Entertaining Children from Bed Central

by Terri Gillespie Cook

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The cobweb taunted me as it dangled from the ceiling, dancing in the gentle breeze from the air conditioning vent. I was deep in thought; pondering ways I could destroy it without budging from my doctor-ordered horizontal position on the living room couch.

"Give it to me . . .it's mine!" "No, I had it first!" My plan of attack was disrupted by the shrieks of my six- and eight-year-old boys, chasing each other through the house as they bickered over a toy that had probably gone untouched by either for several weeks. The web would have to wait as I took on a much bigger challenge--dealing with my two older children while on bed rest to keep my third one from arriving too soon.

"Boys, stop!" I said firmly. They didn't acknowledge me. "Boys, stop!" I demanded loudly. Did they even realize I was in the room? "BOYS, STOP!" I yelled, and I began my warning countdown. "One . . .two . . . " It was to no avail, though. They knew that even when I reached "three," I wouldn't get up, simply because I wasn't allowed to.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I picked up my empty plastic water bottle and tossed it in their direction. The noise startled them, and the screeching stopped as they turned to me with their full attention at last. Forgetting about the argument, they giggled as they left the room together, muttering about "Mom's bad aim." Okay, so that move probably wouldn't make the top 10 list of effective discipline techniques, but the peace, while only a temporary condition, was wonderful.

Each year, hundreds of moms-to-be across the country face the difficult task of adhering to mandatory bed rest for a complicated pregnancy while caring for older children. I was among those who was "sent to the sidelines" after showing signs of premature labor. When my doctor spouted a long list of restrictions, I wondered how on earth I was going to care for my two school-age boys while following those guidelines. The way he said, "Well, you still have to be a mom," made me realize that it wasn't going to be easy. And it wasn't. The good news was that it was summer, so I didn't have to get them ready and off to school each day. The bad news was that it was summer, so the days could have been incredibly long and dull without some creativity and a little planning. My husband was just a blur during those 14 weeks as he tried to take care of both the kids and me, keep the house fairly clean and the refrigerator fairly stocked, and work a full-time job. So for the most part, it was just me with my two energetic little boys.

In the years since that time, I've talked with many other moms who faced the same type of dilemma. Some had toddlers, others had teenagers, but all dealt with the same kind of internal tug-of-war, the feelings of inadequacy, and the guilt that comes when it seems that we are placing one child's needs over the other's. As these women shared their strategies for surviving bed rest with other children at home, I often said, "I wish I'd thought of that!" The following list is a compilation of some of their best tips for dealing with this difficult situation:

  • Take time to snuggle. Scoot over in bed to read a favorite book, watch a movie, or talk about the future. Discuss what it will be like when the baby comes, or what the baby's name might be, or better yet, what your child was like when he or she was a baby!
  • Invent your own games. While "I Spy" is one that requires no cards or game pieces, you may come up with a family favorite using your own imagination. One of our favorites started out, "I'm thinking of someone who has brown hair (or blonde or red)" followed by more descriptive phrases until one of us guessed the friend or family member in question. The kids particularly loved it when they stumped me because they were describing the family dog! We also liked to hum TV theme songs, mostly from cartoons, and have the others guess what we were humming.
  • Count down the days. Look for fun ways to mark the passing of time. Make a paper clip chain, adding another for each day that goes by, or draw a big X through the dates on the calendar. Inexpensive stickers can denote special times such as birthdays, doctor's appointments, and the baby's due date.
  • Stroll down memory lane. Some of the best entertainment can be found in your family photo albums. Children love to see what they used to look like, reminisce about a favorite trip, or talk about their grandparents' visit last Christmas. Old yearbooks are great fun, too, as kids enjoy giggling over their parents' no-longer-cool hairstyles and "nerdy" clothes. Watching old family videos is another way to enjoyably while away the hours.
  • Enlist their help. Even a small child can bring you a tissue or help fluff the pillows. Older children feel that they are doing their part for you and the baby by making a sandwich or folding the towels. Assign jobs that are appropriate for your child's age and ability levels, and praise their efforts to help. It's not realistic to expect a perfect dusting job from a nine-year-old, and it's sure better than the house not being dusted at all!
  • Share the laptop. If you have a computer, a quick search for children's web sites can provide stories, games, and puzzles to keep kids of all ages busy for hours. Children are quick learners and aren't intimidated by electronics like some of their older relatives. If you plan to do some shopping for the baby online, involve your child in choosing some of the outfits or decor for the baby's room.
  • Accept all offers of assistance. When someone asks what they can do to help, tell them! My mother and sister sometimes took the children for an hour or two to give me a little quiet and them a change of scenery. One friend of mine invited my children on outings to the park, beach, or swimming pool with her niece. Another stopped by with a kid-friendly dinner. Think about older children in the neighborhood who might be happy to help out for a few hours, playing a board game with your child or pushing him or her on the backyard swing.
  • Take care of yourself, too. Remember, too, that when Mom is happy, everyone is happy, and don't hesitate to accept offers that will make you feel better. A group from work not only came to my house to decorate the baby's room, but when they noticed my neglected hairstyle, they sent my hairdresser to the house. "You cannot look like that in the pictures with the new baby!" one friend said.
  • Remember that it's only for a while. Keep in mind that "this, too, shall pass." Although it can sometimes feel like an eternity, pregnancy doesn't last forever, and it won't be long before you're buckling all of your children into their car seats for a visit to the mall. Today, my older two don't remember much about our summer on the sidelines, but they do remember what it was like to see their baby brother for the first time.
  • As for me, I look back on that time fondly. Now that my older sons are on-the-go teenagers, their schedules leave little time for hanging out with Mom. During that one special summer, however, we had nothing but time--and a great reason for cherishing every minute of it.

