Bed rest. It sounds like a dream, particularly to a busy pregnant woman. Really, how many of us have negative associations with lounging in bed? Each year, for a variety of medical reasons, approximately 700,000 pregnant women are ordered by their doctors to go to bed for part of or all of their pregnancies.
For anyone who has visions of hanging out in comfy pajamas reading paperback thrillers until Labor Day arrives, I'm here to burst your bubble -- and tell you how to survive should it happen to you. Here's what I learned from spending 18 weeks in bed.
I'm going to work from home, so I've ordered a laptop to get going. In the meantime, I'm carefully considering each of the 600 cable channels we pay for each month. There is nothing worth watching -- with the exception of X-Files reruns -- so I have my husband raid the bookshelf for titles I may not have read. It turns out we have lots of books on The Clash and British government -- not exactly what I had in mind. I decide to get on the horn to cancel my gym membership and decline invitations to several parties and weddings.
My doctor said I'm not allowed to cook. But I'm also not supposed to answer the door for takeout. I send my husband out for bananas and cold cereal.
It's great having visitors, but I often feel guilty because all hostess behavior is out of the question. And though I have housekeeping help, my dog is wrecking the place. There are piles of dog hair and biscuit crumbs everywhere I turn. I feel like an invitation to my place reads something like this: "You are cordially invited to sit in a dirty house with a pregnant shut-in whose roots are growing in at an alarming rate."
Speaking of beauty rituals, I now have all the time in the world to pluck my brows and extract blackheads. I stop when I notice a striking resemblance to Cruella De Vil.
But all in all, this isn't so terrible. I've got my laptop and can work from bed. I go through my address book and catch up with old friends. But a day of reckoning is coming. "I give you three weeks," says one friend. "By then, you'll start to go insane."
She was right. Dealing with this is not unlike going through the five stages of grief. Right now, I'm caught between denial and bargaining. I phone my doctor with inane questions. "So if I got a ride to my yoga class and someone carried me and placed me on my mat, I could do the class, right?"
Suddenly he takes a vacation, presumably to get away from me. I haven't yet mentioned how unbelievably angry I am -- at my doctor, for prescribing this; at my husband, for not quitting his job to stay at home with his weepy wife; and at myself, for being such a miserable baby container.
Full-on despair has hit. In the past few days, I've wound up in the hospital with irritable uterus. That means that when the baby kicks, my uterus overreacts and contracts. It doesn't help that my kid's mission in life is to squeeze my bladder every five minutes. However, I'm tempted to fake an episode just to get out of the house again. My friends and colleagues could not be more wonderful -- visiting, bringing books, etc. But when they leave, it's painful to think that they get to go back to normal lives while I rot away here.
I'm tempted to do therapy over the phone, but a therapist isn't going to be able to help me with the fear that I'll miscarry every time I go to the bathroom. I did contact a bed rest support organization, but the volunteer they assigned to me never called. But my friends phone all the time from their offices. I suspect they're procrastinating at work, but I need the company.
I've read that some women on bed rest have trouble walking once they're mobile again. Yikes. I get the okay from my doctor to do some floor exercises, so I ask a personal trainer friend to design a workout for me. She's also a student of Buddhism. "Remember that this is for a higher purpose," she says. "It's your job to learn from it."
That's all well and good, but I really don't give a crap about the sound of one hand clapping right now; I'm far more interested in the sound of my water breaking so I can get out of this nicely decorated prison. I cry every day, though. Is it hormones or the reality that I'm stranded for another 13 weeks?
My parents visit, bearing treats. I know how serious this situation is to them because they don't complain about all the dog hair. I realize this is a great time to take advantage of their generosity and try to figure out what to ask for. A pony, perhaps?
All the treats in the world can't make up for the fact that I'm in mortal fear of losing my child. It took me a year to get pregnant, and at 34, I'm no spring chicken, reproductively speaking. If I had a miscarriage, I don't know if I could go through another pregnancy. Luckily for me, I have all the time in the world to ponder these cheerful issues.
When you rest all day, you can't sleep at night. Then you go to bed late and begin a vicious cycle, which I'm currently caught in. If there's anything more miserable than sitting home while sunshine streams through the windows, it's watching Maternity Ward at 2 a.m. in a dim living room. By the way, don't watch Maternity Ward when you're pregnant. Just don't.
Seriously though, I'm starting to get very angry at the surprising lack of resources for women on bed rest. I call up a contact at the March of Dimes and whine. "You guys have tons of volunteers, and you're trying to prevent prematurity. Well, helping women on bed rest would certainly do that." She agrees and tells me that it would be a perfect project for their Youth Corps.
The one routine I've managed to get down is watching ER reruns. I've developed a crush on Noah Wyle; at least I've retained enough of my faculties to lust after cute actors. I've sped through 15 novels, hosted Sunday night Sex and the City parties from my couch. I try to remain as upbeat as I can. Easier said than done, as my husband's company is filing for bankruptcy, and my disability benefits cover only 60 percent of my pay. And we still have $1,000,000 worth of baby stuff to get. Looks like that Kate Spade diaper bag is gonna have to wait.
I've been rotating the same four pathetic maternity outfits since time immemorial, but for some reason, I'm not interested in buying stuff for myself. However, I've found that I salivate over pricey French baby clothes as much as I used to lust for pricey French designer clothes for myself. Practicality wins, and I dutifully order diaper cream and Dreft. You're probably wondering why my husband -- or mother -- couldn't shop. My mother is far too superstitious to buy anything for an unborn child, and my husband thinks onesies is some sort of sex game. He's in for a big surprise.
I've finally reached week 30, which means my kid has a chance of being okay if she comes out now. So far, my cervix, uterus, and baby are all behaving themselves. I've also reached a point where my dark roots are so long (and my skin is so white) that I look like a pregnant Goth. I find someone willing to come over and cut my hair.
The Eastern seaboard is shrouded in darkness due to a blackout. I'm sitting here alone in the dark on the top floor of a high-rise. I have no idea where candles or a flashlight are and can't look for them. I walk to my next-door neighbor's; she has everything from junk food to a battery-operated CD player. Soon the whole floor is in her apartment partying by candlelight. It's the most fun I've had in weeks.
My building decides to put on a new roof. Lucky me -- I live on the top floor. Jackhammers pummel my ceiling, and I seriously think I'm going to lose my mind. Though I'm not really supposed to, I make plans to have brunch with a friend because I just don't know what else to do...stay inside and deafen myself, or go out and invite my cervix to open even more.
But brunch was great. It was fabulous to not eat the same lousy food, to feel the sun, to watch my friend's toddler run around a restaurant shrieking with glee. I tell myself that this is what I've been waiting for.
My doctor tells me that if all is well, I can go back to work at the end of week 17. I can barely contain myself. In the meantime, my friends offer to host a baby shower for me. It can't be a surprise, considering I can't go anywhere. However, they appeal to my anal sensibilities and let me go nuts planning the thing. To someone on bed rest, nagging caterers is actually fun. When I have the shower, I set out a vase and ask guests to throw in a few dollars for the March of Dimes. Maybe we can help someone else on bed rest.
I'm back in bed again, but this time, I'm happy to be there. After a very easy labor and delivery, my daughter -- fullterm, healthy, and utterly perfect -- has arrived. Looking into her sweet face, I realize that all that time in bed was well spent.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2004.