40 Weeks: noun. 1. Nine and a quarter months. 2. The average length of a normal pregnancy. 3. That pinnacle day of pregnancy after which a dramatic increase in boredom, frustration and annoying phone calls will often be suffered.
40 Weeks. It’s that magical day in your pregnancy when you have supposedly reached the end. For forty weeks (and possibly longer) you have been charting, measuring, counting and ultimately, waiting. So by 40 weeks of pregnancy the waiting should be over. The baby should be here. The dues have been paid.
Especially if it is not the first baby and if the first baby was early (my son was born two days early), any subsequent baby is naturally expected to arrive early or at the very latest on time. Furthermore, if virtually all of one’s friends who have recently had second babies delivered earlier than they did with their firstborns, there would be no reason to expect anything other than a healthy, happy baby born just slightly earlier than the first. After all what could be more perfect?
So when I reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, then 39 weeks, I was certain that the birth of my baby was imminent. Every twinge of the uterus, each surge of hormones or unexplained desire to clean the house was interpreted as early labour and I waited, expectantly. And I waited some more. When I finally reached 40 weeks my frustration began to mount. Where WAS this baby? Did I do something during my pregnancy to delay my labour? Was it something I ate? Was it the fall I had in the driveway a week earlier? Was the baby OK? And so I started to worry, the first and enduring response of any mother to any slight variation of normal in the course of a pregnancy or her child’s development. The worries weren’t overwhelming but they were there… niggling.
And then the phone calls started. So I stopped answering the phone. Annoying phone calls when you are overdue in pregnancy is something I only read about during my first pregnancy but experienced personally during the second. And yes, they were irritating. “No, no baby yet,” I would hear Ian reply, a tinge of exasperation in his voice. “Yes she’s feeling OK. She’s a bit tired as to be expected and we’re also getting tired of waiting. Yes we will certainly let you know when there’s any news to report. No there’s nothing you can do but thanks for your call.” And so on.
Adding to the frustrations were the endless Braxton Hicks contractions which started in earnest about five days before my due date and continued day after day; becoming stronger each day, arriving tantalisingly close together for a few hours each day, and some continuing into the night. I was one day overdue, then two days, then three. Finally at 1am on the night of the fourth day past my due date, strong labour contractions began, arriving every 10 minutes all through the night. Summoning my heavily-practiced meditation technique I laboured quietly, powerfully. At 6am exhaustion caused me to fall asleep in between the contractions and they dropped to 20 minutes apart, then 25 minutes. I anguished at the thought that my greatest fear would come true and that I was heading for a repeat of my first birthing experience.
Three years ago, four nights of hard labour interspersed with sleepless days resulted in a total collapse of coping ability when my “true” labour began; a 13 hour marathon of pain, endurance and insanity after I had already been awake for four days. At a time when every minute of sleep was needed, I was heading into treacherous territory and I couldn’t bear the thought of my mental world falling to pieces all over again.
I rang the midwife and raced to the hospital in desperation, looking for answers. I had to be at least partially dilated, right? Perhaps they could break my waters and kick things along. Somebody PLEASE tell me that I am indeed in labour! But it was not to be. Despite comforting assurances from the midwife that surely there was something that could be done, my contractions had virtually stopped and an examination by the doctor revealed a mere 2-3cm dilatation with only partial effacement. I would be going back home to wait.
The exasperation must have been written all over my face. “What if it happens again tonight?” I heard myself squeak. The prospect of a horrifying few days ahead rained down upon me. I was devastated. The first cracks shot through my sanity like lightening through a towering eucalypt. Here we go again. I dragged myself across the hospital parking lot, head hanging, Ian swaddling me tightly in his arms. When I reached my car a burly contraction hit me like a rogue wave and I doubled over, grasping, panting. Little did I know, but it was the starting shot of the most extraordinary birthing experience I could ever have imagined for myself.