Big Day, Big Thoughts

Today is a big day for our family. My mama arrived at Emory at 5 a.m. this morning for an angiogram and then will have a procedure that will hopefully successfully treat at least one of her brain aneurysms. My dad gave us an update and there’s another procedure before hers, so we won’t know anything until at least 3 p.m.

As for me, I’ll be headed to my midwife’s office this afternoon to get an ultrasound to check the length of my cervix and how this baby is growing as well as to receive another fFn test. If it comes back positive, I’ll be admitted to the hospital again (ugh) to start receiving steroid shots to give our little one’s lungs a boost. Then I’ll likely be placed on strict bed rest (rather than this modified business). I’m very hopeful we’ll get negative results, which will buy us more time. But either way, I’m ready.

Like none of my quasi-bed rest* experiences in the past, these last few weeks have offered the baby and me much growth. Each day we avert labor, the baby grows physically as I feel like I grow spiritually. In my previous pregnancies, I learned small lessons, but I don’t feel like I experienced anything truly transformative. This time is different, and I know putting it into words probably won’t sound all that life-altering to others, especially since many of these themes seem to resurface in my emotional and spiritual landscape (and on this blog and in my other writing). But I’ll do my best at sharing some of what’s been going on in my interior life and the lessons I’m slowly learning.

This enforced quiet time has made me realize how much I need to make solitude a priority. There’s just been too much noise in my life, and for too long I defined time alone as blogging or exercising when what I really needed was to just sit and do nothing but listen (even if it was only for five minutes).

Elizabeth Foss said this book was for me. I believe she was right. One of the habits of healthy mothers, the book’s author says, is cultivating solitude. (More on the book in a minute.)

Since about January, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I haven’t been burned out; I was simply on the fringe of frying but since I was aware of the flames, I could keep myself from becoming so overwhelmed that depression or anxiety or a total lack of enjoyment in mothering would take their hold on me. Everything was under control.

I was being foolish. You don’t have to be completely fried to feel the pressure – or to eventually collapse under it.

For example, what about my tone when a child spilled something or another sibling squabble erupted? I may have appeared to handle it calmly if you didn’t pay attention to the tightness in my face or my clenched fists or the hard tone of my voice, but I often felt as if I was ready to snap at any moment. And sometimes I did.

Yet, I kept telling myself my antsy, irritable moods were rooted in my being chronically tired. Nothing needed to change in my life except that I needed more sleep, and since squeezing in more shut-eye seemed like an impossible task at this point of my life with too crowded of a family bed, a toddler who had started waking up in the middle of the night again, and the typical pregnancy-related insomnia, I might as well just suck it up, offer it up, and just keep plodding along, dragging my “mombie” feet.

The truth is, sleep is most definitely an elixir for more happiness and more purposeful parenting, but a shortage of Zzzzzzs was not the only thing that left me feeling like I was always on edge and that one unplanned catastrophe – say a toddler writing with pen on a new couch – would cause me to lose my footing and send me on a frightening free fall.

Peaceful contentment or just plain happiness sounds simple enough. Don’t worry, be happy. Smile. Enough said. But it’s more complicated than that, especially for someone like me who has this annoying tendency to over-analyze everything and/or assume that I don’t deserve happiness because I’m such a screw-up (or because I’m not thin enough). That sounds a little harsh, but even when I wouldn’t admit it to myself, these self-deprecating thoughts were often just waiting to rise to the surface and show their ugly faces.

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Biding God’s Time

I’m still gestating, quietly, mostly on my side. For the most part, I’ve been adjusting pretty well to the slower pace. But this morning was difficult, mostly because a friend royally spoiled us on Thursday.

Yesterday my friend and her daughters drove over an hour to spend the day with the girls and me. Did I mention it was one of her children’s birthdays? So she came armed with cupcakes to decorate, birthday games to play, and food to serve for lunch and snacks (she also brought us dinner for the night). I’d get up and try to do something, and she’d tell me to go rest and that she’d take care of it.

From my couch, I witnessed lots of giggles. I watched my friend and my two oldest girls help each other sound out words together and read to the little ones during quiet time while my friend cleaned up the dusting of sprinkles and cupcake crumbs on the kitchen floor despite my protests.

When Mary Elizabeth asked for some “mama’s milk,” my friend swooped in and distracted her with a special ducky cup.

At one point, I got up to to join in on the action. (And I wonder why my oldest hates to feel like she’s missing anything!) Not being on strict bed rest means I have the choice to decide how much I can do. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have that choice. My stomach clenched tight within minutes of being upright and then my back started to ache. It was not a my-belly-is-humongous-so-of-course-my-back-is-going-to-hurt-kind-of-ache, but a back-labor-kind-of-ache. (I had terrible back labor with Madeline, so I know all too well what it feels like.)

I’m not sure what I would have done if my friend hadn’t been there. But since she was, I went into my bedroom and rested on my left side, drank water, and breathed slowly. The ache slowly faded and then eventually went completely away.

I don’t know if all these contractions and pangs are actually doing anything. Maybe my uterus – like my nerves – is just a bit irritated with everything. What I do know is every time I try to be up on my feet for more than 10 minutes or so, the contractions start up again. At 31 weeks, I’m trying to play it safe when I can.

But sometimes I can’t.

This morning I knew I didn’t have a babysitter coming for a few hours, and it actually felt good to be up and about. After I got breakfast ready for the girls – nothing fancy, just some granola in a bowl, chunks of watermelon, and milk – I started feeling lightheaded. I’ve been seeing stars a lot the last few days. I’m not sure if it’s because my body has grown accustomed to resting more and getting up abruptly can cause me to feel dizzy, or if something else is going on. If it continues, I’ll put a call in to my midwife. But anyway, I retreated from the kitchen and told the girls I’d be right back. I also had to go to the bathroom. Within seconds of my departure, the screaming started.

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A Bed Rest Survival Guide (Unabridged)

I’m becoming a bed rest pro. Three out of four of my pregnancies have now resulted in some form of mandated “taking it easy.”

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.

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