Now before I write anything further, I have to be clear that I’ve never had to endure the strictest form of bed rest when you end up in the supine position stuck in a hospital for weeks or even months. Or if you’re lucky, you’re allowed to lounge on your side at home in the company of a catheter and home health care. Nor have I had to sustain months and months of being sidelined. (You do know that author Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle wrote some of her books while on complete bed rest for almost nine months during a high risk pregnancy? Talk about sacrificial love!)
Until this pregnancy, I never had full-blown premature labor. It was just a Type A cervix and smallish babies that landed me on bed rest.
Although my husband and midwife called it strict bed rest with Mary Elizabeth (my third baby), I was still able to get up, shower, and go to the bathroom, and I was never afraid to breath. I did stay up in my room, resting and brooding, but thanks to a very thoughtful husband, I had a lovely bouquet of roses to gaze at as well as a big pile of books to work my way through.
With Rachel (my second baby), they called it modified bed rest. I could get up to grab a bite to eat or engage in other short bursts of activity, but I pretty much stayed horizontal for most of the time (about three weeks).
This time it’s a little different because of the newish fFn test and the fact that I had a negative one last Monday (I have to repeat the test on July 6th to help determine if I need to be admitted to get steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs). The negative results gave us a boost of confidence that this baby would stay put for at least another two weeks from the day it was administered (June 20th). When I was discharged from the hospital, the nurse and doctor thus instructed me to try to get help with childcare and housework, to take it easy as much as I could, and to restrict my activity.
I had a follow-up appointment that Thursday with my midwife and was hoping for some more exact instructions or rules to follow, but she gave me the same advice and urged me to listen to my body. “If contractions start, then stop what you’re doing and rest. No one can tell you what to do or what feels okay to do. You’ve got to listen to your body.”
The label “modified bed rest” continued to be thrown around, but it was ultimately up to me to decide exactly what that meant.
My midwife put her complete faith in me and my ability to pace myself and warmly said I’d grown more sensible with each bed rest experience. (We’re like old friends, and she understands my compulsive personality well.) She probably would have taken that immediately back if she’d overheard me in the car on the way home.
“So does this mean I can still workout if I’m feeling okay?” I asked my husband. I was grinning sheepishly, mostly joking.
He didn’t smile back. Instead, he looked at me like I was insane.
Okay, okay so modified bed rest doesn’t mean hurling around kettle bells. In fact, pregnancy probably doesn’t mean I should be doing much of that either. And I know that. I’m not putting this baby at risk. Trust me. I ventured out to Mass on Sunday (the girls and my big outing for the week!) and sat down during the liturgy at one point when I felt contractions coming on. I am being sensible, and it’s actually getting easier with each pregnancy to accept my limitations as well as to accept help. (Every experience we have is purposeful and a way of teaching us more about God and how to be more like Him; that’s something my spiritual director has said. He’d also probably now say – if I hadn’t missed my appointment this past week – that I should treat my repeated experiences with bed rest as a sort of spiritual boot camp and a chance to not just grow a baby longer but to grow in virtue. But maybe I’m just putting words into his mouth.)
Still, none of this means bed rest – modified or not – doesn’t sometimes drive me crazy or leave me feeling frustrated or helpless especially when it comes to caring for my other children. However, my three experiences with lying low have armed me with some coping strategies. Some of them may seem silly; some are practical; and some of them are pontifications born out of having too much time to ponder on my hands. Take what you will. Leave the rest. (This is an epically long post; I apologize!)
I’ll share them here in the hopes that they might help some other mama who unexpectedly finds herself on bed rest, restricting her activity, and/or having more idle time on her hands than she ever felt possible.
1. Slap on some lipstick. Or give your eyes a quick swipe of mascara. Or style your hair. Maybe a friend can even give you an at-home pedicure. Just do something to make yourself feel like more than just a lifeless lump. Just because I’m stuck inside for most of the day, and my only visitors are family who have seen me at my worst doesn’t mean I ought to completely ignore my appearance. I’ll admit I typed a good bit of this while wearing a cozy pair of PJs, but my hair was brushed, and my lashes flickered with a thin coat of mascara on them. A little primping helps me to feel human, if not pretty.
