Extended Family

The Impact of Mama’s Bed Rest on Extended Family Members

May 27th, 2010

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Elise Weiss, a well known childbirth educator, doula, lactation consultant, Pregnancy and Childbirth guide for About.com and now I am happy to say, a friend. While we chatted away, Robin commented on the fact that when mama is on bed rest it is very hard on the extended families because while they are concerned about the baby, their thoughts are often with the mama (who is daughter or sister, etc..) and/or the father ( son/brother).

Her comments stopped me cold. I had 2 high risk pregnancies and never once did I even think about what how my pregnancies were affecting my parents, my in-laws, my sisters or my husband’s siblings.  I have to admit that I was so wrapped up in my own fears and what my body was either doing or not doing that I frequently called my family and verbally purged.  I gave no thought to the fact that I may have increased their anxiety gazillion fold.

I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, my first successful albeit most complicated pregnancy, my father in-law would call me every day. He was so sweet, he’d call and ask me how I was feeling and how the baby was doing. And those days that followed an event, like after I had spotted and had some cramping, he was even more sweet and soothing.

In light of Robin’s comments, I am now taking a look at things from his perspective. My husband and I married late. I was 35 and my husband was 36. My husband is the oldest child in his family and even now, 10 years into our marriage, neither of his siblings is married (although his brother has a little girl). His parents had all but given up the notion of being grandparents. When we married, they were hopeful, but completely tactful and did not push. After my first miscarriage and the realization that I would need surgery and potentially “assistance” getting pregnant and carrying to term, they were completely supportive. So when I became pregnant naturally 3 weeks after my surgery, they were overjoyed. Then the “fun” began.

I began getting sick at 6 weeks and stayed nauseated throughout the pregnancy. About 4 months into the pregnancy I spotted and had some mild cramping we thought that I was miscarrying. My OB watched me carefully, contemplated bed rest  and we were all relieved when my high level ultrasound revealed a very healthy little girl at 20 weeks. The pregnancy continued to be a roller coaster. I had lots of what I called “rumbling” beginning at about 7 months.  I now realize was probably having either Braxton Hicks or  preterm labor. I went into labor at 36 weeks and 6 days and when my OB’s partner noted that I was dilating 1-2 cm an hour, we went ahead and had the c-section. My daughter had breathing problems initially and stayed 10 days in the NICU, but after that, all was well. My inlaws came to see their new grand baby just days after I got home.

I never censored my conversations with my father-in-law. If I was feeling lousy, I told him that I was feeling lousy. When we had the spotting and cramping scare, I talked with him about how scared I was. I never stopped to think about how scared I may have been making him feel. My father in-law was so excited to be a grandpa and he adored my daughter. He would just smile and laugh whenever he saw her which wasn’t that often because he lived out of state. I am so filled with sadness now, because he died just one year after her birth and he never saw my son who is the spitting image of him.

Robin’s statement is an excellent reminder that a high risk pregnancy has far reaching effects-beyond the pregnant woman, her spouse or partner and the baby. My father-in-law was a huge source of support for me while I was managing my difficult pregnancy, and while he was concerned about the baby, his main concern was for me first and then my husband, his son. He so wanted to reassure us that it was going to be okay, yet who gave him that assurance? I don’t know of many resources for families and friends of mamas on bed rest. Those of us who work in the field are often called upon to answer questions. But to my knowledge information is sparse at best.

I would like to think that if I had the situation to do over I would have been more cognizant of my father-in-laws feeling, but probably not. When you are a high risk pregnant mama or a mama on bed rest you have about all you can handle just managing yourself and your pregnancy.  So from whom did my in-laws receive support? From family and friends and a strong church community. Today there are websites and a vast array of information resources. In my next post, I will provide many of those websites and resources.

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