For some reason, people love telling pregnant women horror stories: my sister was on bed rest for twenty-two weeks; my cousin had a placental abruption, my friend’s wife almost died of preeclampsia. But few people know what to say to a pregnant woman when a problem emerges. So what do you say to a loved one in this situation? Listen to her anxieties, but help her feel like a mother to the child who is hopefully still coming.
I became a pregnancy horror story when my water broke at 21 weeks, and my hospital captivity lasted six and a half weeks until my son was born. Love poured in, of course, but it was clear that people weren’t sure what to do. They would ask how it happened, as if I had brought it on. Be sensitive with your questions and your support. One friend wrote, “If things don’t work out, you’re young. You’ll have another chance.” This was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear. I was in love with this baby, was fighting for the life of this baby, and I needed to know that people believed in us. You want to acknowledge your friend’s fear, but stay positive when talking about her pregnancy. If she’s named the baby, use the baby’s name. You don’t need to tell stories you know of people whose high-risk pregnancies yielded Harvard grads; just remember she’s still pregnant and act accordingly.
Even when friends said the perfect things, talking was hard. Explaining my emotions exhausted me, and it was difficult to feign interest in people’s problems. For me, a catty coworker had moved pretty close to the life-is-hunky-dory end of the spectrum. So be understanding of what your friend has to give, but don’t give up on her. I loved getting voicemails and emails from friends, particularly those who shared encouragement and amusing stories, and who understood that I might not respond. You might encourage her to check out the Sidelines National Support Network, which caters to women on bedrest (and check it out yourself, too, to understand what she’s going through).
I was touched by people’s generosity, too. They sent welcome distractions: magazines, iTunes gift cards and fluffy socks. The best gift included a pair of preemie pajamas with blue T-Rexes on them and a lamb binky. It was evidence that our friends were thinking of our son, too. So if you choose to send something to a friend on bed rest, consider something useful (like takeout gift certificates), something fun or something for the baby.
Whatever you do, don’t hide, even if you’re pregnant, or even if your friend is hiding. The most important thing you can do is ask what she needs. Ask her if she feels like talking about it. Ask her if she’d rather talk about something else. Ask her what you can do. And if she says nothing, do something anyway. You never feel bad for giving too much of yourself, but you can feel bad for giving someone so much space that it cannot be breached. After all, you want to be invited to hold that extra-special baby when the time comes!