Help born out of trauma

The Baltimore Sun

About three-quarters of the way through what would be her only pregnancy, Joanie Reisfeld was rushed by ambulance at midnight to Georgetown University Hospital. She was in critical condition and terrified.

After two rounds of bed rest at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring -- to stave off premature labor -- Reisfeld had been diagnosed with a life-threatening set of symptoms called HELLP syndrome.

Doctors worried that the 36-year-old woman's major organs might begin shutting down and decided to deliver her son, Zachary, who weighed a mere 2 pounds, 10 ounces.

Following her son's birth 10 weeks early, Reisfeld was again placed on bed rest in a darkened hospital room for three days to allow her body to rebound, she said. She held her newborn for the first time on the fourth day of his life.

While one odyssey had come successfully to an end in 1990 for Reisfeld, who was then living in Montgomery County, another was just starting.

In 1993, Reisfeld founded Better BedRest, whose mission is to provide support, resources and information to pregnant women who are prescribed bed rest.

"I like to say I took my post-traumatic stress syndrome and turned it into a nonprofit," said the Columbia resident.

"Better BedRest shines a light on a growing prenatal problem that affects over 700,000 women in the U.S. each year," reads the introduction on the organization's Web site.

The group is marking its 15th anniversary this year with its fourth annual Read and Rest Event from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Historic Oakland, 5430 Vantage Point Road. Open to the public, the free event will feature a light dinner and a parenting workshop with Dr. Brad Sachs, a Columbia psychologist and author. Seats are still available.

"One of our missions is community outreach, and this event is part of that," said Reisfeld, who started the organization from a desk at Howard County General Hospital.

"Howard County General Hospital is a proud partner of Better BedRest and has provided a variety of resources to the program through the years," Victor A. Broccolino, hospital president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"Better BedRest offers a wonderful service of education and assistance to expectant mothers," he added. "We are gratified to see the program has grown and expanded beyond Howard County."

Not only has it expanded to surrounding counties, Reisfeld said, the organization has taken calls from 18 states and Canada. Many callers offer to become volunteers, she said, but the majority also seeks information about the group's grant program, which provides a one-time check of $350 for emergency use by eligible women.

Better BedRest's main purpose is to maintain its 24-hour help line and to call women on bed rest once a week "to offer support and lots of reflective listening," said Reisfeld. "We want to get these women through their bed rest one week at a time and help them have a healthy outcome."

Melissa Schwarz, who lives in Baltimore County, said she called the help line when she discovered her anxiety level increasing while she was on bed rest from June to October last year.

"It was nice to talk to someone who understood my frustrations, fears and anxieties," she said. Her son, William, was born Oct. 13 and weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces, she said.

"All of our phone volunteers have been on bed rest [in the past]," said Cheryl Rozanski, who has served as the organization's treasurer since its inception. "When a woman calls us, it is important that we understand what she is going through. We really put our hearts and souls into this."

"There is a misconception by some people that bed rest is a pleasant waltz through tranquillity and serenity, when it is actually a psychological and physical strain that is accompanied by great worry," said Sachs.

"This is a neglected issue to which Joanie brings an empathetic understanding," he added. "Better BedRest deals with the issues in a comprehensive and cohesive manner."

Reisfeld, who is in her 32nd year teaching blind and visually impaired students for the Montgomery County school system, said her paying and non-paying jobs are "really dear to my heart."

Zachary Reisfeld, the baby that inspired Better BedRest, said he could testify to that. Now 18, he will graduate from Wilde Lake High School next month.

"If it weren't for me and all that my mom went through, there wouldn't be a Better BedRest," Zachary said. "As I've grown up, the organization's grown up, too. I couldn't be any more proud of the way it's turned out."

For information on Better BedRest or to get information on attending the Read and Rest Event on Wednesday, visit their Web site at www or call 410-740-7662.

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