This week’s letter to baby will have to be edited into a nice image later on. If you read on you’ll find out why, relatively quickly. Oh, and it’s not because the baby was born yet…
I only half-expected you to be born by this point, since the average pregnancy lasts closer to 41 weeks than 40. But I didn’t expect to be in labor for the last week. Starting Monday night, I have had a lot of contractions. They started out so close together and powerful, and lasted all night! Your dad and I thought for sure you would be born on Tuesday, but it is Saturday now and you are still not here. It has been a long, exhausting week, but we have been working hard to stay rested, hydrated, and fed. I guess you’re already letting us know you have your own schedule in mind, and your own way of doing things. Anytime you’re ready, we look forward to meeting our spunky little girl.
Evidently extended early labor, or prodromal labor is more common than I ever knew. Actually, I had only heard about it a few times and thought it was pretty rare. But since on Tuesday morning, we announced to our families and on facebook that our little girl would be arriving soon… and then she didn’t… I’ve been hearing from a LOT of friends who actually experienced the same thing with their pregnancies and labors. One friend told me she labored for 3 weeks before giving birth! Usually (based on my friends’ stories) it’s closer to a week though. The good news is that because it prepares the body slowly, once active labor really hits, it can be very quick and smooth compared to “regular” labor situations.
I think that it’s a shame the baby websites and books don’t have more information about prodromal labor, because what happens to a LOT of women is that they have the “active labor” signs like I did — hard, close-together contractions that last hours and hours — and go into the hospital, only to be turned away because they’re only dilated 1cm or so. They’re told it’s “false labor” or “practice labor” which I think are insulting and incorrect terms! There is nothing false about what is going on in my body right now (and has been for the last week), and I know changes are occurring on the inside, so it’s not “practice” either. But I think a lot of women may be embarrassed or ashamed by “crying wolf” and never tell anyone.
And that’s why I’m sharing this with you all. I feel like we need to become more of a “village” again. If we don’t share our human experiences, these everyday events become shrouded in mystery.
Here’s how mine has progressed so far:
Monday afternoon/evening: Started having contractions, but they weren’t anything to write home about.
Monday, midnight: Contractions were regular, intense, time-able. They started in my lower back and went around to my uterus, then lingered in my back for a while. They were about 5 minutes apart, sometimes closer, and 1-2 minutes long. I found great comfort by using some of the techniques I learned in Bradley class, like low vocalizations, slow abdominal breathing, and of course, my husband’s attentive massage (he is wonderful)! This went on basically all night. My doula suggested that we try to sleep or rest in between, but that turned out to be pretty impossible.
Tuesday morning: Contractions slowed once we started moving around, and became less painful for my back. During the day, we took short naps, went on walks, and focused on energy conservation for the “big event.”
Tuesday night: We went to bed around midnight, and contractions increased in frequency and intensity again, to the same level as Monday night. Again, we tried to sleep in between them, and I tried to breathe through them and let my husband sleep, but I had to wake him up for several difficult contractions. After only a few hours, we moved into the living room once we gave up on sleep.
Wednesday: Again, once we were up and about, contractions slowed and became less painful in my back. We went on a couple early morning walks, and contractions were very regular during the walks, but not as painful as at night. Still focused on conserving energy, during the day, we rested, then ran some errands (to get in some air-conditioned daytime walks) and had an early dinner.
Wednesday night: We decided to try a new strategy, and went to bed around 8pm. I woke up around midnight again with frequent strong contractions, and since we had rested for several hours, we were prepared to stay up all night. We went on several walks, and halfway through our first one, it felt like the baby “dropped” to a lower position in my pelvis. When that happened, my back pain was hugely relieved, and contractions were more uterus-focused.
Thursday — Thursday night: We were feeling refreshed from our new nocturnal sleeping pattern, and decided to try a repeat of Wednesday’s strategy. Through the day we napped, ate, and drank… we had another early dinner, then met with our new doula, since our original doula planned to go on vacation Friday afternoon. Again, we went to bed at 8pm and woke up around midnight.
Friday: We basically walked all night, coming back to the house for bathroom breaks, snacks, and rests. Then we took naps during the day, and hung out together in evening.
Friday night — Saturday: We went to bed around 11:30 after a small glass of wine (since we are beginning to get anxious, and our doulas both recommended a little bit of help with relaxing), woke up at 6 (guess the wine worked), had breakfast, went to see a movie and walk around a mall for a change of pace. Now it’s 11pm and we’re getting ready for another glass of wine and bed. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Mama says, “Don’t make me come in there, young lady!”
The entire week, my contractions haven’t stopped. The way “they” say you can tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real ones is that BH contractions will go away if you change position, drink some water, change activity level, take a nap, etc. Real ones don’t stop. I’ve stayed very hydrated, rested, had tons of activity/position changes, and my contractions might slow sometimes to 15-30 minutes apart, but they haven’t stopped altogether, and often I have several hours of 5-minute-apart contractions that last a minute or more.
If you are experiencing a long early labor, please don’t despair! You are NOT alone. Some things that might help:
- Know that changes are happening. It’s not “useless” or “fake.” Your uterus is moving the baby down into position, and dilation may be slowly happening (you may notice that you’re losing bits of mucus plug — this is a sign of dilation).
- Stay rested. Prodromal labor can last for a couple days to a few weeks. If you try to stay awake the whole time, you will be exhausted when the baby decides to make its appearance. As hard as it may be, take the chances you have to take cat naps. Even if you only manage an hour or two of sleep at a time, it will do a LOT to keep you going.
- Stay hydrated and well-fed. I have been hungrier than ever this week, and thirstier too. Some of the signs of early labor are hunger and thirst, so you probably won’t be able to ignore meeting these needs. Keep your water bottle nearby and full, and have plenty of healthy snacks on hand.
- Labor augmentation activities like walking, yoga-ball sitting, squatting, dancing, sex, etc, can be done to keep things moving along, but don’t just focus on these. If you do, you’ll become mentally and emotionally exhausted pretty quickly, even if you are getting physical rest.
- Distract yourself in between labor augmentation activities and rest. This means run some errands, go see a movie, watch some bad TV, do some more laundry or cleaning, work on a craft project… anything to take your mind off of the clock.
- Be patient. The baby won’t stay in there forever. Really. Trust that your body knows what it’s doing. Women have been going into labor on their own for all of history, without castor oil, membrane stripping, or pitocin. If you had wanted to go into labor naturally, a prolonged early labor doesn’t mean it’s time to change your mind.
I’m staying in good spirits even though this week has been incredibly exhausting. I owe that in no small part to my amazing husband, who has been here every step of the way. He has matched his sleep schedule to mine, given me countless back/shoulder massages, gone on so many walks with me, kept my water bottle full when I’ve forgotten, and told me numerous times how much he loves me. He’s also kept the mood light by saying things like, “Come on out now baby. Then you and I can play, instead of you just playing with Mommy… ‘s organs.”
We’re so ready for the big event, but in the meantime, this period has been an incredible time for us to strengthen the wonderful bond we already share, and enjoy our time together before we’re a family of three.