This is my story.
Prodromal labor. I first heard of it about one month ago. I first experienced it four years ago. Loosely defined, it’s “a start and stop labor,” that doesn’t go by the books. It’s not false labor! The body is truly doing something, but is not always seen as textbook cervical progression or dilation. Essentially, I had four weeks of strong, timeable contractions. I’m a bit tired of explaining it, but it’s a huge part of my story, and something that not many people have heard of. I don’t feel right skimming over it.
With the first two babies, I thought there was something wrong with my body. With my first, I spent four weekends in a row at L&D, and as soon as I’d arrive, my contractions would stop. I’d sob on my forty-five minute drive home, feeling broken, looking back at that empty car seat, and spend the next few days depressed in bed, fearing I wouldn’t know what real labor was like. My second baby was much too similar, and even stopped once I hit 3 cm, and stalled for over 24 hours before I hit active labor again and delivered.
The real issue with prodromal labor lies more in the emotional factor. You begin to distrust your body. You are unable to plan. You labor for hours and still have no baby in your arms. It’s exhausting for you and your close ones. You’re utterly out of control.
This time was a little easier. I planned on the start and stop labor happening, and knew the timing was not in my hands.
When the dreaded Prodromal Labor reared it’s head at 37 weeks, a friend brought up the term “Prodromal.” I did a web search, and found pages and pages of normal women who labor just as I do, and was relieved just in that alone. I also read about certain factors that may be triggering it, such as fears and mis-positioning of the baby. I was pretty certain that she was not in the wrong position, but it felt like something I could actually have some form of control over. I spent lots of time trying out some Spinning Babies positions (www.spinningbabies.com
) to help her have the best position possible. This included going on all fours with my butt up, and face and chest on the ground for over twenty minutes at a time, then squatting up against a flat wall to let her head engage again. Anything
to have some form of say in the matter!
Then I went overdue. I really didn’t mind her baking longer, since not every baby develops at the same rate. I knew she’d come when she was ready.
Thursday, three days after my due date, was my son’s fourth birthday. I began having contractions the night before, fairly far apart, but consistent. That morning, we decided to do his birthday celebrations, just in case we wouldn’t be there later that evening. My husband ended up leaving work early, and by 2 pm the contractions were five minutes apart. We decided to leave the kids in my sister’s care, and head home to pick up some things, and labor at home, because the contractions were quickly intensifying.
There are a few things that separate prodromal labor from active labor, and put my mind at ease. Wine, sleep, and baths. For a mother of two toddlers, it’s safe to say that I couldn’t always use these tests as often as the contractions came.
The day of my son’s birthday, I took a shower instead and did not try the wine. I was overdue, she had to be coming, right?? Wrooong. The contractions petered out in the car, and when I got to the birth center, the stress and worry that they were going to go away, and that I was missing my son’s birthday actually lead to me regressing in dilation. Every contraction was one step closer to meeting my sweet baby, I reminded myself. Though I felt like an old car, sputtering, trying to start up, I really felt like all this work would make my active labor more efficient, and faster.
But the third child is the wild card, right? That made me more nervous.
I had another set of contractions for six hours the following Sunday. This time the wine and bath did the trick, and I at least got to spend some time resting and watching “How I Met Your Mother” with my husband. The next day, I was 41 weeks.
I had an appointment at the birth center to make sure my fluid levels were adequate, and that baby was responding well to still baking. She preformed above and beyond. I had no further cervical progression, still at 1-2 cm, and not very effaced. I asked for her to strip my membranes, and we talked about the possibility of having to be transferred to the care of the OB in connection with them if I had not delivered by 42 weeks (six days away). I had decided that I would like to try natural induction methods (cohosh, castor oil) before a medical induction would be preformed. Or maybe I’d hide at home? Jeff, get your catching glove!
Heh. Inside, I knew it wouldn’t come to that. We went for a little walk afterward, and I felt a few strong contractions, but nothing more, so we went home.
5-30 (Almost there, I promise!)
