How to Help a Mom on Bed Rest.

So, it’s been on my heart, since I started this blog, to share our story about Cooper. This sweet boy has not had it easy and navigating so many unknown territories in the last 2 years has been a roller coaster for our family. I had grand ideas to write a huge series of posts, in order, starting with my hyperemesis gravidarum [extreme “morning” sickness – you can just call me Kate Middleton.] all the way to his most recent issues that needed CST [Cranial Sacral Therapy]. 

The problem is, I keep procrastinating the first post. And in the meantime, I’ve had several friends ask how to help their friends on bed rest. What are they going through? How do I talk to them about it? Would it be ok if I _____? Insert a million more questions here. 

Finally it dawned on me [and by dawned on me I mean 2 people flat out told me to blog about it…] that I can’t let my OCD ideas of a perfect blog series get in the way of helping people. If your friend is on bed rest right now, me procrastinating this isn’t going to be helpful! Their preemie will be 5 before I finally get this on the interweb so I’m writing the series, but completely out of order!

Here’s the email I send to friends who ask, 

How Can I Help My Friend on Bed Rest??

My quick background story:

  • I went to the hospital at exactly 28 weeks because of a strange, inconsistent pain in my right side. Once hooked up to the monitors we realized I was having significant contractions 1 minute apart. I was there for 5 days while they got it under control. I received steroid shots but avoided magnesium. They have no idea what caused my contractions.
  • I put myself on bed rest when I got home [they said I was free to do anything I wanted but I wasn’t comfortable with this.]
  • My water broke at 32w3d [32 weeks and 3 days – NICU lingo! Every day counts ;-)] They have no idea why my water broke, but it happened when I stood up after taking a nap on the couch.
  • I received another round of steroid shots and was on bed rest in the hospital until I went into labor naturally at 33w6d. He was born at exactly 34 weeks, the day they had planned to induce me.

I am very passionate about helping mamas that I can relate to. I think it’s one of the many beautiful things that can emerge from trials – connecting and encouraging others when they find themselves walking the same path. At my worst point, I reached out to the blogger HappyHomeFairy and she graciously encouraged me in the Lord. I seriously don’t know what I would have done without her. If you think your friend would be interested, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell her to get in touch with me through this website, on my Contact Page! And let me know if you have ANY questions as well!

One last thing, there are so many types of needs. If any family or friends are wanting to help, feel free to send this on to them. We had so many people helping us through this whole thing and still felt like we were drowning, especially in the NICU. I feel like in hindsight I can identify a lot of things I could and should have done differently and ways I could have expressed a need for help when people offered. I was so overwhelmed and everything was so new and unknown, I didn’t know what to ask for most of the time or I felt like I couldn’t ask for certain things because they would seem trivial. Looking back, I don’t think they were at all and I wish I would have spoken up for myself better.

I wanted to organize this whole post into easy-to-read bullet points but there was too much commentary I wanted to share. I don’t feel like simple bullet points help you empathize. I don’t want you to read this, check a few boxes off for your friend and move along. She needs your empathy. So, yes, this is lengthy but I want you to understand what’s going on when she might not know how to tell you what she’s thinking or feeling. Empathizing can help you truly love on the heart of a mama on bed rest

1 – Emotional Needs:

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I’ll explain all of this just so you have an idea of questions to ask and ways to get to her heart. For me personally, bed rest wasn’t that bad. It was still so unknown. I was still hopeful that everything was going to be ok, we wouldn’t be in the NICU long, I didn’t want to get worked up imagining the worse case scenario – I was hoping for the best, etc. This might not be the case for her though if sonograms aren’t looking good or heart rate is scary, etc, but either way, bed rest is easier than the NICU.

