By Danielle Veith
Seven days late
At 41 weeks pregnant, my auto-generated, pregnancy week-by-week email seemed certain this could only mean that I had neglected to click the link declaring my son’s arrival. Had I stayed with the OB practice I started my pregnancy with, there’s a decent chance my baby would have been two days old, having arrived by way of induction sometime conveniently before 5:00 pm last Friday.
But I was a midwife patient. Waiting it out old-school style. With no end in sight.
There’s something embarrassing about going past your due date. Something beyond the unwieldy way you move and the way all clothing looks ridiculous by the end.
My body was supposed to be doing something and it wasn’t and everyone was watching and there was nothing I could do about it. I was humiliated. I wanted to hide.
Friends and family gently inquired, sending notes saying “Just thinking of you,” “Come out, come out wherever you are,” and the insipid, “Any news?” And, of course, “Any talk of induction?”
Eight Days Late
It was 6:00 am and I had been up since 4:40 when I noted the time of the one lonely contraction I had last night. After waiting an hour for anything else to happen, I cried to my husband, “I can’t be pregnant anymore.” He told me we’d talk in the morning and rolled over to sleep. I got up to eat breakfast and tried not to Google “natural labor induction.” Again.
I got pregnant because I wanted a second baby, not because I like being pregnant. Pregnancy is hard and, as a friend once said, “It’s just not as cute the second time around.”
In short; I. Was. Done. I had never been so bored. For those lucky enough to avoid this particular kind of waiting, here’s a partial list of things that are not appealing or effective distractions while waiting for a baby: movies, reading, tv, walking, sex, food, conversations of any sort, nesting, cleaning…
Of course, it’s a fitting parental lesson that actual children—as opposed to the theoretical ones we imagine before they’re born—have a way of derailing our most carefully constructed ideas about the world.
I was envious of all of my friends who had been induced or had scheduled c-sections. Decisions that I knew weren’t right for me, even as I wondered if the OB practice I fled in early pregnancy might have an opening on Monday at 9:00 am.
No one does this anymore. Or that’s how it felt. I thought of all the babies born early, the inductions, the c-sections, but what I really envied were all the women who have managed to do this labor and birth thing on schedule the natural way. I began to think of them as the popular girls of junior high, somehow out of my league.
A friend joked that I should drink heavily so the baby would think that my womb was no longer a hospitable environment. That evening, I managed a quarter of a glass of the cold white wine I’ve been craving for months before heading off to bed, unable to even muster hope for a sleepless, eventful night.
Why had I thought I was going to be early? Has every pregnant woman in the history of the world gotten through that awful last month of pregnancy by thinking the baby will come early? Where I came up with the idea that second babies are born earlier, I can no longer remember.
Nine days late
Nine days and I couldn’t sleep after my fourth or fifth night of contractions—who’s counting? No reason to count any of it yet—it went nowhere. Somehow the further I got from my due-date, the less it felt like labor would ever begin.
My anxiety was building—wouldn’t a healthy baby have started labor already? Truth be told, I’m anxious. That is, I suffer from anxiety, of the medicated-for-it sort. How much of what I was feeling was because I am a woman with anxiety? And how much was because I was a woman in an anxious sort of situation? There were no answers. The questions themselves were as if to say, “A better woman, a better mother would handle this better than me.”
I wasn’t built for this—the waiting. For some women, waiting must feel like a small thing. I was weak to it. Every time I thought I had calmed my mind, my thoughts spiraled out again to worst-case scenarios: When was the last time the baby moved? Are his movements smaller because he’s run out of room, because he’s readying himself, or because of some other imagined thing?
No one has ever stayed pregnant forever. I chose a midwife practice because I did “Trust Birth,” as the bumper sticker says. I knew the baby would be born when he was ready. Not knowing when exactly that was turned out to be harder than I could have ever imagined.
Choosing to not intervene came to feel like an act of bravery. It took bravery and faith to believe that the baby was going to be okay and that I was going to make it to the end of the pregnancy with sound body and mind, with a healthy, happy baby. Bravery, or at least a little bravado.
Ten days late
Another check-up with the midwives… On the drive to their office, I fought with my husband over nothing. Anxiety was overwhelming. By the time we entered the ultrasound room, I was teetering on the edge.
After a very quick check, the technician turned the ultrasound machine off and said, “You’re headed over to the hospital. This baby is coming out today.” It took a moment to realize that she saying that something was wrong. A nurse put my husband and I in a room to wait for the midwife on duty.