There was an ongoing joke between my husband and me. Any time I’d pause, or put my hand on my belly, or even have a moment of silence, he’d ask me if I was having a contraction. At a certain point even my son asked if I was “having the contractions.” Oh, Bud…
At noon, aha! A contraction! Twenty minutes later, another. My husband had felt something was going to happen and stayed home (or he just didn’t want to work. I’ll chalk it up to his stunning intuition). We got to go to the park with the kids, and then walked at the beach. They slowly became ten minutes apart, by 2 pm, and continued at that rate until the evening. I showered, I laid down, I walked, I sat, I did all the things in the book, except the wine. The bottle was empty. The contractions got consistently closer, and I even had my show, several times (for those who are unaware of what this is, I advise you not to check google images. Just take my word for it, it’s a sign of impending labor).
Then came the to-do list; contact the doula, the friends, the family to watch the kids, the scoop of food for the dog, and the fervent cleaning of the house. Before we left, we met with our doula, who is also a great friend, and then headed to the birth center. She had just been through a prodromal labor a few months back, and I had been her birth photographer (See Naomi’s labor photos here!
), so it was a special moment and I felt very comfortable and connected with her.
When we arrived, all the fears that my labor would stop popped back up. The contractions were so much different than those from before. I felt them radiate in my back, and in my lower abdomen it felt like someone had turned my ovaries into a gong (wherever they were now. Do they get moved around in pregnancy? Heh).
The midwife watched me through some contractions, and checked the progress of my cervix. Baby was much lower, and I had effaced, but was still sitting at 2 cm. I wasn’t utterly disappointed because I knew dilation could change so quickly and wasn’t a good assessment of how long labor would be, but was a bit shocked, since my contractions had started nearly twelve hours before.
Fear hit. I needed to be at 4 cm to be admitted.
Jeff stood up and held my hand. The midwife said that it felt like I was in labor, but she wasn’t going to admit us yet. We were free to walk or rest in the baby suite. I still dreaded having to go home again, though I knew I was in labor. My body reacted to the fears, and when the midwife was around, my contractions would stop or decrease in intensity tenfold. Jeff and I decided to walk while our doula rested in the room for what could be a long night.
The birth center is in a nice community in San Diego, surrounded by old, historical houses. As we walked and whispered about dreamy, vintage houses, the contractions maintained their speed and intensity. I could tell Jeff was getting tired, and I could feel the adrenaline of our arrival dissipating. Back we went. I told Jeff to get some rest while I used the stairs inside the birth center.
I paced the staircase. The old steps of the remodeled house creaked with age, and I didn’t want to disturb the laboring mother at the top, or my sleeping support team down below. I found a set in the center that were silent. I sent a message to my friend asking for prayers. I think she never sleeps. I felt I was at a turning point. The contractions were about to increase, or they were going to stop. We prayed for progress.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t had one in twenty minutes.
I was exhausted and felt defeated. I climbed onto the bed next to Jeff, and decided rest was the only thing I had left to try. It’s easy to lie down, but it’s difficult to rest the mind. I listened to Jeff’s sleepy breaths and stared at the clock, painfully aware of the absence of contractions. My head swirled and I gently woke Jeff to tell him we needed to go home. Tonight was not our night, and we made a mistake coming so early. He reminded me how important it was to rest, and that my body knew what it was doing. He reassured me that we were in the right place. I breathed a bit easier, and began to fall asleep. A nurse came in to let me know she was on duty, and prompted me to rest. I felt at ease with her and felt peace restoring over my racing mind. Before she even left the room, a strong contraction hit. It was quite a bit stronger than the others I had been having before. Reassured, I snuggled up to Jeff, and could finally sleep.
I had been sleeping between contractions. When I had one, it took my sleeping body by surprise. I had to work to keep my body relaxed and let it do its work. Like a wave, it drifted back, and I fell asleep again. At 3 am, I was awoken by an intense contraction. My body began to shake uncontrollably, and I wandered around the room trying to decide what to do. I put on Jeff’s jacket and the shakes went away, but the contractions returned every four minutes. I leaned against the birthing ball, knees on the ground, and rocked side to side through contractions.
