This excerpt is adapted from ”Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir.”
I was four months pregnant and walking around Manhattan with my new husband when I felt an unusual pain in my lower belly. The next day, an emergency sonogram showed I had three huge fibroids growing in my uterus right alongside the baby, and one of them was pressing on my cervix.
When the doctor told me to go to bed and stay there for the next five months, I had no idea what I was about to give up. I lost my job, my finances suffered, and my marriage began to crumble. I spiraled into a mental health crisis, but no one was paying attention.
On the way home from seeing the specialist the beautiful May afternoon in which I was told my baby might not make to 24 weeks, my husband, Chris, and I stopped at a diner to pick up grilled cheese sandwiches. I reclined the seat of our old Honda as much as I could to take pressure off my lower belly. The pain was becoming more severe by the hour, like a stack of bricks bearing down on my cervix.
Once home, we ate the sandwiches on our deck overlooking the Shawangunk Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley. There was no doubt about it; we had a million-dollar view, but the beauty only amplified my grief.
There should have been clouds and thunder, a little wind maybe, even some garbage strewn about. The sky should have opened up and unleashed golf ball-sized hail on the world. But there was none of that, not even the smallest breeze to juxtapose my stirring uncertainty, and so with no other choice, I chewed in silence.
Chris finished up the scraps of his lunch. “I have to go now and take care of a few things.” He kissed me hard on the head, leaving me on the deck to head back to work.
When I heard his car pull out of the driveway, I wandered over to the bed, laughing quietly at the idea that a grilled cheese sandwich was my last meal of freedom. I stood there, holding the sheets aside.
I put my knee up on the edge, about to climb in. I hesitated. What would it mean for me to get into this bed right now?
“For five months?” I whispered, but the words caught in my throat. Sometimes there is simply no pill or procedure, or anything else. Sometimes it’s just you, and whatever or whomever you believe in, trying to figure out how to get through the next moment.
I had a hard time coming to terms with the idea that we couldn’t just fix this. That I couldn’t just fix this. What if I just didn’t do it? Would I really lose the baby? What was I willing to risk? I could ignore the doctor’s advice. Would I be judged for not agreeing to become a stationary vessel for this child? Probably.
The real question was: How much did I care?
I needed more information. I did what almost any other woman would do in my situation: I dropped the sheets in a crumple on the bed, went over to my desk and Googled “bed rest.”
Turns out information around the pros and cons is gravely lacking, and most research is inconclusive. Some experts go so far as to say that bed rest is unethical. What I did find out is that almost 1 million pregnant women each year are labeled high-risk in the United States. My jaw dropped.
I found that statistics vary, but at minimum 70% of those women end up on bed rest for various reasons, including bleeding, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, carrying multiples … the list is endless.
That’s at least 700,000 women a year suffering from complications that force them to check out of life as they know it, lie down and wait.
Those are high numbers, and behind those statistics are real women spending their daylight hours in a horizontal position for less than tantalizing reasons. I was left with one question: Was bed rest beneficial, or would it just make me physically and emotionally weaker?
The only answer I could come up with was: maybe. Maybe bed rest helps, maybe not. Super. Hundreds of thousands of women a year are on bed rest, and only a handful of scientists think it’s worthy enough to study this?
If you really want to cheer yourself up, Google “stupid scientific studies” to see where we are focusing our resources instead. One such fact-finding mission makes it official that Spider-Man doesn’t really exist. But all those needy bed-resting women? Who cares. It’s not like they’re superheroes.
The research I did find suggested that most women are put on bed rest to stabilize their bodies. Otherwise normal activities — carrying groceries, exercising or going to work ― cause additional strain in an already fragile situation. There are also very real benefits to lying down. For example, it increases the blood flow to the placenta and thus can slightly increase the baby’s birth weight.
But other studies show that bed rest can be hard on a woman’s health. A woman’s heart and lungs don’t work as well as when she’s on the move, making her susceptible to blood clots.
It can also take a long time to recover lost muscle mass from being in bed for so long. In other words, these studies are saying that not only does bed rest maybe not work, but it can also actually make things worse. My own personal conclusion: This was a waiting game to see if I would miscarry or make it to the finish line. I had been thrust into a race that I had not signed up for.
I closed my laptop. Now here I was, faced with the opportunity to literally nurture a new life growing inside me even though it would mean giving up my mobility and, with it, my independence. I walked over to the bed and pulled back the sheets, not out of some sense of courage or determination, but out of ambivalence. I never stuck with anything that made me uncomfortable. Commitment issues? Perhaps. Would this be any different?
Those first few days, Chris marveled at my perseverance, telling everyone how I hopped right into bed and didn’t get up. It may have looked like that to the rest of the world, this unsung bed-resting warrior, fighting to keep my baby alive, giving up my free will, but I could never have predicted the toll it was about to take on my life and the years I would spend processing the trauma and healing from those five months in bed.
No one talks about the long-term effects a high-risk pregnancy has on a woman and her family, and many are left struggling without support. With the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade, now more than ever, we need to bring these issues to the forefront, advocate for our health and our bodies, and make our voices heard.