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by Lauren Throop

Our son T was 3.5 months old when he started daycare in January 2019. Starting daycare at the peak of cold and flu season was a choice that, for us and for many working parents in the United States, wasn’t really a choice at all.

My husband and I are both wildlife biologists. Prior to having our first child, we spent 40 collective years earning advanced degrees and building our careers. (Yes, we were late to parenthood.)

Our careers are meaningful to us, and since no wildlife biologist goes into it for the pay, we needed both paychecks to live comfortably. I had negotiated a few extra weeks of my entirely unpaid maternity leave, but at 3.5 months old, our time at home with our son was up.

We knew daycare meant that our brand new baby, with his brand new immune system, would be exposed to all manner of viruses. He was fully up to date on his standard vaccinations; in 2018, the maternal RSV vaccine for pregnant women did not yet exist. We sent him off to daycare, sad to say goodbye to our little sweetie but hopeful that he would thrive there.

The Onset of RSV Symptoms

After his second day at daycare, on a Friday afternoon in January, T started coughing and showing other cold symptoms. When he didn’t show any improvement over the course of the weekend, I called in sick, a frustrating transition back to work that I now know is fairly standard for working parents of a brand-new baby. But instead of getting better, T just kept getting worse. He was so congested and was coughing so much that he stopped nursing or bottle-feeding entirely. He grew weaker and became dangerously dehydrated. There was a deeply sunken soft spot on the top of his head, few wet diapers, and no tears shed when he cried. 

My husband and I took him to the ER, where he was admitted to the pediatric ward and put on an IV. At 3.5 months old, his veins were so tiny and further sunken from being dehydrated that they needed to put an IV directly into the large vein in his left temple. He screamed as they held him down and inserted the giant needle into his head. It was horrifying and heartbreaking. 

Our Hospital Experience with RSV

We then essentially had to wait and outlast the virus, while my sweet little baby’s brand new immune system tried to fight it off. He had stopped eating entirely, and was surviving on an IV with fluids and some sugar water. We took turns staying in the hospital room, holding our baby as he slept, and trying to get a little work done at our offices. It was a particularly bad RSV season, and we saw kids come and go from being hospitalized with RSV. No one was as young as our son, none stayed hospitalized for as long. The hours dragged, day in and day out, with no change from our son. Would he ever recover? Would we be here forever? I rarely let my mind explore the more terrifying possibilities.

On top of the literal existential fear about our son’s health and survival, we worried about work. As employees in an at-will employment state, if our employers had not been as understanding as they were, we could easily have been fired for prioritizing our hospitalized infant over working our collective 80 hours that week. As it was, our finances would take a hit because we were not paid for those missing hours.

T remained hospitalized for 7 days and 7 nights, not eating, and with the IV needle continuously stuck in his head. He finally recovered enough to eat consistently. Although he had lost a substantial amount of weight on his already skinny frame, he was ready to go home.

I Wish There Had Been an RSV Vaccine for My Son

We drove home with the words of my cousin, a pediatric nurse practitioner, ringing in my head: “RSV is THE DEVIL!” I fervently wished that there had been some sort of vaccine that could have helped prevent the trauma we had experienced. 

Now that there is an RSV vaccine developed and available for pregnant women, and a preventive medication babies can take during their first season, I hope no other parents or infants have to endure what we did. Please protect your babies, for your sake and theirs.

Lauren Throop is a wildlife biologist and mom to two little kids. She and her family love to play and explore in big beautiful Wyoming. Her story, like all others on this blog, was a voluntary submission. If you want to help make a difference, submit your own post by emailing us through our contact form. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.

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