Bed-rest tips to survive and how the system needs to do more to support those faced with pregnancy complications

Even typing the words bed rest still makes me shudder and brings me back to a very frightening time in my pregnancy, at a time when you need the most support and a time to keep your mind most occupied you are faced with being in a position of isolation , part medically imposed ,part self imposed. During my pregnancy I spent over seven weeks in a hospitalized bed rest setting and five weeks at home on modified bed rest. The first four of my hospital stay was a scary time in which I spent those weeks on strict rest, only allowed to the toilet in my room and straight back to bed all the while praying to the twins to stay put as long as they could, at least until we got a-past twenty six weeks. This was considered viability and where the medical team would intervene ,you can imagine the thoughts that run through your head on a near minute basis when you hear how anything less than that means potentially going home without your children. After a lovely few weeks at home on modified bed-rest which was less restricting and had all the lovely comforts of home, nonetheless pretty much confined me to my bed and the couch. I was then to spend the last three weeks of my pregnancy on planned bed rest on the advice of my consultant before my C-section. The twins impatient to enter the world six days before their planned section date ended that rest period a little earlier than expected.

In my first few weeks of rest in the hospital ,confined to my room and only allowed to walk the few steps to the en-suite ,were it not for my partner, close family and the midwives and of course my consultant , I would have been in a whole worse mental state than I was. No-one prepares you for the isolation you feel when in that situation. There is already the fear that any wrong move will result in premature labour and the potential loss of your babies, and there is the fear that in those long nights alone in your room, listening to the comings and goings of a busy maternity hospital that you are completely on your own with nothing to do but think , and it was very hard at times to stop the mind from overthinking. I would actually welcome the middle of the night checks by a midwife just to have some interaction, despite my husband only going home a few hours earlier. It was the night time when I couldn’t just roll over and feel the comfort of him beside me that was very upsetting and only reinforced that at a time when we should have been so happy to be expecting the twins that we were separated. Thankfully a blind eye was turned so that my husband was able to spend most of the evenings with me , although as the Euros were on the TV most evenings he had one eye on the bump and the other on the soccer. The midwives, my consultant and catering team were as a result always welcome in my room because it was another way to pass some time. Time could go very slowly so distraction was always good and I am lucky that they were always so lovely and I do think back fondly on a few who I got to know quite well as a result.

Bed-rest generally is prescribed in pregnancy when there is a risk therefore it is a very vunerable time for not only for the woman but for her partner as-well. Whilst most might think that visitors would be a welcome distraction to pass time in my case I closed in ranks. It was a very emotional and upsetting time therefore I kept my stays to close family visits. Calls and messages were always welcomed with friends and later on home visits, but in those early days which were emotionally draining all I really wanted to do was focus my efforts into doing all I could to get my babies to the safety of twenty six weeks. I know for my husband life revolved around work and coming straight into the hospital in the evening to support me, life for him also stood still as he did all he could to do support me and the babies. In our instance we didn’t have any other children and family were there to help us with our home but for other families who have children it’s an even harder time, firstly for the woman who is torn between safeguarding her pregnancy and not seeing her other children and for her partner to work, take care of the children and run the home ,as-well as supporting their partner in hospital.

Whilst the staff of the hospital where I spent my bed-rest were fantastic and when they had a very rare quiet few minutes went out of their way to have a chat with me, they were and continue to be extremely busy and over-worked, as does the whole system but it is obvious even now several years on that this side of maternal care does not seem to get much attention in terms of supporting the woman and their partner in a highly stressful time. Positive steps have been made in postpartum care and in maternal mental health support but what support is there for those who are going through highly stressful times while in the care of the maternity hospitals prepartum? I don’t ever really remember anyone asking how I was feeling ,of course the midwives would chat and ask how I was but I do feel there wasn’t enough of an emphasis on helping mothers get through long stints such as bed-rest.

What did I do to keep myself occupied on bed-rest?

To keep myself occupied I relied heavily on the internet because unfortunately you were not always guaranteed the remote to your TV would be there on your return to your room following a scan but that is a topic for another day. The channels and signal was limited on the Television service provided so thankfully I had my own laptop and was able to watch Netflix.

I love to write fiction and am part of a writers group so it was good to be able to focus on writing challenges and for the most part I wrote, whether it was short stories, prose or my novel, I managed to pass a-lot of time and was thankful I found escapism there.

