It’s been a busy few weeks between the end of the semester, Memorial Day, the kids being sick, Jube’s preschool graduation, and Marco Finn’s First Birthday (Happy Birthday, Baby boy!). We enjoyed his birthday weekend with a little kite flying (a first for this city girl) and an intimate barbecue (poor third babies…I think we had 60 people at our house for Jube’s first birthday). Despite its lack of extravagance, the celebration felt extra sweet. While Marco’s birth on May 22, 2014 marks a significant beginning, the start of life for my third son, it also marks the end of a particularly dark period of my life: Bedrest. For anyone who has been on bedrest, you may understand when I say that although the joy of my beautiful brand new baby was certainly one of the most exciting events of my life, the end of bedrest was almost as exhilarating.
Marco Finn was due to be born on June 18, 2014, incidentally my husband’s birthday. As our second child , Giorgio, had been born almost 6 weeks early in 2012, we certainly didn’t ignore the possibility of another early baby, and we secretly hoped my husband would get to retain the one day a year he gets to do what he wants (which usually involves too much beer and hiking-not necessarily in that order). Still, I didn’t expect the contractions to start almost three months before my due date, in late March. After a series of contractions one Thursday night that followed me into the next morning, I ended my 9:30 am Women’s Studies class early and went straight to see my OB. I was positive what I felt were just Braxton Hicks (“fake” contractions that most women get during late pregnancy), but I did want to be cautious. After all, I was considered “advanced maternal age” (I was only 35 for goodness sake). After a series of exams and an emergency ultrasound, the doctor informed me that I was already 2 cms dilated and almost 75 percent effaced at 30 weeks. I was shuffled to the hospital where they performed more tests, gave me a steroid shot, and put me on meds to stop the contractions. In his most stern tone, my doctor made sure my defiant spirit understood the “rules” of bedrest. I could take a 2 minute shower daily, walk to the bathroom, sit on a couch, lay on a bed. And that was it. No shopping, no working, no picking up, putting down, no cooking, and definitely no cleaning (yes, there were some perks). The only thing I had left with which to govern my life was my mouth. Yeah, that thing.
What happens to a woman who must run her household solely by the utterance of words? It’s bad. Really bad. Jube decided that he, too, was going to go on bedrest during this time. On my lap. Literally, as soon as I became incapable of really caring for him, he decided he wanted nobody BUT me to care for him. He went on a strike against all other caretakers and I can tell you that not only did it break my heart, but it wore me out and made my lose my temper more than daily. Giorgie was the hands-down winner of bedrest. He grew closer to his daddoo, understood when I couldn’t help him, and snuggled me when I needed it (thank you, Giorgie bear). Jeremy was worn out and silently resentful. My mother was the same. My dad yelled at me the second I tried to lift a finger and I’m pretty sure my sisters walked on eggshells around me. Yeah, I was that asshole.
Before I was prescribed bedrest, I had seen the prognosis as a sort of vacation. When I gave birth to Jube in 2010, I shared a room with a woman who was on hospital bedrest. I remember thinking how wonderful it must be to sit on your ass, read books, catch up on the news and television shows, and be waited on hand and foot. Little did I realize the complicated psychological effects of relinquishing control of your life to someone else. Bedrest is a clever misnomer; while there is a lot of physical rest involved, the mental distress doesn’t allow for any genuine peace. I never felt rested despite having made dents in many a couch during this time.
The effect of bedrest for me was like a paper cut: it hurt way more than it looked like it should. It ignited emotions that ranged from sadness and frustration to panic and. To tell a woman who runs around like a lunatic most days (and secretly loves it) that she cannot do ANYTHING anymore is like taking away her purpose. The doctor told me that I couldn’t stay home with my children alone. That was probably the worst part. Jeremy took over the household and did the best he could to manage our life from preparing meals he thought the boys and I would like (a vegan cooking for a bunch of omnivores is certainly a challenge) to taking the boys to their activities to making sure we weren’t living in filth. My mom took over the laundry, cleaned when she came over, and was our go-to girl for absolutely everything three days a week when the boys and I stayed at my parents’ house. She cooked the most amazing meals, wiped a LOT of butts, and lifted a lot of booties up and down wherever they needed to go. She took it like a champ because, well, she’s been doing all that stuff for us for most of her life anyway. My father drove us all around and my sisters helped as much as they could in between their own busy lives. Still, I fought with all of them. Despite the fact that my mother and Jeremy in particular were running the show, doing double or triple the work they normally do, I picked fights constantly. They weren’t doing things the right way, they were being too slow, they were being too fast, they were being insensitive, they didn’t care enough, they cared too much. There also weren’t playing with the kids enough, they were taking the kids away from me too much…I mean, the list was endless.
The thing is I had a lot to worry about and I had no control over any of it. At any moment, my unborn child could literally be born. I was having contractions on a daily basis, some of them painful, and some of them went on for an hour or more. They mimicked real birthing contractions and they scared the shit out of me–particularly in the early weeks when Marco’s fetus was still just 30 weeks old. I feared the prospect of the health problems a premature baby could face, and I feared that somehow, I had done something wrong to make this happen. I took care of myself during pregnancy, never drank even a sip of wine, and I ate relatively healthy. Okay, I ate more full fat yogurt (Liberte is the best thing in the universe) than a normal person should eat, but it’s not like I was stuffing my face with Doritoes and coke for 6 months.
I found it immeasurably hard to take a back seat to my own life and let other people take control. Melancholia was my default status and I felt a pretty constant sense of sadness. It was like I was 16 again, strumming teen angst songs on my guitar, and etching “Kurt” into any crevice possible (yes, Cobain. Don’t judge me, jerks). It’s hard to relearn how to live and I can’t begin to imagine how people who have suffered from a stroke or other illnesses relearn how to live their lives. I dealt with it horribly and although I don’t want to be too hard on my former self, I am slightly disappointed at my general dissatisfaction with my life at that time. During the twice weekly 2 hour doctor visits, I was impatient, and I must have asked the doctor a hundred times when it was safe to “get off” bedrest.
You see, I saw my pregnancy as the last moments in which I would be able to be with my current two sons 100%. I couldn’t wait until the semester was over so Jube, Giorgie, and I could do whatever we wanted until the baby came. When the boys come into our bed in the morning, each would take position in one of my armpits, Jube on the left and Gio on the right. I was so unsure of how another little body would fit into our two kid household routine, and honestly, I wanted to REALLY savor those last few months. Bedrest prohibited me from doing so. Instead, they got a mom who sat on her booty for 90% of the day, who was usually bitter about something, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t get creative with activities. My patience was shot and I don’t think I was particularly pleasant to be around. Jeremy’s patience waned too, and we spent a part of my bedrest at odds with each other. I think it became difficult for each of us to really understand each other’s predicaments.
After 6 weeks of living a melancholic existence, I defied Jeremy and my doctor and said fuck it, I’m going to work. As president of the parent advisory committee (think PTA) at the kids’ daycare (The Greenhouse), I had to say a few words of thanks at the Preschool graduation. The director of the daycare, Janet, insisted it was perfectly fine to opt out this year, but I decided that, at 36 weeks pregnant, I was going to drive myself to the Greenhouse and fulfill my duties. And that is just what I did. I yelled something at Jeremy as I walked out the door and flew into the car. As soon as the preschoolers sang their final song and the crowd began exiting the auditorium, I stood up to talk to a fellow parent and I had a rather poignant contraction. Nothing I wasn’t used to. I thought, “Let me just sit down for a minute.” Ten minutes later, I made my way across the street into the Daycare center, where the families of all the graduates had gathered for a post-ceremony celebration, sat in Janet’s chair in the main office and began to labor. The blind pianist who accompanied the children, who is also a fellow professor and a father of four, sat with me and helped time my contractions. They went from nothing to 3 to 2 minutes apart almost immediately. I tried to not freak out as my hands became numb and I labored in public in front of people I work with on a daily basis. As the contractions became more painful, one of the children’s grandmothers, an RN, came in to tell me to calm down (HOW THE FUCK CAN I CALM DOWN?) and to open my eyes that I closed because of both the pain and the embarrassment. “Open your eyes and focus on an object,” she told me. That got me through the next hour and half of being carried out of the facility into an ambulance (mind you, the daycare center is ON the campus where I teach. Not embarrassing at all), being checked by a hesitant EMT in the ambulance, and having the hospital staff find me a room STAT. Long story short: the graduation ended at 7:15 and I gave birth at 8:42. My husband had to get our 85 year old neighbor to watch the boys as he ran to the hospital to meet our new son. Thankfully, he made it 10 minutes before Marco Finn was born: a perfect, beautiful ball of sweetness. At 36 weeks, he was the picture of health. Thank God. All the pain of bedrest was erased, and my husband and I shared those precious early moments of life together with our miraculous boy. Marco’s entry into the world literally made everything good again. Thank you, my angel.
This year, I attended the Preschool graduation again, said a few words again, and most importantly, celebrated my eldest son, Jube who graduated, sang songs, and was a total champ of a 4 year old graduate. Thankfully, I didn’t almost give birth there, again. As I exited the auditorium, this time filled with joy instead of baby, I saw the chair I sat in last year as my contractions worsened. All I felt was gratitude for all the amazing people around me and for a healthy baby. Goodbye bedrest. It was too real…