food poisoning

Helen Westaway, 32, is a freelance sign language interpreter and Baby Sign teacher.

Last Monday, 13 July, Helen started feeling ill and, as her symptoms got worse, she was finally diagnosed with swine flu.

Helen, who lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter in south east London, is also 22 weeks pregnant.

Here, she tells BBC London about being an expectant mother in the centre of a public health crisis.


It felt like I had flu but without the runny nose and there was no cough. Because I work freelance I am in other people's offices every day. I joked that 'Oh, I've got swine flu' and everybody was making pig noises…

When you are pregnant you are already hyper-sensitive about any tiny cough or cold and you think the baby is going to die or you're going into labour!

I had a very high temperature and was very achy. It felt like someone had taken my batteries out.

I came home on the Monday night and was really, really sick. All Monday night I vomited and had diarrhoea. It was awful.

I was still sick throughout Tuesday. There was no cough or chest problems so I thought I had food poisoning or morning sickness.

Helen Westaway
There was no cough or chest problems so I thought I had food poisoning or morning sickness
Helen Westaway

I have no idea where I might have got this from. There are eight cases of swine flu at my daughter's nursery. However, the nursery is based in two different buildings and in my daughter's building there have been no cases.

On Wednesday I still couldn't get off the sofa. My husband said 'If you can't get off the sofa tomorrow then I want you to phone the doctor.' He had been really encouraging me to do it, but I was like, 'Don't be silly, don't be silly.'

On Thursday I rang NHS Direct but I couldn't get through. It was just an automated message saying unless you are dying, go away.

So I rang the doctor. You could tell he was very rushed; he got me off the phone in about 30 seconds. I told him how I had been feeling and he said, 'Yep, sounds like you've definitely got the symptoms. I'll give you some Relenza.'


My husband went to get the Relenza from the chemist on Thursday. I opened the packet and it basically says 'If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, we don't know if this medicine is going to hurt you or not because we haven't been able to test it properly.'

That worried me. So I didn't take it.

Helen felt the benefits of Relenza immediately

By Friday morning my breathing was getting quite difficult. It felt like I was getting an asthma attack and the coughing started. At this point it was quite clear that I did have swine flu.

I rang the midwives at Lewisham hospital and she was fantastic. I had her on the phone for ages!

She said, 'Relenza is a new drug and there has not been any time to test it properly. There is nothing in it that we know of that is going to hurt you. It goes straight into the lungs instead of the placenta so it's not going to damage your baby.'

She was very reassuring.

The dosage is two puffs twice a day. It has two tablets that you put into an inhaler and inhale that straight into your lungs.

The first time I took the Relenza the baby stopped moving. The baby is normally very active but totally stopped moving for about six or seven hours. It was really, really scary. I tried all my usual tricks: Had my cold drink, a hot bath and all the normal things that make the baby move.

Helen Westaway
Relenza goes straight into the lungs

I was convinced I had killed my child with the Relenza. It was awful. Eventually the baby started moving again and it is absolutely fine. That was a very scary experience!

But apart from that, Relenza has been brilliant. As soon as I took it I felt better. I've been taking it for five days and I am feeling like my old self again.


A lot of people freaked out. I had loads of like, 'Oh my god, are you OK, how's the baby, how's the baby?'

People have made jokes and said they're going to paint the door red so that people will know not to come near us. People we were supposed to see have cancelled, obviously.

Living through this and the way it has been reported in the media has been horrendous.

When I initially got ill, I just thought it's only the flu; it's only swine flu. I feel awful but I thought it'll be all right in a few days.

Swine flu public health poster

When I got off the phone after the doctor had given me the diagnosis, the first thing I did was turn on the TV and it was BBC News. The headline was something like '27 people have now died of swine flu' and I just burst into tears.

All of a sudden I am thinking I have got a two-year-old and I am going to die and my baby is going to die. It became this ridiculous thing. It was like a frenzy. Every channel and every news bulletin and every paper, every minute of every day. Swine flu!

The media became relentless. I didn't tell a lot of people that I have got swine flu because it felt like I had something really dirty, like the plague. Just by giving it a different name it sounds more sinister.

What was interesting is that I didn't see a single pregnant woman on TV saying 'I've had it, it wasn't that bad, and I'm still alive. My baby is still alive and it's OK.'

Instead, they had all these men - it was always men - on the news talking about how terrible it was for pregnant women and we should stay out of public spaces.

I am self-employed and if I don't go to work, then I don't get paid. It's a credit crunch and everybody is struggling to pay their mortgage. How can I avoid public spaces?

Now, I am going back to work. I will be on the Tube and I will be walking down Oxford Street. You can't stay at home, you have to live your life.

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