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Are we there yet? When early labor takes forever…

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Got patience? By week 38 mine is wavering, especially after several days of early labor contractions that have led me and my baby exactly nowhere. My doctor and doula have floated the term “prodromal labor” or in lay terms – labor limbo. This is the early labor-start-and-stop-dance that some first-time-moms go through. Even though no one thought to mention this in my birth class or in any book I’ve read, evidently it’s fairly common.

Most literature will name two types of contractions: Braxton Hicks or “false labor” contractions and actual labor contractions, the pop-the-baby-out sort of contractions. I’ve read that Braxton Hicks have no discernable pattern, do not get closer together, do not get stronger, and generally stop when you move around. While real labor contractions follow a time-able pattern, get closer together, will not stop and get stronger. Well ladies, there is a third option – early labor contractions that stop and start and drag on for days or weeks!

During the last few weeks of pregnancy (post 37 weeks), evidently the labor process can be long and drawn out, which is news to me!  I thought that all of the sudden, labor starts and boom…you’re in labor. Labor contractions are happening, you’re dealing, they get worse, you go to the hospital (or call the midwife), and at some point the baby is born. But now I understand, I’m in labor-ish.

What is labor-ish, other than a word that I just made up?  Well it’s the contractions that happen over several days or weeks. From what I’ve learned, many times these contractions are actually doing something: dropping the baby down, causing effacing and/or dilating. Or,  sometimes they are not doing anything at all, although I’d like to think that they are all doing something to help retain my mental sanity right now.  These contractions feel nothing like the Braxton hicks that I felt during the third trimester, and they do not fit the textbook definition of Braxton hicks (no pattern, don’t get stronger or closer, stop when you move around).

This past Saturday night, I had 8 hours of contractions that were 15 minutes apart like clockwork, and continued to get stronger. Followed then by 8 more hours of contractions that were 10 minutes apart. And nothing seemed to stop them, not walking around, not a shower, no eating, nothing.  “I’m in labor!” I thought! She’s coming early, this will all be over soon! I can drink wine, sleep on my back, shave my coochie without a mirror (it’s the random things that you miss, lol). But then, they stopped. The same thing happened the following day, with contractions that were now 7 minutes apart. Again, I thought – this is it! But after many more hours, even with the increasing pain, they suddenly stopped. As of today, no freaking baby has popped out of my vadge yet.

I’m not going to lie, this is mentally messing with me, thinking that she’s coming very soon, only to be faced with the reality that we are no closer and that I have no control over this situation. (I hate not having control!).  So how can you mentally deal with this stop and start and with contractions that seem to be basically useless but are highly unpleasant? Here’s what I’m trying out. I’m curious to hear how others have mentally dealt with with labor-ish:

Stop thinking about birth

For weeks I’ve been picturing her birth, wondering when it’ll happen, where I will be when my water breaks, whether I will be able to do this naturally, and on and on. I’ve been listening to relaxation tracks, positive affirmations, etc. And once contractions started, the anticipation got even stronger. But once I realized that I was no closer to birth, my frustration hit epic proportions. In my attempts to relax myself and get myself mentally prepared for birth, I’ve actually caused myself stress! So I made a decision – she’s going to come when she comes. I’m going to stop wondering if today is the day, and go about my normal life.

Treasure these last few days or weeks

I have also realized in my crazed anticipation that I stopped cherishing these last moments of my life without a newborn, these last few days or weeks that I have with my husband before we become parents. Instead of getting annoyed and frustrated at every day that she’s not here, I have started to treasure the mornings that I wake up without contractions and use the time to enjoy myself. I’ve been resting more, finishing up projects around the house, taking walks with my husband, and being very present with this time we have left.

Release control

I’m a control freak – yes, I will admit it! I hate not having control over something. Even when I know I don’t really have control, I try to feign control by researching things that I can do to influence the outcome. For birth, I’ve been researching ways to push the process along, teas I should drink, positions I should sit in, the spicy food I should eat. But again – I’ve been causing myself even more stress! And the irony is that stress slows down this process! So I’m resolving right now, in this blog post, to release the illusion of control over this process. When labor starts, I will know. Otherwise, I’m not going to take every contraction as a sign that something may be starting.

Overall, I know that nature has the reins here, and that my body is designed for this. This is the time for ultimate patience, presence, and calm, both for me and for my baby.

Have you gone through prolonged early labor – days or weeks of contractions? How did you mentally handle it?

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