The In Between

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. 🙂

The Pressure Wave Puzzle

Near the end of pregnancy, it can be hard to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions (which I will refer to from now on as warm-up pressure waves), and true labor contractions (birthing waves). Pregnancy books, and pretty much anywhere you can look it up on the internet, often make it seem like the onset of early birthing time is a clear-cut stage of the process. But the reality is that for many women, the beginning of birthing time can be hard to pinpoint, because the transition between warm-up waves and true birthing waves is a slow progression. For me, personally, it’s a very frustrating, discouraging, and emotionally draining time of pregnancy.

That being said, there are certain ways to distinguish between warm-up waves and true birthing waves, which hold true for most women.

 

Signs that Pressure Waves are True Birthing Waves:

  1. How hard is the belly? Most of the time, pregnant bellies feel similar to a puffed-up cheek. They’re full, but soft and squishy when you press on them. During warm-up pressure waves, the belly may feel more like a chin. There’s a certain level of hardness to it, as the muscles tense involuntarily. It may seem rock-hard at this point, but when true birthing waves begin, it often becomes even firmer, more like a forehead.
  2. How intense are the waves? Some women may not feel warm-up pressure waves, or not feel all of them. Other women feel them, but they can easily walk and talk through them, and continue any activities they may be doing. Sometimes, warm-up pressure waves start to become more intense, and a woman may want to close her eyes and breathe more deeply through them. But when true birthing waves begin, they require much more concentration (and Hypno-moms will want to use their hypnosis techniques to remain completely comfortable).
  3. How long are the waves? Warm-up pressure waves can vary in length, but often they are under 60 seconds long. Mine tend to be anywhere from just 15 seconds to 45 seconds. Very occasionally, I’ll experience a wave lasting a minute or longer. When true birthing waves begin, they are usually at least one minute long, consistently.
  4. Is there a pattern to the waves? My warm-up waves are very sporadic. Sometimes, I will experience several back to back, or feel them every 5 minutes for up to an hour, but the pattern doesn’t hold. I may have a wave, and then another in 20 minutes, and then in 15 minutes, and then in 30, and then in 5, etc. There is no real pattern to them, even though they sometimes come frequently. The length and strength of the waves tends to vary as well. On the other hand, true birthing waves tend to come in a pattern; some women have a very clear pattern like clockwork, and others have more of a loose pattern. Neither is better than the other, but either way, they are usually less sporadic.
  5. How far apart are the waves? As I said, warm-up waves can vary in terms of frequency (as well as length and strength). But typically, they are not very close together, or only close together for a short amount of time. True birthing waves in early birthing time usually come every 10 minutes or so, for at least an hour and then continuing from there. As birthing progresses, they will come closer and closer together. 

 

The overall idea is that true birthing waves are longer, stronger, and closer together than warm-up waves, and they will continue to grow more so. They follow a pattern, rather than being sporadic, and they are more intense. Although that still doesn’t always make it easy to tell when birthing time begins, they are helpful signs for most women. Aside from those factors, there are also a few “clues” regarding the difference between warm-up and true birthing waves.

 

Clues that Pressure Waves Might Be True Birthing Waves:

  1. Has there been a bloody show? This is a common term to describe the loss of the mucus plug from the cervix. (Some sources claim that the bloody show and loss of the mucus plug are actually separate events that often occur at the same time, but it seems to be a matter of opinion. For the sake of simplicity, I will assume they are one and the same.) A clump of blood and mucus is expelled from the vagina as the cervix begins to soften and open in preparation for birthing. The bloody show can happen weeks or hours before birthing, or it can even happen well into the birthing process. So while it definitely is not a clear sign of birthing time beginning, it can offer a hint for some moms. If there has been a bloody show, and other signs of true birthing waves are present, it is more likely that mom is in her early birthing time.
  2. Has the bag of waters broken? A pregnant mother’s water breaking is a popularized sign of birthing time beginning, at least on TV. In reality, most women will not experience their water breaking before birthing begins, but rather at some later point during the birth process. That being said, if the water has broken, and other signs of true birthing waves are present, then again it is more likely that mom is in her early birthing time.
  3. How far along is mom? This is a clue that may seem obvious, but it is worth being said. When mom is less than 37 weeks pregnant, her pressure waves are much less likely to be true birthing waves. (If a woman is concerned that her waves are more serious than they should be before 37 weeks, and has concerns about pre-term birthing, then listening to Hypnobabies’ “Baby Stay In” hypnosis track could be a wise choice.) After 37 weeks, and as the baby’s “guess date” approaches, pressure waves are more and more likely to be true birthing waves.

 

Overall, I believe it is important to realize that all women’s bodies and all births are different. Some women are “textbook” when it comes to these signs and clues, whereas others have a very different path and process of birthing. Ultimately, the only 100% sure way to tell that birthing waves are true is to wait and see if a baby comes out! While that may seem discouraging, it ultimately means that the best approach is to develop a sense of surrender and respect for the process of birth.