She needs someone to talk to and every conversation could be a roller coaster of different emotional responses [this is more applicable in the NICU, but still true on bed rest]. One day she may seem great but don’t stop pursuing her, thinking she’s fine. The next day or even next hour she may be a total wreck. She needs someone to complain to about steriod shots in her butt [ha!], vent and get validation for her frustration with dumb nurses, someone to cry with that her pregnancy and delivery didn’t go the way she imagined and she feels jipped, someone to confess to that she doesn’t understand why God’s doing this. You grieve the loss of your dreams of an easy pregnancy. She likely wont have that picture perfect arrival home with baby, after a quick 3 day hospital stay. Depending on her situation, this could be a very long and draining road.

There are phases of emotions. The shock – is this really happening to me? The “I’ve got this! I can get through this! It’s going to be fine!” The stress of not being able to nest [this was a big one for me.] The marital friction that happens as a result of the two of you processing your grief and fear differently. It’s so new for both of you and it’s hard to stay close as you process it. The fear of what if something doesn’t go right? What if I need an emergency C-section? The hospital is lonely, some moms go crazy! [more on this later]

Also, I was dying to talk to people who could relate to me. I told my aunt/mentor evvvvvverything but it wasn’t the same. She was so sweet and supportive and encouraging – I talked to her above anyone else, but I was dying to hear from someone who could just say, “I know how you feel. Here’s what I did/how I coped/etc.” I had 2 people in my life that had been through it but they had very different experiences at this stage of the game so that wasn’t quite the same either. Like I said above, if you think you’re friend would be interested, I would LOVE to talk with her. You know the highlights of my story from the bullet points above – even if it’s not the same as your friend, you can still offer, but ESPECIALLY if our stories are similar, I would love to chat with her!

Another thing to mention to her – Facebook forums! She can join and chat with people who have already been through this experience and people who are going through it while she is too. I didn’t find out about these until after our ordeal, but a friend shared these as her favorites:

2 – Nutritional Needs:

The food is crap. There’s no getting around it. I literally only ate a fruit plate every morning and a steak or salmon everyday for lunch and dinner because I didn’t trust anything else on the menu. And even that was sketch. I had Andrew bring me up a stick of butter because all they had was margarine for my baked potatoes and I wont touch that with a 10 foot pole.

I loved when people brought me my favorite drinks, a pint of ice cream, pastries from whole foods, a chocolate bar [I was pregnant, remember? Don’t judge my cravings ;-)], dinner from my favorite restaurant, etc and hung out and chatted for awhile. Fellowship and something new to eat were so refreshing. My aunt stocked my mini fridge with homemade healthy snacks a few times – cheese and crackers, hummus with veggies, olives, cold lentil salads, quinoa salads, etc. She always asked what I was craving and hooked me up. If you’re wanting to help with food, meals and snacks are a blessing. If you call her up to offer, I highly recommend lying [insert strike of lightening here] because there’s a very good chance she’ll say no, especially if you aren’t very very close.

Here’s the problem and you probably already know this – IT’S HARD TO ACCEPT HELP. You don’t want to inconvenience people. You don’t want them to go out of their way. You know they’re asking, but do they really mean it?? You question it. Surely it would seem stupid for me to ask for a stick of butter? They would think I was crazy. They’re probably sitting at home on their couch watching their favorite show. I’m fine. I’ll just eat my dry potato. “No thanks! We’re actually doing great right now, but thank you!”

Lies, lies, lies.

So, for the sake of keeping her from lying, you should lie first: “Hey friend! I’m out running errands [or about to run errands] near the hospital – I’ll be stopping by the grocery store, can I bring you anything? Shampoo? Crackers? Toothpaste? I’ll already be that way!” If you’re kid free, mention that too cause that’s another cause for hesitation – I didn’t want people to go through the extra work of hauling kids on errands for me, buckling and unbuckling, wrangling them into an elevator, etc. I don’t need butter that bad. But I feel like I do. I’ve been alone in a hospital room all day, eating crap food, with no good TV shows, Andrew’s been at work, I miss my friends. I wanted butter and friends. Your friend may still say no, but lying [or honestly going to a store near the hospital] will help your case.