2. Change your perspective. When I was put on bed rest the first time with Rachel, I remember thinking, “Okay, this might be nice and even relaxing.” I thoroughly enjoyed the first few minutes of resting on my couch watching others manage my household and play with my oldest child. Very quickly, though, my inability to be part of the action started to drive me crazy. I felt utterly unproductive. I hated doing nothing.
Only, I wasn’t doing nothing. Not at all.
As this beautiful post of Arwen’s reminded me (Arwen is a mama who blogged about her recent experience with modified bed rest while pregnant with twins who are now thankfully healthy and in her arms), by listening to my body and taking it easy, I am doing something very important. I’m nurturing a baby. I’m a gestating machine and a very productive machine even when in a state of inertia.
So much of a mother’s work – the laborious growing of a human, the nurturing of a soul, the quiet and gentle molding of a child – doesn’t seem to offer an obvious, fulsome harvest. But the fruit is there, nonetheless, and there’s often more of that fruit when there’s a certain dying to self and in the case of bed rest, a dying to busyness.
In her post, Arwen wrote,
“With restricted activity and two kiddos who play well together, my life is slow. Many times a day I’ll be lying on the couch and get that nagging feeling: get up! do something useful! and I have to remind my subconscious that I AM doing something useful. I am gestating, and not giving birth any earlier than absolutely necessary.”
I’m in a similar position as Arwen was (except, of course, I’m not carrying identical twins!). I currently don’t have a list of bed rest directives I must follow. I’m simply supposed to rest when and if contractions start. Unfortunately, I’ve found that being on my feet for more than five minutes or so seems to kick my uterus into gear, so it’s back to Bed Rest Central (usually a plush, green couch in our library, sometimes my bed). My husband reminds me to error on the side of caution. It won’t hurt the baby for me to be more still. It won’t hurt me either.
So when you’re feeling like a big, useless glob, remember you’re doing far more than you realize. Even if you’re never put on any kind of bed rest during pregnancy, resting is not a waste. It’s showing respect for your hardworking body – and for your hard-growing baby.
3. Make your real needs known. Now is a good a time as any to express my gratitude for the sheer number of people who have offered to help our family during these uncertain times. I’ve alluded to how I’ve felt more isolated and lonely since moving to my new town. Well, maybe I needed a pregnancy scare to remind me just how many friends, family, and just good, good people are out there.
I’ve had a woman whom I’ve met very briefly arrange for meals to be brought to our family.
My new babysitter has offered to bring a meal as well. Of course, all of our family has blessed us with their calls and visits to help out with the kids.
My elderly neighbor and fellow bibliophile found out about my labor scare and subsequent bed rest from my husband and bought the girls and me A Sick Day for Amos McGee to read together (and what a sweet and delightful picture book it is!).
I even had a blog reader ask if I would be comfortable sharing my mailing address with her because she wanted to put a small care package together for us since geographic distance prevented her from helping in some other way.
My new sister-in-law, who is as thoughtful as she is lovely, sent me a note with a pad of paper that made me smile. Its heading read: “Milk, Eggs, Shoes.” Ah, all the essentials in life.
Many others have sent notes, emails, texts, or have called.
And the prayers – oh, how they’ve blessed us and covered us in grace. Even our mail carrier, whom we had to speak with about canceling our hold on mail since we were no longer going out of town last week because of the preterm labor scare, told Madeline on Monday that she’d been praying for the baby and me.
(UPDATE: And now this...oh, how it blesses our family! Thank you, Kristen.)
Yes, we’ve had so many offers to help I’ve actually had to turn a few people down! However, I’ve also learned to accept help and to ask for the right kind of help. For instance, my babysitter as well as a friend back in Atlanta wanted to bring a meal when I already knew we were covered in the food department for that particular day. I thanked both of them for their generosity and then asked if we could take a rain check and if they could perhaps think of bringing a meal after the baby arrived. They both gladly agreed.
Then one of my best friends asked how she could help, and I was very honest with her. “Bring your kids over to play with my kids.”
Accepting help is hard enough for most moms, but being specific about our needs may feel too pushy or selfish. Yet, when I make an offer to help a friend, I want to know what will really help her.