For myself, I feel encouraged during the waiting time by reminding myself that baby will come, that it becomes more and more likely with each passing day, and that my body is warming up, which is clearly what it needs to do. Personally, my faith plays the biggest role in keeping my peace during this time. I remind myself to trust God, because He knows the best time for my baby to be born, and I remind myself that it will be soon, even if “soon” means another 4 weeks.

Waiting is hard, and obsessing over birthing waves can be easy to do. These feelings are valid. But in the end, I’ve found it best to choose to let go of my attempts to control the birth process, and simply trust.

Can Birth Really Be Easy?

Ever since my first pregnancy, I’ve been passionate about natural childbirth. But before my childbearing years began, I was afraid of birth. Discovering natural birth, homebirth, and midwifery was the turning point for me, where I found that birth was something I could see myself doing without fear. Then, I discovered Hypnobabies, and birth became something I was actually excited about.

Hypnobabies is a pregnancy and childbirth education program which teaches medical-grade hypnosis techniques which allow moms to experience easier and more comfortable births. Sidenote: Hypnosis, I’ve discovered, can be a “red flag” word for a lot of people; some might think it’s weird, or a hoax, or against their spiritual beliefs. I want to say, for the record, that childbirth hypnosis doesn’t involve any strange behaviors. It’s a state of consciousness that is measurable in terms of brain activity. And, it doesn’t conflict with religious or spiritual beliefs in any way–there’s no “past-life regression” or things like that involved. In fact, as a Christian I find that childbirth hypnosis and my faith in Jesus are strongly connected, and I incorporate my faith deeply into my hypnosis techniques.

The reason I am passionate about childbirth hypnosis is that it is a completely natural tool which allows women to birth in comfort. A simple way to avoid pain during birth, without the use of any drugs or interventions? Yes, please! (I have to be clear here, that not all moms using Hypnobabies will experience a completely pain-free birth. But, with proper practice and use of Hypnobabies tools, Hypno-moms are able to have much more comfortable and easier births.)

Because of what I’ve learned, I believe that birth is a beautiful and sacred part of life, something to be excited about rather than be feared or avoided. I know from my own experience that birth can be much more comfortable than what we typically see on TV and hear from our friends and family. But I’ve still struggled with using the word “easy” in relation to pregnancy and birth. The reality for me is that pregnancy has not been easy or very comfortable, and birth, while not painful, is still not easy. In my journey to becoming a Hypnobabies Instructor, and my journey preparing for my own baby’s birth again, I’ve had to grapple with the word “easy.” The concept of an easier and more comfortable birth is very important in Hypnobabies!

What I’ve learned is that while births using Hypnobabies can and should be easy and comfortable, not all of them are. This can happen for a few different reasons. The good news is that they’re all preventable!

My first birth was challenging, in that it was long, there was a lot of progression and regression, and there were points at which I would truthfully have to admit I had some pain. (I describe my first birthing as 90% pain-free). Ultimately, my planned homebirth turned into a hospital birth, which to me signifies that it was definitely not the “easy” birth I had in mind. But in learning even more about childbirth and hypnosis since then, I’ve discovered several key reasons why this was my experience, and how I can change that for my upcoming birth.

#1. For most women, Hypnobabies will be effective only if they practice and use their hypnosis techniques properly. While I practiced diligently during my pregnancy, I didn’t apply my techniques as well as I could have. In a way, I was overly confident about how easy and comfortable birth would be, to the point that I didn’t use my hypnosis techniques enough! I’ve since learned that when birthing begins, even if it turns out to be “practice” and not true birthing time, Hypno-moms should begin using their techniques right away, and use them continuously. It’s important to really get in the zone for birth, especially when using hypnosis. Waiting until things get more intense is not advised; at that point, some women might struggle to get deeply enough into hypnosis for it to be as effective. Starting early allows Hypno-moms to flow deeper and deeper as birthing progresses.

#2. It is also important to understand choices in pregnancy and birth, and to make informed choices rather than allowing medical care providers to make those choices for you. In my case, I did my research and made my plans for all things birth-related, and yet when it came time for putting them into action, I allowed many interventions that I didn’t really want. As a prime example, I had numerous cervical checks, which I had originally planned on limiting to only one or two. These checks placed the focus on a number, which doesn’t actually determine when a woman will give birth. Ultimately, this number was the reason my midwife advised me to go to the hospital, a decision I now believe was unnecessary.

#3. Lastly, it is vital to pay attention to mom’s emotional state during birthing; she needs to feel safe, supported, and calm for birth to progress as smoothly as possible. My emotional state was very excited during my first birthing. I was so confident about how easy and comfortable I would be that I turned it into almost a party. I invited way too many people to attend my birth, and overlooked the importance of getting in the zone, mentally. I didn’t think enough about what I needed. I allowed people to participate in my birth who did not fully understand or support my use of hypnosis. Looking back, I can see that my birth progressed powerfully when I was alone with my husband at night with everything calm, and then regressed dramatically when people arrived and I stopped focusing on using my hypnosis.

I have learned a lot from my experiences and my training as a birth educator since then, and I hope that my readers can too! As I approach my birthing time in the next several weeks or so, I do so with the mindset that my birthing will be easy and comfortable this time around. I know now that these factors are so important, and I’m getting extra support for myself this time by working with a birth doula. Even though I have an amazing husband as my birth partner, I now understand the tremendous benefit of also having the dedicated, experienced, and focused support of a doula. I think it will make a big difference for me!