Terri Gillespie Cook and her husband, Gary, are the parents of three sons—Ross, Rand, and Rhett. With 20 years of experience as an education public relations writer, Terri currently serves as publications coordinator for a school district on the Texas Gulf Coast. A Sidelines volunteer since 1999, she has written many features for the Sidelines web site.

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A Guy's Perspective

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by Jerry Hansen

Let me give you the story of a bed rest pregnancy experience from a husband's perspective. When we decided to have our first baby I was in my fourth year of graduate school and my wife was the principal moneymaker in the family while I was concentrating on school and earning a token sum of money as a teaching assistant. We were blessed with having an easy pregnancy and my wife was really enjoying the process and the idea of it all. As with all pregnancies, there was a surge of hormones and the addition of books about pregnancy and childbirth that freaked both of us out a bit and the scary unknown!

Well, the scary unknown became the hellish nightmare reality in one fell swoop on Super Bowl Sunday 1995 (four months into my wife's pregnancy). My wife caught a cold. I sort of groaned about it as she had been sensitive about the impact of the common cold and cold medicines on our unborn child- I attributed the paranoia to those damn pregnancy books. I must admit that I was reluctant to leave the hype preceding the Big Game, but my wife was truly miserable so I said, "Let's go to the walk-in clinic and get you checked out." I knew in my heart that the doctor would prescribe some medicine that would worry my wife as much, if not more than the actual cold. Well, the doctor took my wife's blood pressure and said, "The cold is not the issue that I am concerned about, it is your blood pressure. You had better make an appointment with your OB for tomorrow." Well, you can just imagine how reassuring that felt!

Flash to the next day. After a sleepless night of reading the pregnancy books on high blood pressure and doing some rudimentary research at the University library, we went into the OB's office. I, being the eternal optimist, kept reassuring my wife that it was really no big deal. "I am sure it was just a bum reading because of your cold. You'll be fine in no time." Well the OB took her blood pressure a couple of times and said, "You better call in to your office and let them know that you are done working for a while." "What? What do you mean by a while?"

"I'd say at least two weeks until we can see what is going on here. In the meantime I have a specialist that I am going to refer you to that specializes in high-risk pregnancies."

In that short time period I went from the blissful state of being an armchair quarterback for the Super Bowl to a freaked out husband with a basket case of a wife. We were certain that it was all some horrible mistake and that things would return to normal. Well, in our case it never did return to normal. My wife went from a nice job earning a lot of money to getting about $200 a month in disability pay. We had to set up a bed rest home. And, we had to change our outlook about a lot of things.

It was really fortunate for us that I was in graduate school at the time. My hours were exceptionally flexible at that point in our lives. We lived a lot on the kindness of a few very good friends that really proved their importance in our lives. One came over several times a week just to sit and talk with my wife bringing sandwiches or bagels and broad shoulders on which my wife could lean (providing the sanity that my wife needed by being there just to talk in a way that I couldn't). Another friend gave us a TV to use in the bedroom and went and got a ton of videos for my wife from the library. I had a guy friend that came over to talk from time to time and was more or less a male chauvinist pig and helped drive my wife's blood pressure up (but made me look much better to my wife in comparison!).