There was a time when I was too afraid to speak up about what we needed when people asked what they could do for our family because I thought I might come across as being too forward, needy, and/or opportunistic. I remember not wanting to inconvenience anyone during one of my postpartum periods so that we ended up having two meals delivered on the same day when I should have been more upfront and either graciously declined the offer of one friend to bring a meal or asked if it was possible if she brought food on another day.
People really, really want to be there for you. Speak up and let them know how they can best minister to your family. A big blessing to me right now, for example, is just having a friend to talk to and to distract me from noticing every single tightening of my abdomen or crampy feeling. I also love to see my kids happy. It takes some of the pressure and the guilt away from me.
No one has to send elaborate care packages or prepare gourmet meals; a friendly email, text, Tweet, Facebook wall post, or a phone call just to check in help in more ways than you might know. And nothing beats the prayers of others. If that’s all someone can offer me is her thoughts and prayers, it’s far more than enough.
Bed rest gifts us with a holy period of authenticity – a time when we are made more aware of our weaknesses, our lack of control, and how we can’t do any of this – whether we’re sidelines due to bed rest (or perhaps an illness) or not – without a support system. Allow others to buoy you up the best way possible by making your real needs known.
4. Stock up on paper plates. Now’s not the time to be overly green. Seriously, this might seem like a silly tip, but anything to make your life and those who are helping to take care of your children and/or housework easier is well worth it. Paper plates are a lifesaver right now. They cut way down on the number of dishes anyone has to wash. There are far more important things to do than scour dirty dishes. I’d rather my helpers play with my children than worry about keeping the kitchen tidy.
5. Lower your standards. I’m being completely truthful. I really, really do want people to spend more time with my children than to worry about doing laundry or dusting; however, it’s also very, very, very difficult for a order-loving, control freak like I am to look past sticky hands groping the couch or caressing the walls or the toys that never made it back to their designated basket or cabinet. But I’m getting better at looking beyond all this.
The first time I was placed on bed rest it drove me nuts to watch people unload my dishwasher and put glasses or plates back in the wrong place. Unfortunately, the couch in our living room of our old townhome offered me a perfect view of what was going on in our tiny galley kitchen, so I could see everything that wasn’t being done “right.” Instead of being thankful that I had a loved one or a friend present to lend a helping hand, I was annoyed that I couldn’t be the one working or that things weren’t being done my way. Get over it. I know I have (or nearly have).
On Sunday, I handed my husband my grocery list for the week. He helped get the girls to sleep and then braved a summer thunderstorm to gather food for our family. He’s bringing home the bacon now in more ways than one. On my list, I’d specified the kind of milk I wanted – a certain organic brand – but he returned home with the store brand (not organic) version. (He also brought back chips and Drumsticks, which my daughters thankfully have not discovered yet.) I started to open my big health nut of a mouth to protest and then paused. It will not hurt any of us to not drink organic milk for a few weeks. Actually, the other day my oldest told me it was okay if she had a lot of junk food for just one day. She was right. Increased television time or a few less nutritionally-sound nibbles over the next few weeks will not poison my children. Again, get over it. So I thanked my husband for grocery shopping, for everything. He is a good, good man – my knight willing to swoop in and save me from exerting myself too much so that, together, we can save our baby from too much time (or maybe any!) in the NICU!
Be grateful you have help even if it’s imperfect help, and try not to micromanage things from your side-lying position. Don’t sweat the small stuff, especially when you’re preoccupied with some pretty big stuff – like keeping a baby cooking for as long as possible.
6. Have fun. Fun? What’s that you say? How can feeling like a ticking time bomb and worrying about the health of your baby ever be fun? I’ll tell you how. The other night we gathered together to play a favorite board game (Ticket To Ride). An added bonus: Rae and I, who were a team, won!
Several nights after the girls have drifted to sleep, Dave and I have cuddled up together on our basement couch to watch a movie. I’ve been reading more of both my own books and stories aloud to the children.
Think of bed rest as the ultimate “staycation” for your family. Even if you’re in the hospital, people can come play cards with you. Bed rest is a great excuse to play games, write poetry, catch up on the big stack of books looming on your nightstand, knit (I’m wondering if I should pick up my knitting needles again; Elizabeth and Elizabeth would say yes), and to sneak in a little fun.
