Early Labor in Real Life
Mouths drop like mics hitting the floor when I tell my first time clients and students the answer to that oh so popular question - “How long is a normal labor?”
In this day in age where we can see speak to our family and friends in another country with just the touch of a button, why hasn’t labor caught up!? Moms in labor be like -
“COME ON BABY!! Don’t you get it that we’ve been waiting anywhere from 9 months to ten years for you to make you appearance in our lives and now that things have seemed to be starting up, we have to wait, while working reeaaally hard the whole time, another day to see you!? AHHH!”
The fact of the matter is that labor, which is split into three stages, averages around 24 hours for most first time moms. The longest of the sections is typically Early Labor. Well, Early Labor is the pits for most parents to be. Especially you the first timers. Mom is feeling things but is totally able to go about her day so everyone is confused. Why is everyone confused? Well, we expect this:
((Photo credit Universal))
RIGHT AWAY. I mean, that’s what happens in the movies so, thats got to be what happens in real life. Sorry to burst your bubbles parents. Our bodies are made to do this work in a timely manner but its got nothing to do with the clock on the wall. Let’s check out somethings that are happening in within Mom’s body during early labor.
The science: Mom’s cervix needs to thin (or efface) and dilate. Its never done this before in this pregnancy so Mom’s body needs to start to figure things out. A glorious symphony of hormones continues to release including prostegladins, oxytocin, relaxin, adrenaline, and - my favorite - endorphins. Now, following our theme of slow and easy, the three hormones Oxytocin is the hormone that starts contractions. If a surge of oxytocin is released to quickly, both Mom and Baby go into a spin of “WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING!?!” madness that isn’t fun for anyone involved. Therefore, its much better to let the body do its thang in Early Labor.
With all the above going on, Mom has got to figure out what to do. Most parents now-a-days want to “labor at home” before heading to the hospital or place of birth for many reasons. Quite frankly, many places won’t even admit you until you fit certain criteria. Being turned away is usually at the top list of in convinces and fears for all parents so they wait. So, you wait. Let me paint you a picture of how this “waiting” usually goes for parents who haven’t educated themselves on what labor is like.
Mom tells partner that she’s been feeling what she thinks are contractions for a little while when partner wakes up in the morning. Dad or Partner decides to stay home because “WOOHHOOO! We are going to meet baby soon!” Mom gets all caught up in the excitement and adrenaline kicks in so they go for walk. Then they eat. Then they watch TV. Then they walk the stairs because we need to keep busy! This is happening!! More eating. Mom still feels things, that seemed to pick up when she was on the stairs (WOOOOHHHOOO!) but now that she is sitting, they are less noticeable again. Wait, was that one?! Better get on the birth ball.
The saga continues …
This pattern usually will last until around dinner time. All of a sudden, contractions are really getting noticeably stronger and consistently more frequent. Mom is having to stop what she is doing, focus through her contraction, and then carry forward. She is tired now. Partner is tired now. Baby. Isn’t. Here. Adrenaline has kicked its last surge. Its getting dark outside. Mom is just now hitting Active Labor. Her body is not prepared because she has not rested. Her work is beginning at the end of her shift. Yikes.
Lesson of the story - When labor feels like it is starting, there are three things Mom should do. Follow this beautiful arrow ------------------------------>
Do those three things and if it turns into Active Labor - you are ready for it. If it turns into nothing - you haven’t lost anything! So, Mom to be, if you find yourself in Early Labor with noticeable “these could be contractions” contractions, here’s a short but ultimately comprehensive list to chose from:
Well, Cat, you've told me what I can do... whats the one thing I shouldn't!?
Great question. Here’s the big DON’T!
—Wondering when you should maybe plan on heading to the place of birth? Check back here in a week or so and you’ll hear it from me! --
Proudly serving expecting families - doula Voorhees Virtua, doula Cherry Hill, doula 08002, doula Maple Shade, doula Moorsetown, doula Haddonfield, Philadelphia doula, South Jersey Doula, and beyond!
I get the question a lot.
“So Cat. Why did you become a doula?” (It’s usually the second one after “What the heck is a doula?” Which, by the way, is being a sidekick to a superhero.) I digress.
Why did I become a doula? I can’t begin to answer this loaded question without telling a bit about the journey it took to get here. After all, I had a successful teaching career, a Masters in Human Development and ECE, and, well, if you had asked my pre-pregnant self how I saw my labor going, I would have answered “with screaming and with drugs.” Doesn’t exactly leave the inquirer with the - “She’s going to LOVE childbirth!” - notion.