The lying on the left side and going to the hospital for twice a week fetal diagnostic outings was our routine for three and a half months. At that point my wife's blood pressure became so unstable that the specialist decided that it was time to stay at the hospital full time until the baby was ready to appear (for three weeks). Our baby was induced and came into the world a month early, but healthy.

The hell that we went through made me a bit hyper-protective of that baby and my wife for a little while after the arrival. You do not realize how much stress you are suffering with sometimes until after the fact. I was sort of the emotional rock through all the pregnancy complications. You become the reassuring voice. The cheerleader saying "It is going to be all right - don't believe everything you read in those books". I was the guy taking the calls where people would say, "Whatever you do, do not let your wife watch E.R. There is a lady that dies from the same thing that your wife has!" At the same time, your wife, partner, and future mother of your unborn child is frustrated that she is not having the 'June Cleaver' pregnancy. She is unable to go out in the world and revel in her pregnant status. She is not able to go to the Baby Warehouse and set up "the nursery" that she has dreamed of creating since she was a child. Worst of all, she has no outlet for this rage and frustration but guess who? You get an early dose of the "you did this to me!" attitude . . . and you get to deal with that too while waiting for the arrival of your bundle of joy.

On top of the additional stresses brought on by the fear of danger to your wife and unborn child, you are now given the sudden promotion to full-time homemaker and entertainment coordinator. Sure, you helped with the dirty dishes, did your share of cooking and laundry, ran to the store every so often, etc. Well, the whole deal becomes yours once your wife goes on bed rest and it really stinks. The focus is rightfully on your wife and how she is doing. You too are being beaten down by stress, worry and anxiety but can't show it in the same way. On top of all that, you are still expected to be at work and perform the basics. There is no baby yet. Most people think that your wife is just at home lying about and eating bonbons. They do not realize how much anxiety is going on in your life. You get to endure the remarks like "I wish that I got to lie around at home all day. Just think what I could get done."

Here are some things I did to cope with a lot of the junk that bed rest threw my way:

  1. I got a TV/VCR setup going with lots of free DVD’s from the public library. Comedies and light fare.
  2. I got a cooler of food and snacks set up for my wife to get her through the day. She was on a very restricted form of bed rest, which only allowed her to get up and go to the bathroom.
  3. I encouraged her friends to come by and visit. We invited her dad to come down and watch O.J. Simpson's murder trial with her for a few days (that whole deal ended the name 'Nicole' for us, by the way).
  4. I tried to find books for her to read that did not deal with pregnancy.
  5. We did not have access to email or the internet at the time, but I imagine that it would have been a big help for us had we had that option.
  6. I tried to do things for myself too: the occasional night of poker with the boys, a movie by myself.
  7. Get a restaurant delivery place to bring in a nice meal from a fancy place. Do the candle and flower thing. I did not do that at the time, but I know in retrospect that it would have helped a lot and made me look like a romantic hero. I repeat that I did not do that at the time - learn from my mistakes. Do it.
  8. Another thing that I did not do, but should have - take some time to get a nice post-delivery gift for your wife. You get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and start thinking of your wife as a patient rather than as a partner and lover. Indulge that side too. She is still there; she is just feeling really scared and alone in the world. It really does mess with their head and in turn goofs you up too.
  9. Ragu and angel hair pasta. A meal in five minutes!
  10. Let those dishes pile up for a while. No one is there to see them if your wife is being good about bed rest (heck you are still a guy, right?). Plus, perhaps a neighbor or friend will see them piling up and do them for you as a nice gesture.
  11. Take advantage of your friends. You never know who your real friends are until you go through something like this. You'd be surprised who steps up to the plate and who heads for the hills.
  12. Know too that the experience does not end once that baby is born. The struggle impacts your marriage and your delight in that child. Your wife may have been working and intending to go back to work. You may have taken on different career goals, stuff like that. It is all up for reconsideration after a tough pregnancy like this. We did a flip-flop.

My wife is a full-time mom and I am the worker bee. I enjoy seeing how contented my daughter is and know that she is a very special gift. I was also fine with having one child and stopping there. My wife was not ready to give up on a larger family though. She got a bad case of 'baby-itis' again two years ago and we had our second child in January of 1999. She had to go through two and a half months of bed rest with this last pregnancy, but it seemed like duck soup compared to that first experience. We had lived through that first experience and saw the positive results. Granted it was a real drag going through it all again with a three year old in the house this time and with me at work full time, but it was a relative breeze emotionally.

My wife looks at me and asks "One more?" I say that I am ready for the vet! Snip snip! We'll see what happens.

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