My Experience With Prodromal Labor: Why Its Hard and How To Survive

One year ago I was in the middle of a prodromal labor saga with my third baby. My first baby was born four days past his due date, my second a week before hers so I never expected to go almost two weeks past my third baby’s due date. The hardest part was not just the waiting, but the prodromal labor that I experienced every day for a month before she was born.

Prodromal labor is labor that starts and stops on and off for days. Just as with my second pregnancy, my due date was vague. I was not exactly sure when I was due and I did not want to know. I am completely convinced due dates are guesses and every baby comes at a different pace. Plus, I was nursing when I got pregnant and my cycle was hard to track so I was not even sure of a conception date. I was content to wait on the baby to tell me when the time was right.

At least I felt content at first. I knew I was due around early September based on my twenty week ultrasound and appointment schedule with my midwife. One afternoon near the end of August, I felt that familiar backache and cramping. (I later heard theories that the solar eclipse brought this on for many expectant mothers.) The exact same way I’d felt at the start of my other two labors. In both of those labors, labor began with the same sensations and progressed as the day went on. So I texted my husband and midwife, gathered our things, rested on the couch with toddler, convinced we had a long night ahead.

They steadily increased in intensity and duration and I was breathing through them, excited. But after the dinner, they dissipated. I was so surprised! And confused. This was no “false” labor, I knew what labor felt like by this baby. So I went to sleep, woke up early to go for a walk and hoped to get things going. But I felt no contractions until that evening. And again, I felt them for a few hours and then they stopped.

Little did I know, this would be the pattern for four more weeks. Sometimes they would get as close as six minutes apart, then fizzle. My due date came and went. Then I went to my 41 week appointment. My midwife was supportive, gave me herbs and encouraged me to do what I could to get things moving. And every day, my body fooled me that “this could be the day.” I had a biophysical profile done that moved my due date back by a few days, so I had a little more time.

The hardest part was that I was not sure what to plan for the day. I kept restocking the fridge, hoping it was the last time I had to go to the store before the baby came. Last time to vacuum. Last time my husband would leave for work in the morning before he took some time off. And then the next day would come and I’d be trying to make everything just right again.

My husband was so patient. I know he had things going on at work, he was trying to be fully present there and also be able to leave when I called. But he did not put that pressure on me, bless him. He just kept reminding me to get rest, assuring me it would all work out. I kept reminding myself that our baby would start labor, I walked miles of curb-walking, took my vitamins and herbs, prayed often, napped often and tried to avoid the question of “when” from any friends, family and strangers.

I finally went to see my midwife at 13 days past my original due date. She did a membrane sweep, checked on the baby and told me to schedule an appointment with an acupuncturist for the next day. So I did.

And then I called my mom and cried. I was nearing the legal time limit to deliver out of the hospital and the thought of changing my birth place and birth plan overwhelmed me. I told my mom I felt afraid that my body forgot to go into labor. I’ll never forget what she said. She said, “That’s like saying the sun forgot how to rise.” She lives several states away and was planning to come stay after the baby was born, but during that phone call she bought a ticket to come see us on a red eye that night. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as that phone call ended, I started feeling real contractions. And they did not go away!

I went into labor around 2pm, went to the store, made dinner, ate it and by the time we cleaned up the kitchen, contractions were 3 minutes apart. I knew it was the real deal. So we headed to the birth center and our baby was born about 3 hours later. As I labored in a glorious birthing tub, surrounded by my ideal birth team in my birth place, I laid my head back and closed my eyes. And I could not help it, I just started laughing! Out of pure joy and thankfulness for these moments. There was rainless thunder rumbling in the background and our labor music playing. It was so romantic and I felt so at peace. She came with only a few intense pushes between smiles and laughing, out and into my arms before any others. It was beautiful. Her timing was not as I would have chosen, but the way she came was so perfect. I would do it all over again, even the waiting, if I could.

Photo credit: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock


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