But then, on May 24th, 2012 at 8pm, I got the chance to experience what labor felt like for the first time as my waters broke in the movie theater while Paul and I were watching “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” (You can’t make this stuff up!) On May 25th, 2012, around 4:45am, I was looking at my fresh into the world newborn son and remember clearly thinking,
“That was AWESOME!”
With my husband, Paul, by my side, both of us looking at this little version of what I can only describe as the most beautiful person I had ever seen in my entire life, I thought about the journey that we had just taken to bring him into the world and realized something almost as beautiful as my new baby.
I loved every minute of it.
Even the part where, at 10pm, I decided we should get some rest since we didn’t know how long labor could be. I tried my best but couldn’t sleep. Paul, of course, could. I remembering glaring straight through him, snarling as contractions flowed through me, not wanting to wake him because, at least this part, I was doing well on my own. I knew I would need his support later and he is one of those dudes who can’t function at all without rest. So I let him be. Even if I was trying to wake him up with my mind with every contraction.
I still loved every minute of it.
Even the part where my midwife, Karen, checked me and said I was HUZZAH!! 9 cm dilated but then, I heard a “No. Wait. She’s 7cm.” WHAT!?! Even today I think she must have been playing with me. That was her way of giving me the push I needed. Had to be.
I still loved every minute of it.
Even the part where I started doubting myself. When I was exhausted from working all night long and still had no idea how much more work was in sight. At that point, Paul had been awake for hours with me - guiding me through contractions, talking with me, attempting to make me laugh. Supporting me and encouraging me through the hardest thing I have ever done at that point in my life.
I still loved every minute of it.
As I looked at my baby boy, I felt so powerful. So appreciated. So loved. (Thanks endorphins!) It was pretty clear at that moment that I loved birth. What I was fuzzy on though is exactly what I loved about it.
It wasn’t until I started writing Connor’s birth story the next day that it dawned on me. I could not write one sentence without reflecting back to my support team during his birth. Not once, even while I labored “alone” as Paul slept on the poor excuse for a couch across the hospital room, did I think, “I can do this on my own. I won’t need anyone to help me.” I let him sleep because I KNEW I would need him. I couldn’t have done it without the support of Paul or without the support of my midwife and fabulous nurse, Lydia, whom I will never forget.
Now, anyone who knows me can attest that I am a pretty strong lady. I have a tendency to be a go getter and am not exactly one to back down from much, especially when it comes to a task of physical endurance and strength. Laboring and delivering a human being was something I prepared for. It was something I studied, something I meditated on, something I convinced myself that I was wholly capable of doing naturally, without unnecessary invention. I removed all fear. All doubt. Still, even with it all gone -
I still knew I couldn’t do it alone.
It was then I realized the role I could play for other women in labor. I needed to help other women have their journey be as amazing for them as mine had been for me. Be their consistent support. Be their consistent encouragement. Be their consistent educational lifeline that I would have needed had I not taken classes prior to Connor’s birth. I decided, as we brought Connor home, I was going to be a doula.
I tell my clients all the time that I am there for them. I remind them that I began this work so that I could help them have the birth they wanted, just like I had the births I did. I do love babies. Who doesn’t. But, they aren’t why I do this work. Its the pregnant women - the women about to embark on their journey - that I do this work for.
So, why did I choose to be a doula? No, not because I love birth. I DOULA-LOVE it :)
Proudly serving families - doula Voorhees Virtua, doula Cherry Hill, doula 08002, doula Maple Shade, doula Moorsetown, doula Haddonfield, Philadelphia doula, South Jersey Doula, and beyond!
As I work on my previously promised "why am I a doula" post - which will be I believe a two parter, who would have thunk that?! - I feel as though I must keep something going so you guys know I am still here! I tell you - life as a mom of two rambuntious toddlers balancing her childbirth education and doula work is tough. Can't say that I didn't have fair warning though.
"They" always tell you that is it.
But, something "they" don't always tell you is something that tends to ALWAYS come up in my doula and childbirth education work. This something is what the German refer to as "Zwischen." I could never write about this "in-between space" as eloquently as Jana Studelska, CPM/LM did in her article, "The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between," so I humbly share this word which carries remarkable meaning and Jana's prospective in how it relates to those last days of pregnancy with you.
Read this and remind yourself of the outstanding power you have growing inside you. Cherish every moment of this space.
The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between
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Cat is the founder of Birth Freely Birth Services. Her passion is empowering women through education and providing them with continuous labor support so they can have the birth they desire!