Anjali found a NY Times Op-Ed article about bedrest which prompted her to ask the question on our Mothers and More message board if any of us were ever on bedrest and what it was like. I began writing this response there but soon found that it was probably way more than she probably was expecting so thought it would be better to make it a blog post.
When what I thought was my boys pushing against my uterus as they battled for more space was diagnosed as preterm labor at 26 weeks, I did whatever the doctors said. And that began my 8 weeks of bedrest, a true roller coaster ride of emotions, various medications (with a variety of nasty side effects), and hospital trips.
While home, my laptop was my lifeline. I don't think I could have kept my sanity without it. Unfortunately, some of the medications I was sent home with made it very difficult to type since my hands were either shaking so much or my brain was a little too clouded with muscle relaxants. The highlight of my day was the change of scenery I was allowed: my once a day trip down the stairs to the couch which I saved for lunchtime when my mom or mother-in-law would come over to make me lunch.
Twice a day I was required to monitor my contractions for an hour. One hour of doing nothing but lying still, notebook next to me, hand on my stomach so I could feel each time my uterus became hard. I would be given a certain number that would be "okay" and was told to call the office if I felt more than that. In the beginning four was the magic number, but that soon increased to five, than six, all the way up to eight. Each time I felt more contractions than I should, the hour became two hours while I layed on my left side, increased my water supply, and monitored for another hour. If I felt the same number of contractions, I generally had to journey to the hospital. Virtually every time we had to make that drive to Labor and Delivery, never knowing if this trip would be "the one," it snowed. It got to the point that if the weatherman predicted snow, we packed a bag and put it by the door. Usually I was monitored, given IV fluids and more medication, and then sent home after a day or two.
Eventually the number of contractions we felt at home got to be too many and I was kept at the hospital for the duration on Magnesium Sulfate, a strong and truly nasty muscle relaxant. Every day in the hospital for these final two weeks, taking one day at a time, never knowing when I would deliver but hoping we could keep the boys in to grow stronger one more day, then one more day, I discovered how different hospital bedrest was from being at home. At home, in addition to being allowed my one journey up and down the steps, I was also allowed to take one short shower a day AND walk to the bathroom as many times as I needed. In the hospital, I was given a commode at the side of my bed and a bottle of waterless shampoo and a washcloth to "bathe" while lying down. In short, I didn't get out of bed much at all.
A strange complication soon began while in the hospital, mainly annoying and embarrassing at first, but soon so uncomfortable I was unable to hide it. I began swelling between my legs. My OBs would tell me that everyone on bedrest experience some swelling, and that they have to worry about all three of the patients, in essence, telling me to suck it up because the two babies growing inside of me are more important than my health and aren't I a bad mother for even suggesting that something be done to relieve my discomfort. The swelling soon got to the point that each of the nurses would come in to look because they had never seen anything like it. They would come in at the beginning of their shifts offering new remedies for me to try, everything from witch hazel to ice packs. I learned after the fact that my one main nurse went home and cried for me - you don't often hear of nurses doing that! Eventually it became so severe that I could no longer keep my legs on the bed; they had to be spread so that my feet were on the sides of the matress. The nurses had to find an extra wide commode for me to use, and during the last few days I needed four nurses to help me use it - two to help lift me and one on each leg. And yet my OBs continued to discount my situation as common, though they refused to examine me. In the early hours of my last day on bedrest, three nurses came in to explain to me, in no uncertain terms, that it is within my rights to refuse medical treatment, and that if the OBs don't agree to do a c-section that morning they would go over their heads to the chief of obstetrics.
My emergency c-section was performed that morning. By then the swelling was so severe that a catheter was impossible to insert (though they tried and my screams are what my husband heard as he came running down the hall that morning) and I was unable to sit up to be given an epidural. I was given general anasthesia to knock me out and the boys were taken out within seconds of each other. The swelling was so extreme at that point that my bladder ruptured during this procedure and a urologist was called in to sew it back together.
After my eight weeks of bedrest, I needed a catheter for two weeks and physical therapy to help me begin walking again. After the surgery, the swelling moved down my legs until my legs, ankles, and feet were so swollen it was near impossible to move them. I used both a wheelchair and a walker for many weeks. My husband had to go to K-Mart and buy me men's flip flops that had velcro so I could fit my swollen feet into them. I made quite a fashion statement when I journeyed back to the hospital to spend the time with my babies in the NICU, wearing heavy socks with my flip flops to combat the cold and a button down dress: the button down part so I could pump every two hours, the dress part so I didn't have to have anything too tight between my legs, since it was still quite swollen and I needed to continue to wear the catheter as my bladder healed.
And I have to say, as awful an experience it was, I would do it all over again if I found myself in the same situation, pregnant with twins and dilated, effaced, and contracting at 26 weeks. Even with no definitive proof that bedrest works, following the OBs instructions as closely as possible made me feel like I was doing something in a terrifying situation, gave me a sense of control in something that was truly not in my control at all. Ultimately, it worked. Who is to say if the boys would have stayed in that long even if I had done none of it? Bottom line, they are healthy four year olds now, and that's all that matters.