3 – Scenery Needs:

You can’t get out of bed except to pee and shower and that bed gets uncomfortable! Pregnancy hips, anyone? If she’s allowed to go on rides, wheel her around the hospital or if the weather is good or she wants to bundle up, wheel her outside. My first time outside after just 1 week in the hospital was so refreshing to my soul. Being outside for awhile was just what I needed, It was the beginning of spring and I was very sad to miss it. The fresh air was like medicine – I almost cried. 

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Another thing that was so special to me was decorations – Emery and my cousin made me a poster for the wall [out of paper they taped together, not poster board, so it was light weight enough to tape to the wall], brought me flowers and a card. Involve your kiddos in a service project by making some things to hang around her room. Or better yet, if she has other kids and you are watching them – have her kids make something. Seriously. Tears. Just having color in the room, and something to look at and know someone was thinking of and praying for me was amazing. But knowing it was from my sweet girl who’s life had just been flipped upside down meant so much to me. Our relationship took a hit during this time and it was hard for me to watch because I was so helpless. Having something from her was priceless. I would stare at it and pretend none of this was happening. I would get lost looking at it, day dreaming about my happy memories with her and trying to block out the fact that she had a melt down everyday she came to see me because it freaked her out to see me in a hospital bed. And it sure beat staring at the calendar right next to it that showed how many more long days I had ahead until I would be induced.

 

I saved everything we received in Cooper’s keepsake box. A few people also brought baby outfits and stuffed animals that were sweet to have out. I especially loved oogling over the preemie outfits! [Don’t go crazy with those though, they likely wont fit by the time baby is released.]

4 – Productive Needs:

I mentioned earlier that stress over not being able to nest was a big thing for me. When pregnant with Emery, I was on my A-game. I had everything done way in advance. Because I had a completely normal delivery with her, I figured I would be fine this time around. At 28 weeks I think all I had decided was that I wanted a space theme. After we got home I was in denial that I could go into labor again [don’t ask me why, it didn’t make since at all.] Then my water broke – talk about stress! I’m having this baby in 2 weeks and I have NOTHING!

Insert my biggest blessing – a laptop my dad loaned me! I finished our registries online, read tons of articles on what to expect with a preemie, lurked on craigslist for some furniture we needed and coordinated for my dad and Andrew to pick things up, ordered a few things online for the baby room, etc. It was SOOOO important for me to feel productive.

One thing I wish I would have done was to have someone get me the stuff for productive projects. I wear spaghetti straps under everything I wear – I wish I would have spent time on bed rest altering them all to be nursing tank tops with buttons to unhook the straps. Things that made me feel like I wasn’t a couch potato. Things that helped keep my mind from wandering places it didn’t need to be going.

You could ask if there’s a pinterest project you could pick up supplies for her to do. Or, better yet, you could go over one night without kids and have a project night and girl talk with her and maybe her husband could hang out with a guy friend [the men have needs too!] A sweet friend and her daughter came over one day to teach me how to crochet and it was one of my favorite things someone did for me. Granted, it was the day real labor started and I couldn’t do much through contractions, but the fact that they took the time to come and do that for/with me was so special!

Also, apps on my phone – I wish I would have found some fun new games or thought to dig into watching awesome documentaries on youtube or hulu. I could have stretched my brain so much during that time. You could find out if her room has a DVD player and let her borrow some chick flicks she hasn’t seen in awhile 

5 – Dad’s Needs:

 

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Back to the needs for the guys – Andrew was overwhelmed. I wish he had a guy friend invite him out to dinner or out for a game of frisbee golf. Throughout this whole thing, you just miss feeling normal. I wish he had had someone to go recharge his batteries with so he could come back to the hospital more refreshed.

