Putting the Bed Rest Brakes on Your Career

August 15, 2011 at 11:07 am 18 comments

When my husband and I started talking about having kids, I tossed and turned over the implications it would have on my career. I’m just starting to get into a groove of “up and to the right” in my field and since I’m part of a pretty tight team at my job each one of us depends on the others to bring about success for the company. I worried that I’d be letting them down by not being able to give them 100%.

I worked with a woman with whom I had been very close personally and professionally who, when she got pregnant, suddenly determined that she had to work twice as hard to prove herself. She was almost paranoid in her certainty that she had to focus only on her career and work more hours than anyone else to show that she could still contribute, to the point where she actually undermined her own contributions to the team, ignored her family, and alienated her friends. I worried I would end up like her.

When I did get pregnant, I absolutely struggled with paranoia and feeling like I was letting my team down. I fretted that I would regret my decision to go back to work after the baby was born, and that if I chose the opposite I would hate it. I also started to worry about my career in the big picture, and how having a kid (or two or three) might slow down or change my goals. But these were all in the background of my daily life, and I knew I’d work them out for myself with plenty of guidance from friends and people in my network who had been there themselves. Now that I’m on bed rest, though, these questions are at the forefront of my mind and weigh on me in much more immediate ways.

Bed RestThe physical limitations of bed rest are astounding: I can stand only for daily showers and trips to the bathroom, and can sit up only for meals. I spend approximately 22-23 hours a day lying flat on my side or back. Trust me, I’m not whining – I am actually among the very luckiest of those who’ve been given this prescription. Although I’ve been ordered to stop working entirely I’ve been able to develop a schedule that keeps me from going crazy with boredom but that doesn’t put me up against deadlines that will make me stressed.

Even so, I find limitations to what I can do within that. I can’t contribute to a radio ad, even though the team was willing to recreate the entire setup at my house, because there’s construction outside. I don’t always get much done during the day because, as you can imagine, typing is kind of a bitch in this position. Some days there are a million things I want to move forward and can’t, and some days it feels impossible to motivate. I wonder if it’s not more frustrating to butt up against these things than it would have been to take leave and remove myself entirely. I still wonder how I’ll handle it when I have a newborn.

I’ve joined bed rest chats and forums, and there is talk from many women about how hard it was to slow down, but I haven’t as yet seen anyone talking about how bed rest affected their careers overall. Mostly we talk about how worth it all this is/will be in the end, which I know and is why I keep my butt here instead of going for a walk around the block. But I find myself in a truly unique position (a flat one – HA!) when searching for guidance. It’s not like being laid off  – I haven’t lost my job, for one, and even if I had I don’t necessarily have the physical ability to move in another direction. It’s not like coping with a sudden physical disability because mine is absolutely temporary.

I know there are some moms in my circle with bed rest experience, so I’m asking: how did bed rest change your career? Did it slow down your momentum or stop it altogether? Did you try to go back to the way things were when it was over? Were you able to? How did this affect your career goals, if at all?  How did you cope with such a dramatic shift in priority? If you work/worked in social media, how did you manage the urge to be “always on” with the lack of energy and need to factor in plenty of offline hours? I’ve noticed that my energy and motivation have changed a lot, and while I expect myself to be able to hustle even though I’m lying down, I really can’t. Did you feel the same? How did you communicate this to others? How did you manage other peoples’ expectations of you and your own expectations of yourself?

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Entry filed under: baby, bed rest, career, personal, professional, stress, work.

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18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hadley at The Urban Grape  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

    This post has brought me back to a very dark time in my life, when I struggled with so many of the same issues. You’ve done the right thing to ask for help from those that have been through it. I did not, and I made all the wrong choices.
    My bed rest was not as drastic as yours, but still…it was bed rest. I was told to slow down my work to negligible amounts, to hire as much help as possible to take care of my first child, and to incubate that baby.
    At the time, I worked from home, and my pregnancy was not supported by my employer. At all. I was petrified by the fact that I would be fired if I showed any sign of weakness. So I worked. In many ways, I worked even harder.
    I worked from bed when I could, but I went to every required meeting despite several warnings from my doctor and complete ire from my husband. It was the stupidest thing I ever could have done. Despite that I made it full term and had a healthy baby, I regret it every day.
    The very hard thing to come to terms with is that growing this baby IS your job right now. And for your body, it can be the only job. Life puts you on unexpected paths but that doesn’t mean they aren’t parallel or even better paths. Look at me. I did end up getting “downsized” from that job after I had my baby. And it devastated me. For months I was lost with little sense of myself. But now I am doing something even better with someone I love and having the best time ever.
    My advice, even though I’m not sure you asked for it in this way? Let your job go for now. Let your team create new ways of working for the situation they are in. One body out the door with one foot still in it is a very hard way for a group to work. Trust that they will be okay. And trust that you will be okay too. If they value you, your job will be there in some fashion when you are ready for it. If it isn’t, you will find another. And it just may not be the job you thought you’d be doing at all! Life shakes out in the end if we just let it.
    Good luck and you can always contact me with any additional questions.