The midwife came in and checked my progress. My contractions scurried away, to ten minutes apart. I was still at 2 cm. Baby had moved back up.
Since it was a god-awful hour, I retreated back to bed, determined to rest through the contractions. Jeff lay on his back, so I could fall asleep with my head on his chest.
The contractions were strong, but so irregular and far apart. We had eaten nearly all the snacks I had packed and I was starved. Jeff and my doula woke up as well and she suggested a bath, and then a walk. While in the bath, the midwife returned, and observed me through contractions. I felt nervous and on display. I tried to remind myself and my body that I was safe, that I was here to labor. My doula confidently told the midwife of our plans to go walk and eat. I had dilated to a measly 3 cm, and baby was still high.
Being 41.5 weeks pregnant, I had an NST and ultrasound scheduled for noon, that day, to monitor baby’s heart rate, reaction to stress, and fluid levels. The midwife said after our walk that we could come back and do the tests so that we wouldn’t have to come back down later. At that point, her apprehension to think I was going to have a baby that day humored me rather than scaring me to a downward spiral of doubt. She’d realize soon enough.
Jeff and I pulled into an empty outlet mall next to Target. Oh, Target, my friend! It wasn’t open for another hour, so we walked the outdoor halls of the mall. I began to have to lean against walls, or hang on Jeff’s neck during contractions. Contractions were now five minutes apart. I was grateful that nothing was open until I realized the restrooms were closed, too. It made the contractions much worse, and I was desperate enough to go into a 24 Hour Fitness and beg the woman at the head desk to let me use theirs.
I explained that I was in labor, and they she had mercy on me, with a healthy dash of fear. I had to sign a waiver before I could go in, for liability reasons. Perhaps in case I dropped a baby right in the middle of the gym?
I knew the countdown to another contraction was moving fast, so I waddled as fast as I could, in my jammy pants, wet hair, and husband’s jacket, to the very back of the gym. I dodged very confused glances. “Hey, buddy, I’m about to go through the workout of a lifetime…. and I’ll get a baby from it.” Heh. I made it to the restroom, and had a contraction on the toilet. I was starting to be more vocal during contractions and smiled afterward as I wondered what my “neighbors” were thinking.
The countdown to another contraction began again, and I scurried to the front of the gym, and thanked the woman, who also seemed very thankful to see me leave. I don’t think baby delivering is in their training… I stepped out of the gym and grabbed a few more edamame to munch on. I immediately realized that was a bad idea. I took a few steps, searching for the right place, and threw up in the planters. I started to feel very bad for all of the maintenance employees we had seen around, and then was hit with another contraction. They had bumped up another notch. I stumbled over to an empty mall kiosk, and moaned through the contraction, swaying my hips back and forth. An old woman was walking by, and was seriously concerned. If I could have laughed, I would have! We gave her the, “We’re just having a baby.” spiel and she scurried away. The contractions were now every three minutes.
Target was just about to open, and we needed some snacks for labor (we thought) and for post delivery. In retrospect, it took about ten minutes to walk from the back of the building to the front, vocalizing and leaning on walls through contractions. When the store opened, we made a straight shot to the food section. I don’t really remember what we picked out, all I has decided was that I had to get in my Jacuzzi tub, stat! I left Jeff in the store as soon as a contraction finished. One minute-thirty seconds, and go! I just made it out the door before another came, scaring yet another bystander, then straighten up, and continued to the car.
Jeff was relieved to return to only one person in the car, and we headed back. I let my doula know we were getting gas and then returning, and she began to prep the tub. I replied to a message from my good friend, and she asked if she was safe to leave
in forty minutes, after traffic died down. I was bewildered, and didn’t know how to respond. She told me later that when she read my response, “i have n idea,” she knew she needed to leave, ten minutes ago. (Unfortunately, try as she might, she missed the delivery due to a mysterious flat tire. She brought us yummy Carne Asada burritos afterward, though! True friend, indeed.)
