For the past few weeks, I’ve been anticipating my baby’s birth eagerly. Even though I’m only 38 ½ weeks pregnant now, I’ve been feeling hopeful that baby will come soon. Since about 36 weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of warm-up pressure waves (braxton hicks), which have very gradually become more intense, long, and frequent. At this point, I’ve been having pressure waves that feel more like true birthing waves (labor contractions) for about a week, many of which last a minute or longer, and often they come as close as 5-10 minutes together for a decent period of time. But, unlike baby-bringing waves, these waves don’t come in as clear of a pattern and they eventually stop. Each time, I feel excited and begin wondering if today is the day, only to feel discouraged once again when the waves stop, and I have to “start all over” some unknown time in the future. It’s really emotionally draining, as I’ve said before!
In my last post, I wrote about distinguishing between warm-up pressure waves and true birthing waves, which signify early birthing time. But since then, I have discovered yet another phase of birthing that some women experience, called “prodromal labor.” In Hypnobabies, we don’t use the word “labor,” which has a negative connotation, so I will refer to this as prodromal birthing time.
In prodromal birthing time, women experience birthing waves that are nearly as strong, or as strong as, true birthing waves. They may be somewhat sporadic or very rhythmic, but they come more frequently than warm-up waves. They are similar in length to true birthing waves, lasting somewhere around 60 seconds. Because they feel the same as early birthing waves, many moms may believe they are beginning their early birthing time when they experience prodromal birthing waves. But prodromal birthing waves eventually stop, and they tend to not dilate the cervix, or only up to a few centimeters at most. One common distinction between warm-up waves and prodromal waves, that does not apply to Hypno-moms, is that prodromal waves are supposedly painful, whereas warm-up waves are not. For Hypno-moms, who often don’t experience any type of pressure waves as painful, this would not apply; however, there is a certain level of intensity that changes between warm-up and prodromal waves. Prodromal waves are for all intents and purposes true birthing waves… they just don’t bring a baby.
Both warm-up pressure waves and prodromal birthing waves have been labeled “false labor” by the birth community. However, this term is not only discouraging for moms, but a misnomer. While both of these types of pressure waves don’t directly bring a baby, they are still very real, and many birth professionals believe that they work to accomplish things in the mom’s body, particularly softening the cervix and toning the uterus for birth.
Based on what I’ve learned about this phenomenon, I now believe that this is what I’ve been experiencing for the past week or so. I can share that prodromal birthing waves are exhausting, both physically and emotionally. It’s as if I start my early birthing time over and over again, day after day (or night after night), only to find that I’m not in my birthing time after all. It can feel very defeating, frustrating, and monotonous. And unfortunately, prodromal birthing can last for days or even weeks before those waves continue to progress and finally bring a baby. Looking back, I now think that my week-long early birthing time with my son was actually a week of prodromal birthing. There were two or three nights I can remember before he was born that were very intense, at the level of active birthing time, but then were followed by a step back the next morning. I don’t know if this birth will take the same path or not, but so far, my progress towards my true early birthing time has been similarly slow.
These “false starts” are frustrating and challenging, but knowing that what I’m experiencing has a name, and that others experience it too, is helpful. While prodromal birthing is not something all moms or even most experience, it is part of the process for some. And I don’t like it, not at all. Both last time and this time, it has brought me to what has felt like the end of my emotional and mental rope. Some days, I feel that this baby will never come, and I feel depressed and hopeless. (Yes, I realize that may seem dramatic, but I’m pregnant, okay?) Other days, I find myself more at peace with the situation, and I have patience knowing that one of these days, it will be the day.
*A note to non-pregnant people: It is not helpful to tell a full-term pregnant mom who is feeling frustrated that her baby hasn’t come yet, that she shouldn’t feel discouraged or that she should be more patient. Her feelings are valid. If anything, just remind her that her baby will come, at the perfect time, and tell her you’re hoping right along with her that it’s soon. 😉
For those other moms out there who experience prodromal birthing waves as a part of their birth process, I want to offer encouragement. It will not last forever. Baby will come, and you soon will be able to look back on this experience as something in the past, just one of the stages in your unique birthing. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, you will have a baby. 🙂