If I wasn’t writing then I had my nose buried in my kindle and read over one hundred books overall! I was always a huge reader and loved the feel of a physical book but my husband bought me a kindle when I went into hospital and it was honestly the best thing he could have done as it was a lifesaver for those hours when I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night. To be able to access an online library and have books instantly at my fingertips was brilliant.

I also tried Audio books and whilst they are not generally for me I would highly recommend anyone giving them a go if you find a book doesn’t hold your concentration.

Likewise having a device with internet access means you have access to music and radio or online meditation/relaxation streams which will help switch your mind off.

Others I have spoken to encouraged me to take up crochet or knitting and whilst I did think about it I never did manage to get beyond googling what instruments I might need. In hindsight I regret not trying crochet as I would like to have made a few blankets for the twins as babies and I hear it is a great stress reliever for many who are confined on rest.

You could use the time to do a short online course or some arts and crafts with plenty on Pinterest and You-tube to keep you going for weeks at a time.

Online shopping was a savior ,when it came to shopping for the twins I managed to do all our research for everything nursery and newborn related during my hospital stay. We managed to buy pretty much everything online that we needed and whilst I did feel a pang that I didn’t get to visit the baby shops to test out umpteen buggies and ponder over numerous cots to be honest it was a blessing to be able to use that time to research and truth be told it stopped us overspending in-store on baby items that we did not need!

From speaking to other mothers who have spent long stints in hospital , board games, adult colouring books and apps on devices helped pass time for them.

Speaking to others in the same situation as yourself helps and there are a few popular Irish online forums and associations that are a lifeline to expectant mothers and even more so when you are able to speak to someone going through a similar situation. Five years on with the growing popularity of Instagram parenting support pages and groups there is a group at your finger tips morning, noon and night to speak to ,therefore whilst decent internet is a must there does seem to be more remote support for those if they need it. Wi-fi access is not something that is readily available and or unlimited in maternity hospitals so I am conscious that the majority of items mentioned are data dependent it really is worthwhile getting or loaning a mobile broadband dongle or seeking out a good data package on your mobile phone.

Is that it and what should the hospitals be doing?

These are all things for the most part that you can do to keep yourself occupied and distracted when you are on your own. Family and partner support helps pass the time too but I can’t help but think is that it? Why are women not better supported when in these situations, there is the argument back that the system is stretched, hospitals are full to the brim but yet if we don’t ask then will anything ever change? Surely to help support the woman more can be done by the hospitals? Whilst in my case I was in my own room this meant had I not had visitors and later on was able to go for small walks around the hospital premises therefore meeting other women in the wards by chance, I could potentially have gone twenty four hours or longer only speaking to the medical teams. If my partner was not able to come in nightly and I did not have family nearby able to visit how would I be supported by the hospital system? How does that help support a woman and help her remain positive and calm not only for herself but also for her pregnancy?

Common areas for women to be able to seek out company if they were allowed time out of bed would have been very welcome in my case and in many others I remember from back when I was in hospital. Go a little further and it would be great to see pre-natal inpatient meetings held, again a place to go if you were feeling isolated,scared and to get reassurance and support. Whilst some mothers like a shared ward you do have the downside of noise when trying to rest therefore shared wards is not really the answer here, that in itself is back on the women to casually support each other if they feel able to , I would say there should be a process for maternal care for long hospital stays pre delivery. Potential revenue streams could see this expand to services being brought into the hospital, such as pregnancy massage,hair appointments ,nail appointments etc , I know this might seem frivolous but believe me if someone had offered to do my hair for an hour any of those weeks it would have made me feel a little more normal . A care package for long stays would brighten up an in-patients mood more than some will ever know, anything that can momentarily distract or help to change mood for the better can only help with a woman’s mental health.

Whilst some women will not want or ever need extra support if faced in a position of bed-rest during her pregnancy and be able to get by with her internal strength and whatever support system she feels comfortable with , there should be an option to be able to draw support from if she feels the need to do so. Hopefully if you are faced with an extended stay during your pregnancy some of my suggestions on what helped me get through my time will help you too and never feel alone most importantly. It is a very emotional time but focus on keeping yourself as well as you can ,sitting here with two healthy five year olds asleep in bed I am very lucky the bed-rest worked, I am conscious it doesn’t always result in a happy ending for mother and baby and my thoughts are with those who are in pain and hopefully you are fully supported if needed.

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