The drive was torture. Every bump was a movement out of my control as the contractions rocked my body. We made a few wrong turns, I held my tongue about the decision to turn certain ways, and we decided against getting gas on the way back. Jeff dropped me off at the front, and since we hadn’t been admitted, he was going to have to go a few blocks away to park without meters. We decided he might as well get some gas while he was out.
I made it to the tub, and it was perfectly warm. I floated and let the contractions do their work and chatted between contractions about the poor bystanders at the mall. The midwife returned, surprised to see me in the tub. I was now at 6 cm. She reported that I really was in labor and I was officially admitted. Silly midwife! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!
Baby had the hiccups, and rippled the water in the silence between contractions. It was a sweet reminder. Every time she has them now, I remember the mystery of who she would be, what she’d look like, what color her hair would be. I don’t think that picture of the rippling water will ever leave me.
I was hit by three contractions without a break. Then, again. When it was over, I looked at my doula. “Call Jeff, now!” I began to notice a separation between my body, the baby machine, and my mind. I found myself encouraging my own body, saying silly things like, “Great job body! That was the worst of it!” and “Hi, Brain. What is pain, really? Your nerves are translating this into pain, just relax.” Jeff returned, and I was beyond relieved. Somehow, I made it to the toilet, and was not very happy with gravity on my brief time out of the tub. The contraction I had outside of the tub was awful. I don’t know how I made it back in, but I couldn’t imagine laboring anywhere else.
I was vocalizing very loudly now, and was thinking about the little glimpse of the future going through the minds of the family in the next room (it was Thursday, ultrasound day, at the birth center and the walls were paper thin). My doula asked if I wanted music, and plugged in my iPhone to a small speaker and placed it next to the tub. The timing was perfect.
I heard the midwife in the next room calling the nurses a second time. “I’ve got a third time mom here, at 6 cm.” aka, “Get your booties over here!!” Soon, I felt a spasm in my back that felt like pushing. It wasn’t time yet, but I knew I needed to gear up for the grand finale, or something like that? It surprised me. I had just been joking that maybe I’d have a baby by noon. I had no sense of time, but knew it hadn’t been very long since my return.
My doula suggested I change positions and coached me through the contractions. I went on my knees, clutching onto the bar against the wall. My face was so near the water, I blew a few bubbles during contractions. I was very loud, now, and wavered between a cry and a moan. My doula helped with keeping deeper tones, which helped keep me from turning them into shrieks. I heard my husband and doula get out my camera. I realized I hadn’t set it up for them, and could hear the shutter speed lagging. Photo blur alert! I panted out, “Set it to S mode at 1/125” Auto ISO and aperture would go into effect. I heard laughs. Who thinks of that sort of thing when you only have thirty second breaks between contractions?!
There was a pause. My mind told me that there was a calm right before pushing. Nuh uhh! The other part of my mind thought I was crazy. I felt her beginning to descend. I couldn’t believe it, and felt her head low in my abdomen. I noticed my leg was asleep, and knew I couldn’t push in that position.
My phone switched songs to the one I’d imagined delivering to the entire pregnancy.
“Slow your breath down, just take it slow. Find your heart now.
You can trust and love again.” (Future of Forestry, lyrics here.)
Someone suggested I lay back again, in the cubby of the tub. I pushed against the wall, and splashed backward and sank down before floating back up again. There were places for my feet against the tub. Perfect! Two contractions, and I felt her head. One more contraction, her head was out. Hair! I felt it floating in the water, like in the summertime when I was little. I’d hold my breath as long as I could, and swish my hair around like a mermaid. Unreal. Labor’s almost over? There was such clarity in the moment, and I kept my eyes open to take it in. One more, and she was out.
I pulled her onto my chest and stuck my hand in a glob of vernix on her back. She was as blue as a Smurf, but I heard no concern from the midwives. I knew she would be nice and pink in no time. Oh, sweet baby!
My first words were “I just had a baby!” and “What time is it?!” We stayed at the birth center for four hours of observance, headed home, then laid down for a nap with our new daughter. She was now a little less of a mystery, our little Bright Eyes.