But the most important thing I’ve learned is this: “easy” doesn’t mean that birth should be approached casually, or that it will always go exactly as planned without any effort on the part of the birthing mom and her team. “Easy” means that with the right approach, with focus and hypnosis and faith and wisdom, birth can be a simpler and smoother process. “Easy” means that birth can happen naturally, at home or in the hospital, without pain, complications, interventions, or drama. Birth can be something enjoyable, special, and empowering. That’s what “easy” means to me now. And I personally can’t wait for my easy, comfortable birthing of my precious baby girl!

It’s Official!

Yesterday, I received my certification from Hypnobabies! That means I am now officially a Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis Instructor (HCHI), and I can begin teaching Hypnobabies classes. This is a very exciting milestone for me, and I can’t wait to start helping families in my community experience better births.

My journey as a Hypnobabies instructor began as a dream and a goal that I set for myself just after my son’s birth in late 2014. After experiencing the power of childbirth hypnosis and enjoying such an incredible birth experience, I realized that I wanted to teach others to do the same. After settling into motherhood, I started to investigate my options, and set my sights on the April 2017 instructor training program. When the time came, I applied, was accepted, and began working on the pre-requisites. Those requirements alone represented many hours of work, and I felt a wonderful wave of accomplishment when I finished them! Then in April I attended the five-day instructor training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a challenging week of long days in the classroom and a lot of learning. After our trip I began working on the certification exam, and after about a month and a half of more hard work, I finished and submitted it. It was reviewed, and then I received the good news yesterday that I was certified. Crossing that finish line means I have completed a big goal on my life goals list, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Because I am now just over 7 months pregnant, I will be waiting until after my daughter’s birth and newborn months to begin teaching. I am excited to offer my first class in January 2018, and my second in March 2018.

Self-Kindness in the First Trimester

Pregnancy is a special time for women and families. It’s a normal and natural process, but it also can feel mysterious, magical, and challenging. The changes in a woman’s body, and the development of a fully formed baby from two tiny cells is an incredible process. It is many things, but “easy” is not a word I would use to describe it. Although it may be perfectly normal and easy for a woman’s body to produce a baby, it isn’t usually easy to the mother herself. The physical discomforts and emotional changes during pregnancy, and the physical and emotional feat of giving birth are both challenging and rewarding. The ultimate reward, of course, is the new life brought into the world– a treasure beyond description.

Each trimester brings its own unique challenges. During the first trimester, many women experience nausea, food aversions, and fatigue, often quite severe. These discomforts can make it difficult for women to continue with their usual daily tasks, such as work, childcare, and chores. At the same time, during this first trimester there is usually very little to “show” for all of that. It can feel like a weeks-long case of the flu, rather than the beautiful beginning of a new life.

This is where a positive and focused mindset can make all the difference. I am currently 8 weeks pregnant myself, and I have found that having a positive mantra has been helpful. Rather than groaning and complaining and obsessing over the discomfort, I acknowledge it and reframe it. It is good to remember that nausea and fatigue are signs of a healthy and strong pregnancy. (That being said, women who don’t experience nausea can have healthy and strong pregnancies as well!) It is also good to remember that in most cases, this stage is temporary and will pass when the second trimester arrives. My mantra has been, “This is a strong and healthy pregnancy, and this part will pass.”

While keeping a positive and peaceful state of mind, I also acknowledge my discomfort and practice self-kindness. This means respecting my limits, asking for and accepting help, and taking care of myself. Right now, my limits are high. I am not able to contribute much to household chores, which I usually consider one of my main jobs as a homemaker. I also find myself very limited in my ability to play with and entertain my toddler, which of course is my full-time job as a stay-at-home-mom. I find that I require a lot of rest, and I’ve been taking it easy by doing only the bare minimum and allowing others to help. Most of the help comes from my husband, who is an understanding and helpful partner. I’ve also hired a babysitter to play with Cody a couple of times per week. We are limited in our budget, of course, so on the days when it’s just me and Cody, I remind him often that I need to rest and I do my best to play with him from the couch or floor.

Maintaining a healthy diet during this stage is also not just challenging for me, but impossible. I find that I am unable to eat most foods, let alone highly nutritious foods. During this time, I eat anything I can, and remember that my nutrition before and after these short months is perfectly able to overcome this period of a lower-quality diet. I accept my needs as they come, and treat myself with compassion rather than guilt.

With all of these challenges, I accept that I am doing my best and that there is no shame in that. I reject mommy-guilt (and wife-guilt, and health-guilt, and any other kind of guilt!) in favor of self-kindness. I remember that this is a relatively short phase in our lives.

Pregnancy is a time of many changes, and accepting those changes with positivity and compassion allows this time to be more peaceful, joyful, and even transformative. It’s not always easy, but it is one of our incredible abilities as women, and in many ways it is an amazing gift to be able to bear life. Let’s treat ourselves kindly during the journey of pregnancy!