Here’s something I’ve learned about pregnancy: it’s not like in the movies. It is, in fact, both much less dramatic and considerably more weird than what we see on screen. (Case in point: did you know that some people can hear audible cracking or popping sounds coming from inside their wombs?!) I don’t know whether screenwriters are just ignorant or they’re cherry-picking for the most riveting (if unrepresentative) possibilities, but for the most part, pregnancy isn’t a soap opera.
The same goes for labor. In movies, labor is really clearly delineated. Someone is either in labor — water breaking, woman doubled over shrieking, everyone rushing about! — or they are not. Some births do happen that suddenly, but for many of us, there isn’t a clear distinction between labor and not-labor. And what is labor, anyway? Obviously when the baby is crowning and you’re pushing hard, you’re in labor. If you’re having such intense contractions that you are moaning and hunched over and unable to speak, that’s labor. But everything that isn’t that? It seems really variable, unpredictable, and idiosyncratic.
About a week ago, last Wednesday afternoon and evening, I started to feel uncomfortable in a way that struck me as different, new. I pooped four times (the body likes to clear the decks before labor), and had dull menstrual-like cramps for somewhere from four to six hours. I had spent all afternoon simmering a beef and vegetable soup, and then when I went to skim off the fat, the soup repulsed me and I found I had no appetite. My lower back ached. I thought, this could be it, and I hastened to finish a few tasks I’d been putting off. (I also told Erik to pack his things for the hospital, which he hadn’t yet done.) I drank water, finally got some food down, and then, sometime around ten or later, the cramps faded away and I felt very sleepy, and I went to bed.
I woke up the next morning feeling excellent and not at all uncomfortable, and thought, well… that clearly was not labor!
These symptoms have been recurring since then, though — multiple poops in a single day, menstrual-type cramps, loss of appetite — as well as other strange feelings; on Monday I took two naps in quick succession and felt incredibly cold and shivery in spite of the room being very warm (and I could tell it was warm, only I was not). I’ve also been experiencing near-constant Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes called practice contractions, which involve little to no pain but a very definite tightening of the uterus (which translates into a very hard, firm, tight belly). Those don’t exactly hurt, but they are, as one friend put it aptly, distracting. Each day that these symptoms occur I wonder, is it time? Is this going to be the day? And so far it hasn’t been — though the hyper-awareness that it could be has galvanized me through a lot more of my to-do list!*
I’ve been reminding myself of something our hypnobirthing instructor said: “There’s no such thing as ‘false labor.’ Your body is preparing.” I trust my body — as I have throughout this process — and find this thought reassuring. The body has its own logic, even if it’s opaque to me, and my job is just to relax as much as I can and make what preparations seem best.
It is kind of a funny place to be in, though, because I’m sort of going about my daily life, and yet I need to be ready to seriously hunker down at any moment. We don’t have a useful language to talk about this phase, this labor-that-isn’t-labor. I mean, I’m experiencing what I’m experiencing, and in that sense it doesn’t matter what we call it — but I’d rather not go around telling people “I’ve started my labor” when what they’ll picture is baby is coming within hours! Actually, as I understand it, this preamble to early labor is something that can go on for days or even weeks.
Which is why I’m writing this post. I hesitated, because we have such a fixed idea of labor that I didn’t want to write it and have people going oh my god, you’re in labor! But I thought, you know, nothing’s really changed; Pudding could still arrive on her due date on March 12, or she could be here tonight, and that would be true regardless of what I write or don’t write. So I’m writing. Not everyone starts their labor this way but this is how it seems to be going for me, and I want to document that.
PS. Last night, after hours of achy cramps, I found myself digging through a box of cookies I’d made earlier in the week, and as I broke a cookie in half I asked myself: hey, are you really hungry or are you just eating for comfort? And then I thought, what the hell! I could be starting active labor tonight. If there was ever a time to comfort-eat, that time is now! So I ate the cookie. 🙂
preparations for labor: baking, and eating, lots of cookies. (Come to think of it, this isn’t the first time I’ve used cookies to get me through a waiting game…)
*These are not really taxing activities, by the way; I’m resting a lot, and I can tell I need to, not just for the marathon ahead but even just for now.