    Reply
    • 2. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Hadley. Even with a supportive workplace the pressure to always be doing more is intense. You’re right – the hardest thing is really accepting that doing less is doing more. Your advice to let the job side go is good advice. I’m not letting it go entirely, but I am finding the courage to embrace and articulate my limitations which helps me alleviate some of the guilt I feel about not being there and helps them understand what kind of solution they’ll need to find in my absence.

      Reply
  • 3. Janet Aronica (@JanetAronica)  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Hang in there. I haven’t had a kid so I can’t say that I know what you’re going through, but as someone who does want both kids plus career, I could totally see myself struggling with this very same career/life thing down the road and I feel for ya. I get where you’re coming from. So if validation helps at all (which sometimes it does), I can offer that.

    I do know that you are very emotionally and physically strong, very smart and so motivated. You also were very smart in your decision of choosing such a great company to work for, whom I believe will support you through this. You have a unique and valuable skillset to offer your team. Finding people like you isn’t easy. Remember that.

    I wish I had better actual advice or perspective to give you :-/ I’m sending you lots of positive energy and good wishes. Keep your chin up! 🙂

    Reply
    • 4. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 8:38 am

      Thanks, Janet! Every day of my pregnancy I’m grateful to work where I work – I think back to jobs I’ve had before this to which I was no less dedicated and yet I would never have gotten the kind of support and mentorship I’m getting now. I guess I thought that even though I’m the sort of person who is super passionate about my job and my field (you know what that’s like!) it would be easier once the baby got here to put him first. And maybe it will be once he’s here and I’m too busy with changing and feeding to mull over thoughts like this.

      Reply
  • 5. Rachel Happe  |  August 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Hi Jennifer –
    I didn’t have to go on bed rest and I’m not sure how that would have changed things however, what I do know is that having a baby forced me to actively articulate my own priorities in a way that I just didn’t have to earlier (even when I was pregnant). I think you may be getting to that point a bit earlier because of the bed rest. The effect that has on the career is that it may change place in your list of priorities (or it may not). For me, my home/family/friends/fun life took second place to work for quite a while. It probably shouldn’t have but I could always rearrange things to fit around work demands so I could punt the priority question. Having a baby is not a flexible endeavor (even if your particular baby is relatively flexible) – you can’t put it in a closet for later and that forces you to look for flexibility elsewhere. Does that impact your career? For me absolutely because of my previous priorities. Was that a good thing for me?!? Hell yes because I think I needed the reminder that life is about more than work and it forced me to invest in that.
    It really all depends on what you want in your life. Wanting to be CEO and being the primarily caretaker for a baby aren’t particularly compatible but in that case, nannies can help or husbands/partners can step in. It’s difficult because you go from being primarily responsible for you (even if you have a partner) to having to negotiate between you, your partner, and your baby’s needs and desires. And that can result in all sorts of different combinations. If I have any advice while you have extra time… work on figuring out what you want and what you need to do that so you can have a very clear conversation with your partner about what you will need to have the career and the family experience you want.
    Good luck!

    Reply
    • 6. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

      Thank you so much, Rachel. I get caught between “can” and “should” and “need” and “want.” I tend to push what I need and want to the side to listen to my internal and entirely unreasonable expectations of what I can and should be doing. I just figured that the presence of a baby would be so looming and overwhelming that I would snap out of that and figure it out. It’s so much harder to choose a new path rather than just be forced onto it! 🙂 For what it’s worth I think you’re doing an amazing job being a mom and a pioneer in community management, and I’m lucky to have such a great example in my network.

      Reply
  • 7. Rachel Happe  |  August 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    And ditto what Hadley said. I didn’t really take much maternity leave because I had my own business… but I pushed myself too hard and I didn’t need to.

    Reply
  • 8. Meg Fowler (@megfowler)  |  August 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I think you have a healthy appreciation for both sides of your life, and the attention they deserve. You want a career, you want to contribute, you want to grow upwards, and you’re doing what you can with the resources you have right now to make that happen. That’s all you can do. When you have more resources, you can revisit. When you have more information (how you feel once the baby is born, how your career landscape looks then) you can revisit. Everything is changeable down the line, and if an opportunity passes, then you look for the next one. If you thought you’d want to do something and you were wrong, you figure out how to change your situation. But for the now, for the you, for the wee bebe, you’re doing all you can do.

    There are going to be people who don’t get it (employers and otherwise) but you can’t let them change the reality that it’s YOUR choice to do what you feel is best. Yes, they can respond and you deal with the consequences, but by sticking with what you feel is best, you stand a lesser chance of second-guessing yourself. If you let them decide, you’ll always feel like you ignored your gut.