7. Be at peace with “just” resting. This is somewhat related to point number 5 and one of the final tips I offer below (number 11). When I came home from the hospital and knew I’d likely be facing fairly long stretch (if this baby stayed put like we hoped it would) of “taking it easy,” I immediately began to make a to-do list of all the book marketing I could do while resting on my side. After all, thanks to the kindness of friends and family, I was suddenly going to be gifted with more free time since others would be helping out with the kids. I’d better put it to good use. I could work way ahead on some freelance assignments and keep busy, busy, busy.
Only, when I pulled out my laptop, I found I didn’t feel like working on articles. Instead, I wanted to write letters to the baby growing inside of me in the journal I keep for him or her. I wanted to read aloud Strawberry Girl to Madeline and I Love You, Stinky Face to Rae and Mary Elizabeth. I wanted to pray. I wanted to text or call up an old friend. I didn’t feel like working. I was too distracted by the internal twinges and all of the what-ifs to really put out anything worth reading anyway. So I cut myself some slack and gave myself permission to rest, dawdle, read, write for the joy of it rather than for an audience, and to practice the art of doing nothing. I encourage other moms sentenced with bed rest to do the same.
8. Your kids will survive – and may even thrive during this trying time (and so will you). The most difficult part of bed rest for me isn’t silencing the Type A nutso from within. It’s often not even worrying about when and if labor is imminent. I seem to be fairly apt at accepting that exactly when this baby will arrive is mostly out of my control. What’s really hard for me is feeling like I’m letting my other children down. It’s summer, and we should be outside together. I should be nursing my sweet Mary Elizabeth. How heartbreaking it is to hear her ask for “just a ‘ittle’ mama milk, ‘peas’” or to have to endure her plaintive cries when I tell her I can’t pick her up right now.
Rae and Madeline are somewhat easier to handle given their older ages. We’ve spent a lot of time reading together, as I’ve mentioned, and we’ve also been enjoying more family draw time. Amanda Soule’s The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections inspired us to start this back in the fall. The girls and I each have our own sketch pad that we only pull out during designated “family draw times.” We doodle whatever we want. Madeline has drawn everything from a pirate to a portrait of what our baby might look like. Then we date each picture. The girls and I have filled quite a few pages over the past few days. I try to remember that these little things make this stressful time easier on them. (And considering they’re at the playground right now as I type with grandparents and they watched a movie today, they may be thinking this bed rest thingy is working to their advantage!)
As for Mary Elizabeth, I have to be sure to give her lots of extra cuddles. I sing to her more, too. There have been more tears lately, but there have been more hugs and kisses as well. We’ll make it through this, and I try to remind myself to not let those recurring feelings of helplessness overwhelm me when I can’t be the kind of mother one of my kids might need right now.
Melanie Bettinelli reminded me in a comment recently that whether we’re on bed rest or not, we mothers can never really ever be everything to everyone. That’s where God steps in.
“Oh I know what you mean about that helpless feeling and the difficult sacrifice you have to make when you feel you have to shortchange one child for the sake of the other. It seems so cruel, doesn’t it? In my case that happens postpartum when I’m recovering from the c-sections; but it’s the same sort of sacrifice and meets the same sort of bewilderment from the toddler who just can’t understand why I can’t hold her. In some ways I feel just as bewildered, wondering why my Heavenly Father can’t arrange things so I can give all my babies the perfect care I think they need. But I suppose there is a Plan, a reason why these trials are necessary for us. Perhaps we need to learn to lean on him to supply them all that they need because in reality we never can be everything for them, no matter how much we long to. They have needs we can never meet and all of us will have to one day learn that only God suffices. But it still seems hard that our small ones will have to learn our weakness and limitations so early, doesn’t it?”
It is a terrible feeling when your toddler looks at you for the first time with disappointment or at least confusion in her eyes. Yet, it’s also a necessary lesson for all of us to learn.
I want to be there for my child because simply because she is my child and because she needs me. But there will be circumstances out of my control and sadly, too, plenty of moments where my human weakness prevents me from dispensing the kind of love to my child she deserves.
Then there is God. Only God suffices.
He has promised to be there for us. He has promised to comfort us when we are afraid, to feed us when we are hungry. He is here for me simply because I am His child. And because I need Him just as Mary E. needs me.
