For most women, the 40 weeks leading up to the birth of a child are filled with excitement, joy and, usually, a little bit of nervousness and exhaustion. But for those that experience placenta complications, high blood pressure, or other pregnancy- or health-related complications, and are prescribed bed rest, that time is anything but restful. Instead, the days or weeks or sometimes months can be filled with anxiety, stress and, often, boredom.
To counter that, nurses in the Antepartum Unit of the Women’s Care Center at University of Colorado Hospital try to keep their patients occupied with weekly get-togethers for snacks and conversation in the unit’s conference room. But they have found that when things get busy, as they often do, the gatherings get cancelled, leaving moms-to-be with time on their hands.
Fortunately, help is now available. Women’s Care Center Associate Nurse Manager Cyndi Aubol, RNC, reached out to the hospital’s manager of Volunteer Services, Jenny Ricklefs, for help in finding a volunteer who could commit to visiting these high-risk pregnancy patients on a regular basis and help them feel less isolated – “more like a person and less like a patient,” as Ricklefs puts it.
The description of what Aubol was looking for was somewhat imprecise, but the need was great, and Ricklefs was able to find the right volunteers to work with this group of patients. Mary Parks, a retired math teacher and social worker, and Judy Oakes, a semi-retired, seasoned volunteer organizer and laboratory scientist, walked through Ricklefs’ door last fall, looking to make a significant contribution to UCH and the lives of its patients. As it turned out, they had something in common. Parks is a sewing hobbyist and Oakes possesses crocheting and knitting skills.
Oakes and Parks already knew each other vaguely through an organization called Boomers Leading Change in Health, a non-profit group that trains Baby Boomer-aged Colorado residents to volunteer their time, knowledge and experience to health care and non-profit groups around the state. Both were trained as patient navigators and placed at UCH.
They met with Aubol in mid-September and immediately took to the task she described, launching their program, initially called Craft Fun, within two weeks. In late October, they set up a unit conference room for craft projects for expectant mothers, including ornament-making, sewing, knitting and crocheting.
“Cyndi explained the situation to us – that spending time [on bed rest] can be a high-stress situation, one that these mothers have no control over,” Oakes said. “We wanted to immediately provide activities and facilitate conversation between the moms and family members to relieve stress.”
Their initial plan was to offer activities and conversation on Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. in the unit’s conference room, and then follow up on Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. in patient rooms to help each woman along with a specific project. They soon realized that getting out of their rooms was a big draw for the women, so they scrapped the room-to-room plan and set up shop in the conference room every Tuesday and Friday. They still visit patients in their rooms when the need arises.
Although the program calls for the two volunteers to spend just two hours on those days, noon to 6 p.m. is more typical. “We like it, and there’s a great need,” Parks said.
Who you gonna call?
They changed the program name from Craft Fun to “Boredom Busters” in January, a suggestion from Parks’ daughter, since some women, they explained, feel intimidated by the idea of crafts, or don’t think of themselves as “crafters.” They felt Boredom Busters (with the tagline “specializing in artisanal goods and textiles”) was more accurate and a bigger draw.
The two have taken this project to heart, trying to meet the specific needs of each patient and her family, whether it’s to help them keep busy or simply keep them company. If the mother has other children, they try to entertain them as well when they come to visit.
The Boredom Busters have added beading, glass etching, and paper crafts to their offerings, as well as Sudoku, crossword puzzles and adult coloring books. Parks says for those who want to knit, they try to focus them on turning out useful items that they or their babies will use, such as nursing covers, play mats, eye masks, burp clothes, baby hats, booties and blankets.
“We’re stability for them. Their medical conditions are so precarious and we show up on time and stay with them until the project is done. They can count on us,” said Oakes. For many of these women, Oakes and Parks simply offer greatly needed companionship and conversation.
Amanda McGarry of Erie, Colo., was put on bed rest because her water broke sometime between 17 weeks and 22 weeks. She spent two weeks at home and then 10 weeks at UCH starting in early December before giving birth to her son, Gavin, on Feb. 7 at 33 weeks gestation.
McGarry met Oakes and Parks on her very first day in the unit. The volunteers then introduced her to another woman on bed rest who was expecting twins.
“My husband had just left and they asked me if I wanted to make snowflake ornaments, and I said yes,” said McGarry. “It calmed me down, having something to do, and having someone to talk to.”
During McGarry’s hospital stay, she made the snowflake ornaments, a nursing cover (which she uses every day in UCH’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a pumping cover), a stuffed elephant, a car-seat blanket, booties, and a few Broncos hats for babies in the NICU to wear during the Super Bowl.
“I had knitted before but it was nice to pick it up again because I had forgotten how calming it was,” said McGarry. “I remember waking up at 4 a.m. [in the hospital] and working on my little elephant.”
The long period on bed rest meant McGarry couldn’t shop, go to the gym, or prepare dinner. The crafts helped fill her days productively – and she really enjoyed spending time with Oakes and Parks.
“They are part of what made [my time at UCH] such an amazing experience for me. I always looked forward to Tuesday and Friday afternoons when I got to see Mary and Judy,” said McGarry.
Oakes and Parks are not just volunteering their time but are also keeping meticulous notes about the number of patients they see and the projects that are hits, and even the ones that are misses. They plan to create a welcome packet and training materials and to continue to develop the program, possibly starting a book group and adding other boredom-busting activities.
Because their efforts have been so successful, Oakes says there’s talk about expanding their program to the Oncology Unit and, possibly, Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Many of the craft materials, including a new sewing machine, were made possible through a grant obtained from the UCH Gift Shop. Parks and Oakes have also reached out to friends in sewing and craft groups and were able to secure some donated materials. But they can always use more, they said. Please contact the UCH Volunteer Office at 720-848-4068 if you have items such as knitting needles, scissors, cotton fabric, crochet needles and colored pencils to donate.