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Many women who are put on bedrest vividly remember people remarking about how much they themselves would like to receive orders to rest in bed.
Ask a woman who has actually been on bedrest and the response is the same – not so.
Remember that pregnancy complications, no matter the degree of “precaution,” are stressful.
While these comments are absolutely well intended, they do little to validate the experience of the (often scared) and now high-risk patient.
At that moment, patients universally report orders of bedrest to be the very last thing they want.
Bedrest can be made better – but nothing about it is relaxing.
This is where a loving community can have real impact.
For those who want to offer effective support, begin by considering the individual circumstances of the woman in question.
For example, rides to school and to extracurricular activities are helpful. Think very carefully about what you would want people to do for you in a similar circumstance. For example, on the way to a parent open house where parents will be asked to leave notes to their children, go via the home of the woman on bedrest who can’t go – and give her the chance to write a card too and then deliver it to school.
Said Crystal Campbell Carolan who was on bedrest for portions of both her first and second pregnancies:
“The first was so much easier because I was not trying to parent from bed. I did a lot of television watching and cross-stitched a wall hanging for the baby’s room. Prepared meals I could microwave were great. Company was always a welcome distraction. People who came over to cook and clean were heaven sent. With my second pregnancy I did a lot of crafts, puzzles, and reading with my toddler. Someone to do laundry was a huge help and grocery shopping too. Sometimes family took our toddler out for the day, and that definitely helped. My husband was gone from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. so all the help I could get, I readily accepted.”
If the woman in question does not have older children, consider the impact of this circumstance on her life just the same. Is she likely to lose income from work? How can a community mitigate the financial impact of loss of income and/or unanticipated expenses from bedrest?
Women who are confined to bed incur expenses because they cannot do laundry, drive, cook, clean and these tasks will necessarily fall to a partner who may be working. These facts only add to an already stressful and uncertain situation.
Says Dr. Maureen Terranova, OB-GYN, who was herself on bedrest (both home and hospital) over the course of two separate pregnancies:
“Bedrest can take the joy of pregnancy away. If you are someone who enjoys being pregnant and out in public sharing it with others, bedrest changes this experience.”
If she is a single mom, she needs her community to step in. Some women may be able to work remotely – but this depends upon their individual professional situations.
There are physical considerations, as well, that are associated with bedrest. A lack of movement can lead to muscle stiffness. “Bodies aren’t made to stay in bed all the time,” says Dr. Terranova.
In consultation with a doctor, a medical masseuse certified in light touch massage might be an option. (No masseuse would or should give a massage to a woman in the midst of a high risk pregnancy without conferring with the treating physician, but if expectations are set and medically cleared, a light touch regime/pregnancy massage might provide some relief).
In addition, Dr. Terranova explains that constipation is common on women on bedrest and can be very painful. Providing sliced fruit can help, bran cereals, and herbal tea may be helpful in this regard.
Some women are allowed extremely limited ability to walk around for a very short period in a day. This means that they must be strategic in their trip from bed to the living room couch. Dr. Terranova found a broad-bottomed basket to carry things to be helpful. “If you left something in the other room, or you could not carry everything at once – you can’t have it.”
The combination of the stress of pregnancy complications generally, as well as the real world impact of the bedrest itself, puts women at higher risk of anxiety and depression. A lack of agency is often disempowering.
Sharing her own experience, Dr. Terranova says:
“[One feels] disempowered and scared. [I was] afraid of showing the world I could not do it all.”
Women report feelings of isolation, helplessness, and a clanging uncertainty about what will happen.
Those wishing to offer support can coordinate meals. (Using distance giving, donors can now provide food delivery from any number of options. If bedrest is strict, remember to coordinate for someone to be there to receive the food when it is delivered).
Said Karen Salisbury Hatter who was on bedrest for 16 weeks:
“Best food – cup up fruit – melons especially. [This is] something you cannot do on bedrest. I enjoyed visitors and they all seemed to bring me pretty pajamas. I also got my hair cut/blow dried and a pedicure once while on bedrest. It’s a tough mental game, but you can do it.”
Provide a laundry service and come to change her sheets. High thread count, indulgent sheets with ample pillows of her preference.
It is invaluable to let her know that you are considering the stress she is under, rather than searching for silver linings. Resist the impulse to offer platitudes. Help her break it down. Remind her that her community is here to offer meaningful and sustained support.