Truthfully, statements of faith like these have felt like empty platitudes to me in more recent months. But when I was in the hospital, a light switch flipped on within me, and an overwhelming sense of peace flowed through me just as the IV fluids dripped into my body. I not only reaffirmed my belief in an all-loving Creator who really does desire a personal relationship with me, but I realized God is good. He would be good whether I delivered prematurely or not. He is always good, and He is always faithful. These are lessons my children are learning now when their mama can’t be everything to them or even when she snaps unfairly at them because of her heightened emotions or the physical tightness that has gripped her body. God is good and here even when Mommy’s not.
Somewhat related, I providentially started St. Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Mary several days before I went into premature labor. I’d decided to do this, knowing my poor mama with her own health problems right now, might not be as available as she has been in the past to pitch in once the baby came. A fellow mother told me that when she was pregnant with her fifth, her mom was fighting cancer. She was obviously very worried about her mom, but she was also afraid of how she was going to handle the postpartum period since she was used to leaning on her mom during this transitional time. So she started to pray to Mary to be at her side and when her daughter was born, she never felt like she was alone. Mother Mary was with her every step of the way. This was beautiful to me and inspired me to begin preparing for the total consecration.
Since the threat of premature birth, my desire to draw closer to Mary and to have her nearby to comfort my children has only increased. I’m never helpless. I’m never alone. And neither are my children. The same is true for you whether you’re in a “believing” period of your life or not.
9. Humor and honor your husband. My husband is an amazing, selfless man. He’s also a doctor, which he can’t help but keep a lengthy mental list of all the possible things that could go wrong if I have a preterm baby. If he had it his way, I’d be in bed wearing a straight-jacket with a continuous flow of fluids being pumped into my body. My sometimes antsy nature drives him crazy (probably even when I’m not following medical orders to “take it easy”). His vigilance sometimes drives me crazy, but I’d rather have a guy who forces water down my throat, surprises me with roses, and tells me I’m ridiculous for not knowing how to just be still than someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t tenderly place his hand on my round belly and recognize the thump that he feels for the miracle it is.
So I’m embracing Arwen’s wisdom again when she writes,
“But even though I’m not worried, my husband is. And since he’s the one who picks up the extra slack, who tidies the kitchen if I don’t get around to it, it seems reasonable that he should have a big say in my decisions…
I spent the first few days of this new restricted schedule resisting Bryan’s attempts to get me to rest in what I considered unnecessary amounts… until it occurred to me, after the hundredth “I’m fine!” – “Will you just lie down?” exchange, that maybe I could think about this a different way.
I instinctively feel that it’s more virtuous to do more (sloth is one of my biggest vices) but in this case, maybe not. Maybe it’s better to rest, and love Bryan better by giving him less to worry about.”
My husband wants me to really, really kick back and take it easy. I’m honoring my husband’s wishes, respecting his concern, and allowing him to vacuum, clean up after dinner, and supervise bath time. :-) I’m such a saint, aren’t I?
10. Be careful to not dissociate your pregnancy with your baby. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore. I’m not one of those moms who loves gestating. I don’t glow; I sweat. I don’t feel fertile and beautiful even if others might see me that way. I feel bloated. I don’t like how hidden this new life is. I want to nurse her, hold her, and be a hands-on mother instead of a pukey one.
Now labor, that’s a different story. I’m a freak of nature who embraces the challenge of pushing a child out into the world. There’s a thrill in all of that, and it’s fast-paced, not slow and steady like pregnancy is. Sometimes I’ll find myself daydreaming about how great it will be to just finally be in labor, to get to work, and then to reap the rewards of toting around all extra weight for months and months.
I love babies. I’m a good baby mother (defiant, older, and scarily rational children are proving to be far more difficult for me to gently handle). I love nursing. I love kangaroo care. I love the soft, downy heads, the pink skin. I even find the constant output of mustard poop fascinating. Or maybe I’m just so glad to be changing infant diapers instead of just waddling around in a body that doesn’t feel like it’s my own.
