In the early morning of June 27 I started feeling strong cramps in my pelvis, reminiscent of period pains, but worse. It was around 3am and I got out my contraction timer. They were measuring 5-8 minutes apart! I was 39 weeks and 1 day. This was it, right? They were weak but unmistakable – unlike the random, isolated cramps I’d been feeling in the previous few weeks. I texted Garrett, who was working the night shift at the hospital, but he didn’t consider it a done deal yet.
I shouldn’t have, either.
They petered out after 12 hours, leaving me confused and dejected. I didn’t understand why and how that could happen, as I’d never heard of it before, even after 9 hours of birthing classes, many books, and reading weekly updates from 3 different pregnancy apps. I was unprepared for what it turns out is a common experience- false labor.
I had also been so scared of an induction, which my doctor had been talking about for a week already, saying she didn’t want me going much past my due date for the baby’s safety. I felt so much pressure to deliver and when I thought it was about to happen I was elated.
In all of the positive birthing videos that I had watched, stories that I had read, none of them ever involved induction. They had all gone into labor spontaneously, and that’s what I pictured for myself, too. I never considered the possibility that it wouldn’t happen, or that it would start and stop like it did. In hindsight there was important work being done, and it would all make perfect, beautiful sense later, but I just didn’t know it at the time.
I moped in the following days. I found message boards where women talked about similar “false labor” that lasted for weeks. I cried a lot at this prospect. I felt like I couldn’t trust my body. Then to top it off Garrett came down with COVID and had to isolate from me. I felt so alone.
In the following days I did acupuncture, got a massage, went on lots of walks, had a pedicure, bounced on my birthing ball, did yoga for engaging baby and inducing labor, and drank my red raspberry leaf tea, ever hopeful.
But my due date came and went.
Texts from well-meaning friends and family asking if I’d popped yet or had the baby only added to the pressure to just deliver already.
I’ve rarely been that emotionally volatile in my life but the hormones were taking me for a ride.
I’d also gone down so many rabbit holes reading about induction and it seemed people either loved or hated their experiences (much like childbirth in general I’m sure). Some people loved having a plan and knew they wanted an epidural and a set date, but I had wanted the opposite.
I’m a hippie, and I’d wanted the most intervention-free birth I could manage. It’s what I planned for and practiced. My partner and OB were on board. I knew I could do it and I felt empowered in my plan.
When it started slipping away I got more dejected by the day.
Many of my European readers wondered why I was so worried about going over my date, as it’s not only normal to go “late” but it’s also standard practice to wait 42 weeks in many places, but here in the US, it’s not.
Due to recent studies and trials, of which there have been many, the current advice is to deliver as early as 39 weeks for the best possible outcome. I ultimately agreed with my doctor that for the baby’s safety, 41 weeks would be my cutoff.
I also felt the looming deadline of Garrett having to go back to work. Any non-Americans reading this will no-doubt be horrified but we have no paid maternity or paternity leave at all in the US, and the clock was ticking on his two weeks off. We’d had to put in schedule requests months ahead of time, but how could we know? So we just did the 2 weeks following my due date. I hated that the later I went, the less time he would get to be fully present with us.
By the time I hit 40 weeks and 2 days I spent all morning crying. Why was this happening to me? I felt like a total failure.
Then on July 7, at 40 weeks and 4 days, I went into the doctor’s office again and during the nonstress test, we were measuring contractions that looked really strong on the monitor, but still didn’t hurt that much. Still, it was different because this time, my whole uterus was contracting and they were once again 5 minutes apart. This had to be it! I was going to have my spontaneous labor after all! Garrett was also recovered, and the date had just felt right to me somehow. I was cautiously optimistic.
Then after 24 hours, they stopped again.
I was beyond frustrated, but had no choice but to surrender.
We can’t dictate how birth will go. My body was doing what it needed to, and I had to make peace with that. As the days ticked by, I knew I had to make peace with the induction, too.
It was a mix of fear and relief. I didn’t think I could handle another round of false labor, and I was happy to have an end in sight.
I read positive induction stories, found this thread which I read and re-read, and looked for YouTube videos to match. It helped.
Garrett and I had a really lovely last evening together as just the two of us, spent the next day getting ready and packing up the car, then made our way to the hospital.
It was a completely drama free ride, that we had ample time to prep for, with a clear goal in sight. When we came back we’d be doing so with our son. This was a beautiful beginning to my labor, too.
All along I’d planned to excitedly let people know when it was “go” time, but I’d had so many false alarms, I ultimately decided to put my phone on airplane mode, tune out, and discourage any further messages or expectations. I needed to be in my own world.
Once we arrived we were ushered into a lovely suite with a kind nurse who explained everything to me and placed the cytotec, meant to ripen my cervix and dilate for birth. I went to sleep for four hours, another dose was placed, and I slept for four more.
Then the morning came and they ordered breakfast for me and stated the pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) drip at the lowest level. My cervix was still closed and everyone expected it to take an hour or more to get the contractions going.
Except it took all of five minutes and BAM, they were one minute apart and strong. The nurse came in and turned off the pitocin drip and I continued to labor naturally.
Garrett texted our doula who came right away, as I was in the throes of what I now recognize was transition.
It was a lot. The best position was bent over with my hands on the bed, standing as Garrett and the doula took turns squeezing my lower back.
I asked our amazing nurse, who would become a cheerleader and part of my support group, to start the fluids in case I wanted an epidural.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so opposed. While a natural birth had been in my plans, plans do change. Being flexible with myself and getting encouragement from both the doula and Garrett to do whatever I needed to do to be comfortable helped me feel empowered to request it.
The anesthesiologist placed it expertly and about an hour later I felt the intensity fade away. I’d initially been scared of being relegated to the bed with an epidural but I’d been wanting to lie down so badly, it gave me the ability to finally relax.
A few contractions after it went in and the intensity faded, I said, “I loooove epidural,” and everyone laughed.
Moments later I felt the urge to push. Our nurse looked astounded. The last time I’d been checked, I was fully closed, this time when she checked, she said with amazement that I was ready to go. With that my water broke and we gave the little guy some time to descend.
About 40 minutes later, my doctor arrived and the pitocin went back on a low drip. I’d already been pushing a bit with coaching from my support group on how to position myself and breathe.
“Some women are just made to give birth,” my nurse said. I felt like a champ.
I’d been afraid the epidural would take away the sensation of when to push, but I never needed to be told when to go, I always knew when it was time.
An hour of pushing later, he was born. Everything looked great, and he was on my chest in moments with his dad cutting the cord, healthy as could be.
I couldn’t believe I’d ended up with such a perfect and beautiful labor in the end, given how much I was dreading the induction and how different my birth had been from my plan.
And I’m so grateful that it went exactly the way it went.
It was tough and at times intense, and yet the most empowering thing I have ever done. I have come out of this amazed that women have been doing this since the beginning of humanity and continue to do so every day.
I look at my son and still can’t believe he somehow fit in me, that we have shared this bond since his conception, and that he’s bravely navigating this new, confusing world with flying colors. I guess I am, too.
Thanks, Felix, for choosing me to be your mom.