I was sobbing. I had no idea how bad it was—is the baby OK? Is it urgent? Is it too late? Is he dead? It felt like forever before someone came to explain calmly that my fluid was low. They needed to check further, but there was no indication that anything was wrong. And nothing was going to happen to the baby in the time it took us to walk across the street for further monitoring.
The midwife on call in the hospital that day, however, was hard-core. “She has a greater tolerance for risk than most,” was the way it was put to us. I was advised to drink as much water as I could manage before more ultrasounds and fetal monitoring.
When my fluid was checked again, it was fine, but I was not. I was inches away from total panic. I couldn’t just go home. What if I left and the fluid level went down again and the baby wasn’t moving and I didn’t notice and he died and it was my fault? My thoughts would not derail from that single track.
The hard-core midwife was furious that the technician told me what was going to happen to my baby. It was not hers to make that decision and everyone felt terrible that her words set off such panic.
Since I was a midwife patient, what came next was a lot of talking. The baby was not in any danger. I was asked to repeat, “The baby is not in any danger.” I did not need to have this baby today. “I do not need to have this baby today.”
The baby was fine, the midwife counseled, but he was feeling pretty happy in there, not ready for birth quite yet. As easy and simple as that.
I was not fine. I knew it was a product of modern medicine that we knew exactly how many days I had been pregnant, but it’s hard to resist the belief that the baby should be out when the calendar says so But none of that meant that I could calm down, sitting there in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors.
Fear makes labor take longer, studies have shown, and instinctively, we understand why. A woman’s mind is a part of her labor. If she can’t let her thoughts slip away in late labor, to go to a place where her mind is lost inside her body, and her body is focused on getting the baby out, it can be harder to give birth.
Don’t get me wrong—babies are born whether their mothers are ready or not. But labor can be harder or more complicated. The more frightened a woman feels, the more tension she holds in her body, the more painful contractions will feel.
The midwife, trained to treat the whole woman, would not send me home feeling like this. My extreme anxiety, she said, may even interfere with the natural process of labor starting on its own, inhibiting the oxytocin release needed for labor.
So there it was: plans for an induction began.
Day Eleven/Day One
My induction was “mid-wife style,” so there was no rush. They did a few things to ready my body— stripped the membranes and inserted a medication to ripen the cervix—and then we waited it out overnight in the hospital. I was given a sleeping pill to get some rest to be ready for the hard work ahead.
The next morning, the new midwife on duty came into my hospital room, “Ready to meet this baby?” with a big smile. She jokingly congratulated me for getting the hard-core midwife to agree to an induction. Apparently, this does not happen. I laughed and felt safe.
The midwife instructed the nurses to administer the pitocin at lower doses than what they are used to doing, and to step it up on a slower schedule. Once they believed my body had taken over, it was shut off and I was on my own.
My labor was beautiful. I felt powerful and strong. Five hours and three pushes later, it was all over. The baby was out, healthy, beautiful. He was fine. I was fine.
Birth is like that—so many things at once, so that the stories you tell later, what you say and what you leave out, are always inadequate. I can’t imagine what a birth that goes according to plan would be like. And I have no regrets about any decision that I made—to wait, to be induced. I was lucky to have the right combination of what happened and what I needed—the gentleness of the midwives and the resources of the hospital.
And in the end, it was just me, and my baby boy, and we went home to begin to get to know each other.
Day 7 at home
My son didn’t really open his eyes for the next week. I couldn’t help but think that maybe, in some intangible way, he hadn’t been ready for the world yet.
He was big and healthy, and there were no physical signs that his body wasn’t ready to be born. Still, he seemed like an inside baby, as if he had not yet decided to leave the darkness of my body. My daughter had been so different, immediately trying to see everything, to figure us out. Maybe just an early sign of how unique each child is and how differently they need to be mothered, right from the start.
On the day that would have ended week 42, when even the midwives would have advised induction, he finally opened his eyes. They were beautiful, deep, deep brown.
Author’s Note: My son is four and a half now and still sometimes seems like he wants to be on the inside. He is the cuddliest little thing and gives the strongest hugs. Even in the middle of the night, he has this sleep-walking way of finding his way into our bedroom. I swear he’s still asleep as he curls himself up perfectly against my body, somehow fitting into the three inches between me and the edge of the bed, and miraculously not falling. I think he would merge back into my body if he could. Which I promise not to mention at his wedding someday.
Danielle Veith is a writer and mother of two living in the Washington DC metro area. She blogs at Crazy Like A Mom and can also be found on Facebook, and when she’s really crazy, on Twitter. Her writing has appeared on Pregnant Chicken, Child Mind and The Mid on Scary Mommy.