But the fact is as much as I want this pregnancy to be over, I don’t want to give birth to a child who isn’t ready to come out. I’m a firm believer in allowing labor to naturally progress. I wouldn’t think of inducing unless there was a real medical necessity, so why would I even tempt the idea that going into labor sooner rather than later and ending this pregnancy might be a good thing?
My pregnancy and this baby are one unit. I cannot wish away this pregnancy just because I’m uncomfortable, tired of being pregnant, or frustrated with the incertitude of when this baby might make her curtain call. I have to be wary of dissociation. I want this baby to make it to full-term or as long as possible, and that requires me patiently enduring this pregnancy as well as all of the not-so-fun symptoms and emotions it may evoke.
11. Be like the wind and listen to Jesus: Be quiet and be still. (Mark 4:39) There’s about to be a whole lot more noise and chaos in our home, which is hard to believe sometimes given our current decibel levels. Little girls know how to shriek – very loudly. I joked with the girls the other day that they should keep up their manic, noisy behavior because it might keep their poor, hapless sibling in my belly for longer. If I were the sweet baby, I’d want to stay cloistered in the calmness of my womb for as long as possible after hearing the din from the outside world. But, seriously, embrace bed rest or any quiet time you find during pregnancy as an opportunity to savor the life you know now because the life that’s coming will certainly be richer, but it will also likely be a lot more clamorous, chaotic, and sleep-deprived.
I’ll add to this with a snippet I wrote from my first experience with bed rest. Considering how I continue to struggle with issues of control, balance, and being still, it’s easy to see how this prescribed time of stillness is, like I wrote about, a real way for me to grow in virtue.
From May 2007 (about two weeks before I gave birth to Rachel Marie):
“As soon as Dave returned home from work yesterday, he was adamant about me remaining on my side and guzzling water. ‘I know this isn’t easy for you, but you’ve got to just relax,’ he said.
My wonderful certified nurse midwife said the same thing. ‘Just kick back and relax. Be still. We really want this baby to stay put for at least another week.’ [NOTE: Rae ended up staying in there for two more weeks!]
In some ways, I welcome the orders to not do anything. As a chronic go-getter, it’s somewhat of a relief to have permission to be lazy. But after one afternoon of resting I’d already enough. There’s laundry to be done, a dishwasher to be unloaded, a toddler who wants to play and dance and run around with her mommy, edits to be made on a last-minute freelance assignment, meals to be cooked, shelves to be dusted, a nursery dresser to be filled with tiny onesies and pastel gowns, a hospital bag to be packed, Kegels to practice (husband told me they won’t make a difference now: This baby is going to most likely slip quickly and easily into the world, especially since I had warp speed labor with Madeline and was only dilated 1 cm at 9 a.m. and nursing a new infant by 4:15 that same day!… But my baby – what she needs right now more than a hyper mom tackling a to-do list with eagerness – is me to sit (completely reclined on your side, my husband would correct) quietly and wait. She needs me to relinquish my need for planning and control and just let her marinate a bit more in my womb and then enter the world plump and perfect.
She needs a quiet mama, a still mama, and I’m prepared to do just that for this child I so dearly love.”
12. Don’t postpone joy. Welcoming a baby into the world is joyful. Enduring chronic contractions and hearing phrases like “irritable uterus” or “incompetent cervix”? Not so much. Yet, I’m a joy-seeker right now, and once I start looking for it, it’s not all that hard to find. There’s joy in the delicious garlic chicken dish swimming in a fragrant sauce and studded with plump cannellini beans – a meal I did not have to prepare, thanks to a friend. There’s joy, not just noise, in those little girl squeals filling my home. There’s joy in the wet nose of my dog who frequently and gently nudges me as I rest on the couch or in my bed. There’s joy in the generosity of grandparents taking grandchildren out for an ice cream cone.
There’s joy, too, in the waiting. For each day that passes, my baby grows stronger and is more prepared to make her mark on the world. Instant gratification is overrated. In Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White wrote,
“Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.”
Cast your worries aside – at least for a few minutes every single day – and enjoy the joyful (and hopeful!) anticipation.
Resources for expectant moms on bed rest:
If you’ve had a personal experience with bed rest, I’d love to hear what helped you make the most of it as well as if you have any other helpful insight and/or resources to share!
Thanks again to everyone – friends near and far – for your prayers and support!