Emery was going back and forth between my parent’s and my aunt’s house and our dog stayed at my parents.  [Emery was very dependent on sleep at this point and we didn’t want to wake her up at 6 every morning to drop her off at people’s houses before he went to work. We felt this would be the best overall.] This enabled Andrew to live at the hospital with me but he would go home to do laundry and grab things I needed.

We had some ladies from church that came and cleaned our house while we were gone so he wouldn’t have to worry about that, and we were so grateful! Anything to relieve his stress…gas cards are great because he’ll probably be driving a lot, gift cards to places he can grab food, mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, letting out the dogs, doing the laundry, ironing his work clothes, money to get a car wash, etc. Freeing up his time in any way to spend more time with his wife [and kids if they have others.]

6 – Misc Needs:

  • Baby shower! Was someone planning one for her? Did they have a date yet? Find out if she wants a small shower in her hospital room, if she wants to wait until after the baby is born, or after baby is out of the NICU. There are pros and cons to all three options – maybe throw it out to her and let her think about what would best meet her needs.
  • Also, even just throwing her a small friend party and surprising her with presents to spoil her. You feel so isolated from people and gifts help expand her options of things she can do. My mom bought me two maternity nightgowns so I could get out of that awful hospital gown – it was wonderful, especially when people came to visit! Get her a book or a few magazines. Some nail polish and new lipstick. Some cozy socks. A journal so she can write down her thoughts through this time. A baby book, if she already registered for one, so she can start filling some parts in now, etc. Spoil the heck out of her.
  • Nursing – it’s so important to be proactive and have a plan with a preemie. I was very set on breast milk only, but because your preemie can’t nurse right away, they say it can take up to a month for your supply to equal what they need. Before he was born I had Andrew go out and buy me a bottle of fenugreek pills and within a few hours after he was born I started taking it – 3 pills, 3x/day, for 3 days [the bottle just says 1 pill 3x/day but my nurse friend and the lactation consultants said to do 3.]. Cooper never needed formula – I was quickly making 3x what he needed and had plenty stocked up in the freezer which was a huge blessing for those middle of the night feedings when I couldn’t be at the hospital. 

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  • If you are the one bringing her other children to visit and you have the time, please bring things for them to do! When Emery came empty handed, all she could find to do was play peek-a-boo behind my curtain. My aunt is a rock star – they visited me every day and she always brought a few new things for Emery to do. A bag of plastic animals, paper and crayons, a pad of stickers, stuffed animals, books, nail polish so I could give her a pedicure, etc. Emery had a ver difficult time being with me in the hospital – she literally turned around and tried to run away, crying, every time she saw me in the hospital bed. My aunt was her stand-in mom that she turned to during that time because Emery didn’t want anything to do with me. Having things to bribe her with to get her to snuggle with me were a blessing. And lets face it, even if their child isn’t struggling the same way, hospital rooms are BORING! Having new activities every time were wonderful. 
  • If you’re not the one to bring their kids to see them, still feel free to leave their kids surprises to open when they do come visit mom! And better yet, let mom give them to them herself. It does a mommy’s heart good to be able to do something for her child while she’s on bed rest, even though she didn’t really do it. Physically handing your child something that excites them is like medicine to a mom that misses normal life with her babies.

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  • If you’re the one watching their other kids, text them pictures and updates often! Cute stories, funny quotes, etc. I craved these more than anything, even when it broke my heart to see photos and videos of Emery playing in the snow for the first time without me.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure there are more ways to help! I have another email I send moms about how to help a family while baby is in the NICU, but I still need to make it blog friendly! The types of service opportunities are similar but more extreme. The emotional and spiritual needs are through the roof, so I have some things to share to biblically encourage your friends, as well as some important things to NOT do. HOWEVER, if you know someone currently going through this and would like ideas now, EMAIL ME through my contact page! I would LOVE to send you the email if you’re in need.

What about you?? Have you been through this? Know someone that has? What was helpful/not helpful to you? I would love to expand this post if other moms have thoughts to share from their experiences!