Joanie Reisfeld, left, founder of the nonprofit Better BedRest,… (Nate Pesce / For the Baltimore…)
Taking months off from work and everyday responsibilities is something no one is ready for — especially a mother preparing for a new addition to her family.
This is the situation Ellicott City resident Joannie Reisfeld found herself thrown into when she was placed on bed rest for two and a half months before the birth of her son, Zach.
“I was used to being in charge of laundry and food, and you have to give up control at that point, and that can be very frustrating,” says Reisfeld, who delivered her now healthy 24-year-old son 10 weeks early at only 2 pounds, 10 ounces. “It takes away the pleasure of enjoying the pregnancy, and you have to rely on others.”
In 1993, Reisfeld approached Howard County General Hospital and, with its support, founded Better BedRest Inc., to provide resources and information through a hospital hotline for pregnant women who are prescribed bed rest by their physicians or midwives.
The organization has just one part-time administrative assistant who helps with the day-to-day work. The rest of the staff is composed of volunteers, with many working other full-time jobs, says Reisfeld, who is also a teacher.
Better BedRest board secretary Elizabeth Neighoff of Ellicott City had a complicated pregnancy from start to finish due to subchorionic hemorrhages and a shortening cervix. She was placed on bed rest before having her now 8-year-old daughter at 37 weeks after an emergency cesarean section and two blood transfusions post delivery.
“The most challenging part of bed rest was keeping the faith that everything would turn out positively,” Neighoff says. “I had nothing else to do with my time than to worry about my baby.”
Kristen Blair of Ellicott City, who now volunteers with Better BedRest, had just moved to Howard County when she found out she was pregnant. She was on bed rest in a hotel room for weeks while she and her husband waited to move into a permanent home. She wishes the organization had been around to help her through her pregnancy.
“It would’ve been nice to talk to someone going through the same experience and telling me to keep my chin up during days I was feeling down and depressed,” Blair says. “You really need someone who had been through it to tell you you’re going to get through it.”
Along with emotional support, the organization helps with the unexpected financial toll bed rest can take on a woman and her family. While the helpline is a national effort, Better BedRest’s monetary grants have been refocused to help local women.
Nichole Mullen, who discovered she had an incompetent cervix after losing two babies, was in deep financial trouble when she was out on medical leave and only receiving short-term disability payments. She was awarded a grant through Better BedRest that she says gave her the ability to keep going.
“If I didn’t get the grant, my family and I probably would have been evicted,” Mullen says.
Reisfeld says Mullen’s story shows the need to help women ordered to go on bed rest by their doctors.
“Finances weigh very heavy on a woman’s mind during bed rest,” Reisfeld says. “If we can help one woman locally get through her bed rest both financially and emotionally, then we’ve done our job.”