What I learned from bed rest
As a busy pediatrician and mother of a very active 20-month-old toddler, I was shocked to learn that I had an incompetent cervix at 22 weeks of pregnancy. When my OB told me I had to stop working and spend the rest of my pregnancy on bed rest or risk delivering a very premature baby, my initial reaction of disbelief quickly turned to panic as I realized that he was quite serious. How could I possibly put my life on hold for the next 4 ½ months? How would we pay our bills? Who would care for my son? Would I lose my job?
Although bed rest is controversial among obstetricians, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has readily admitted that bed rest does not appear to improve the rate of preterm birth, my high-risk OB was not willing to take any chances. And neither was I. When I began having frequent contractions just a couple weeks later, it became clear that I would be confined to the bed or couch for the duration.
After the first day or so, it became obvious that bed rest was not going to be the vacation some might imagine. Bed rest can take its toll on your body, your mind, your bank account, and your relationship. If you find yourself on bed rest, as nearly 20 percent of pregnant women will each year, here are a few lessons learned from my torturous weeks.
- Bed rest takes a toll physically. Fatigue, insomnia, too much or too little weight gain, muscle aches, muscle wasting, and bone loss, to name a few. More serious complications can include blood clots from the lack of movement. I was so weak after 14 weeks in bed that I had a hard time walking from my hospital room to the newborn nursery after my son was born.
- Bed rest takes a toll emotionally. Loss of independence and mind-numbing boredom can take an emotional toll. Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and guilt can easily lead to depression if not dealt with. While I was fortunate to have family close by who came over every day to care for my son, the guilt I felt for not even being able to change his diaper or tuck him in at night was overwhelming.
- Bed rest takes a toll financially. Suddenly becoming a one-income family when accustomed to two can be eye-opening, if not financially devastating. The burden of lost wages can be crippling, not to mention the medical costs that may be building. Unless you are able to work from your home or hospital room, you will undoubtedly feel the strain on your bank account. Good thing for savings!
- Bed rest takes a toll on relationships. Even the strongest relationships are put to the test when a woman is on bed rest. In addition to his regular job, the partner carries the entire burden of caring for the home and other children. Usually couples are not able to be physically intimate, putting an additional strain on the relationship. The man is often left feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and guilty for having the freedom that his partner does not have. I ended up spending the last 3½ weeks of my pregnancy on hospital bed rest, which only added to the stress. My husband, tired after a long day at the office, had to head immediately home to care for our son, often not even having time to come visit the hospital until the weekend.
Despite the challenges, however, when I delivered a healthy 36-week baby boy after 14 agonizing weeks, the outcome was undeniably worth every minute of the torture!