    And what’s in your gut right now will NOT want to be ignored fairly soon. 🙂

    Reply
    • 9. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

      Thank you, Meg. It was actually the chat I had with you the other day where you made me answer honestly if the expectations I was fretting over were coming from me or from my job that made the rest of this great advice sink in. It’s never come from my job (not this one, anyway) – it’s all in me. The voices saying, “Just because you’re on the couch doesn’t mean you can’t still hustle, maybe even hustle harder” aren’t coming from anyone outside of my own head. Not accepting that doesn’t give myself or my employer enough credit.

      Reply
  • 10. Jackie  |  August 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I sent your blog link to my grown-up fairy goddaughter (Nathan met her 20 years ago), who was on bed rest between months 3 and 7 following a miscarriage. Your version sounds stricter–hope there was a really good medical reason to keep you so inactive! My mom went on bed rest too, after two miscarriages–and I know she thought it was worth it, to have me and then my sister. She said later that the 10 best years of her life were the ones when she didn’t have to work full time, so…delegate tasks and make the most of these months!

    Reply
  • 11. davinafankhauser  |  August 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Was your friend example me? For pregnancy number one, I fought my bedrest. I tried to work as much as possible, ignored my doggy family, and stressed myself into high blood pressure.

    For pregnancy number two, I was a very good girl on bedrest. I moved my daytime location to somewhere more comfortable, ate better and didn’t work at all. I saved all my brilliance for after the baby was born.

    I understand wanting to do everything right, but chances are, everyone’s needs are going to change, as will your physical and mental abilities. There will be no pleasing everyone. So, my best suggestion is to focus on your goals and allow yourself to NOT be everything to everyone. That was nice of your employer to offer to move work to your house, but you aren’t on bedwork, you are on bedrest. You need to rest your body (including the physiological system). They know you, so I hope your employer will believe you when you say, “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

    My job changed after the second pregnancy, but it led me to something I really love so I won’t complain. You are a gem and I have no doubt your career will be great after he comes and bedrest comes to an end.

    Reply
    • 12. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:30 am

      They definitely understand – it’s me being able to say “I wish I could but I can’t” that’s been so hard! When I got my first job out of college I never said no, and I burned myself out FAST. I know better in my head, but still find myself caught in wanting to do more and be more and be fearful that it’s still not enough when in fact it’s more than that. This period of learning to set boundaries will probably not only make me a better employee, but a better future employer, and hopefully a better mom. And maybe a better knitter, with all this time on my hands.

      Reply
  • 13. Theresa Dias  |  August 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Poor Jen! I didn’t have bed rest but I can relate to the fear and the concern. During my first pregnancy, I remember feeling that my productivity was down in general, and being really paranoid that people would start to realize that I wasn’t contributing in the way I used to. In fact, it wasn’t — I can see that now. When I expressed my concern to others, they looked at me like I was crazy — I must have been like your friend who felt she had to over-compensate. I also only took 6 weeks off for maternity leave. In retrospect, I can see this was a big mistake. In the long-term picture of your career, a few months here and there do not matter. You are a proven and valued team member, and your employers and team mates will want to support YOU as best they can, to preserve their investment in you for the long term. You are worried about not being able to support THEM, but they have a different perspective. You are not some leech looking for any excuse to contribute less, and they know that. They are proving they are willing to go the distance for YOU — telecommuting, bedside radio studios — they’re trying hard to stay in your consciousness so that you will WANT to come back, later. I think you can appreciate their commitment to you, and take the time you need NOW to rest — knowing that you’ll have plenty of opportunity later to push your career forward. A few months — pfff, they’re nothing overall in your career. You’re already on track. Bedrest, not bedwork. My two cent.s

    Reply
    • 14. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

      That’s a good point about their perspective, Theresa. It’s hard for me to understand where they’re coming from, but at the same time it isn’t really. I’m part of that team – how would I feel if I was in the office and someone else was home? I’d feel the way they do about me: I’d be worried and want to help as best I could. When every day feels like it’s a million hours long it’s hard to imagine this will be a blip on the radar when I look back on it, but then again I used to say the same thing on hot summer mornings in high school when coach would make the field hockey team run extra laps.

      Reply
  • 15. Jennifer Spencer  |  August 17, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Thank you to everyone who’s commented. It’s been a huge help in articulating some things to myself and to my employer, and in confirming what I already knew but what is so hard to accept about setting my own boundaries. It’s also taught me a thing or two about reaching out and asking for help. 🙂

    Reply
  • 16. Dale Cruse  |  August 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t have much to add here except perhaps a suggestion to keep you engaged: Audible.com. Imagine the number of books you could listen to while in bed! And if the books make you smarter, your baby will be smarter by osmosis. That’s just good science.

    Reply
  • […] posted at JennaLyns blog […]

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  • 18. Walk Softly and Carry a Big Diaper Bag « Out Of My Head  |  February 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

    […] mom, continued through my pregnancy, got really tough and left deeper scars than I realized during bed rest, and has been a road filled with heartache and fear and beauty and joy mixed in every second since […]

    Reply

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