For the past week or so, on and off, I may or may not have been in labour. It depends who you ask. ‘False labour’ is one term that has been used, alternatives are ‘prelabour symptoms’ or ‘prodromal labour’.
Basically, every couple of days I start having mild contractions which augment, becoming stronger over a few hours until I find it hard to ignore them. With some of them, I have even felt my cervix stretching (it’s like a firm pinch). The first couple of times I had regular 3 minute apart contractions lasting for a minute each. The other night they changed and became three minutes long, coming every 8-10 minutes. They tend to start during the day, building up in the evening, then tailing off around midnight. I did have a bout of nesting and contracting at 2 in the morning, which lasted until 5am, but that came to nought too. At least the kitchen has been cleaned: I keep having unstoppable washing up urges.
Each term of diagnosis on offer signifies something different going on. False labour is just your body pretending to go into labour as a kind of warm up activity. Prelabour is a set of symptoms occurring prior to labour which may include irregular contractions, nesting, spurts of energy, as well as other lovely stuff like diarrhea, nausea, loss of mucous plug and so on. Prodromal labour is a form of actual labour where the early stages do not conform to the standard pattern of gradually mounting, far apart, contractions which eventually lead to stronger, close together contractions, and thereafter birth. Prodromal labour is characterised by contractions which stop and start, falling into diverse patterns, over a period of days or weeks. The contractions are not ‘false’ and do accomplish something, but they are not easy to time and progress is much harder to chart.
I have to say, the latter two explanations make me feel mildly less frustrated about what is going on in my body. As many other women have pointed out in the blogs that I have obsessively devoured on the subject, ‘false labour’ is just plain discouraging: ‘Here’s a lot of discomfort and confusion, but it isn’t real you understand. You are a hysterical pregnant lady. And a multigravida too. You should know better.’ I’ve been in real labour. Twice. It doesn’t feel much different to the experiences that I’ve been having this last week. Other than the bit where the contractions don’t disappear after a few hours and you get to hold your baby at the end.
I have had most of the prelabour symptoms that can be identified as spelling ‘delivery probably close’. It wasn’t. Perhaps it is now. I suspect it isn’t. I can’t exactly argue with the definition to explain much of what has been going on, but the contractions have followed a pattern, albeit a strange one, which is not consistent with ‘prelabour’ alone.
So, the next conclusion is prodromal labour. This means I may be in labour. Hurrah! However, this being the case, it is a marathon labour rather than a sprint. The stopping and starting may signify that my baby is ready to be born, but she can’t get in quite the right position, and therefore her head cannot engage. If she can’t get into the pelvis, she ain’t coming through it. Cue a visit to the Spinning Babies website.
I have started trying some Spinning Babies balancing activities and techniques to help little one get into a good place. After a spot of belly mapping, she seems to be anterior which is good, but it can’t hurt to try and improve matters. There may now be a number of unfortunate photos in our family album of me doing a ‘forward leaning inversion’ aka the ‘lean off sofa with bum in air’ manoeuvre. Also, the ‘pelvic tilt’, or ‘cat/cow pose’. I know which animal I feel I resemble more closely at present. Slumping over my birth ball is comfy and may actually be helping, so am now adopting this position for TV watching. It isn’t graceful, but it feels nice, and, besides, I am desperate.
Another theory about prodromal labour is that it is caused by a psychological blockage: the mother does not want to give birth for some reason. I cannot come up with anything that would be bothering me enough. I do not have a great fear of birth. I am confidant that I can look after a newborn babe. I am excited at the prospect of meeting our new daughter. I don’t think this diagnosis applies to me.
Besides the difficulty in deciding what is going on, there’s another thing that is bothering me. I am still only 37 weeks and 4 days into pregnancy. My previous two children were born at 36 weeks and 6 days, and 37 weeks on the dot. Both appeared quite ready to enter the world. I had my first set of serious feeling contractions at 36 and 1, so assumed that something might have happened by now. I did expect a few days of these shenanigans, but only days. I may have to continue in this ‘could it be today’ mode for several more weeks. Not a comforting thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to have got to ‘full term’ status. I know that the most important thing is that my lovely baby girl be born in the safest circumstances, at the right time, which is why I am not going to start taking blue cohosh, stimulate my nipples, or beg my doctor to sweep my membranes. Maybe she just needs a bit longer than her brother and sister to be ‘done’. I really am trying to accept this moment in my life, this slow burning labour, for what it is. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don’t.
On the other hand, I am finding that my patience wears thin with this ‘is it? Isn’t it?’ routine. I can try to ignore the twinges and contractions, but it is hard not to get my hopes up. I have the wonderful support of my husband, parents, and midwife on hand, poised for action and I would love to oblige. I am so looking forward to holding our baby. Given my birth history, the fact that crèche/ nursery holidays begin tomorrow, and family are only able to visit and help out at our home in Portugal for a finite time, I feel a greater sense of urgency for an expedient birth than I otherwise might. My midwife told me that now is the time to ‘enjoy’ my pregnancy because soon it will be over. I would like to agree, but now rather feels like the time to head butt the next person who can see me, yet still says ‘so, have you had your baby yet?’. People in the virtual world who are unable to examine my pregnant countenance, you are excused. For now.
Pam England, the midwife and author of ‘Birthing From Within’, likens labour and birth to a hero’s journey. In the manner of Theseus, a labouring woman must negotiate her own ‘Laborinth’. When her labour begins, she is thrown, ready or not, over the threshold of the labyrinth. Feeling her way, she must follow the path round and around until she reaches the centre and birth happens. There are no markers to tell her how far she has come or how far she has yet to go. There are challenges to be met along the way, decisions to be made. Things may not alway be as they seem and she must watch out for surprises. All she can do is take the next step and the next, until her journey is complete. Read more here. I wonder what Theseus would conclude about losing his mucous plug and whether he would decide to have his waters broken if it meant killing the Minotaur sooner.
I am unsure whether I have been ‘catapulted’ into my personal labyrinth or not yet. Is this the first challenge? On both a physical and psychological level, I would say I have begun the work of this birth, albeit without a definite starting point. Just like me, to have wandered into a labyrinth without even noticing the door.
I am trying so hard to go about my daily life, to enjoy this time, to remember that soon I will be running round trying to balance a newborn’s needs with those of my other kids. This is not normal life though. There is the part of me that is getting on with everyday activities, and the part of me that is feeling along the wall of the labyrinth, looking for a door to the next stage.
There won’t be resolution to this post just yet. As one wise blogger pointed out- labour is a retrospective diagnosis. After you have a baby, you can say ‘Yep. That was labour’. To conclude, here is her article, and below are some other links relating to this kind of, maybe, sort of labour: