The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between

last days of pregnancy

She’s curled up on the couch, waiting, a ball of baby and emotions. A scrambled pile of books on pregnancy, labor, baby names, breastfeeding … not one more word can be absorbed. The birth supplies are loaded in a laundry basket, ready for action. The freezer is filled with meals, the car seat installed, the camera charged. It’s time to hurry up and wait. Not a comfortable place to be, but wholly necessary.

The last days of pregnancy — sometimes stretching to agonizing weeks — are a distinct place, time, event, stage. It is a time of in between. Neither here nor there. Your old self and your new self, balanced on the edge of a pregnancy. One foot in your old world, one foot in a new world.

Shouldn’t there be a word for this state of being, describing the time and place where mothers linger, waiting to be called forward?

Germans have a word, zwischen, which means between. I’ve co-opted that word for my own obstetrical uses. When I sense the discomfort and tension of late pregnancy in my clients, I suggest that they are now in The Time of Zwischen. The time of in between, where the opening begins. Giving it a name gives it dimension, an experience closer to wonder than endurance.

I tell these beautiful, round, swollen, weepy women to go with it and be okay there. Feel it, think it, don’t push it away. Write it down, sing really loudly when no one else is home, go commune with nature, or crawl into your own mama’s lap so she can rub your head until you feel better. I tell their men to let go of their worry; this is an early sign of labor. I encourage them to sequester themselves if they need space, to go out if they need distraction, to enjoy the last hours of this life-as-they-now-know-it. I try to give them permission to follow the instinctual gravitational pulls that are at work within them, just as real and necessary as labor.

The discomforts of late pregnancy are easy to Google: painful pelvis, squished bladder, swollen ankles, leaky nipples, weight unevenly distributed in a girth that makes scratching an itch at ankle level a feat of flexibility.  “You might find yourself teary and exhausted,” says one website, “but your baby is coming soon!” Cheer up, sweetie, you’re having a baby. More messaging that what is going on is incidental and insignificant.

What we don’t have is reverence or relevance — or even a working understanding of the vulnerability and openness a woman experiences at this time. Our language and culture fails us. This surely explains why many women find this time so complicated and tricky. But whether we recognize it or not, these last days of pregnancy are a distinct biologic and psychological event, essential to the birth of a mother.

We don’t scientifically understand the complex hormones at play that loosen both her hips and her awareness.  In fact, this uncomfortable time of aching is an early form of labor in which a woman begins opening her cervix and her soul. Someday, maybe we will be able to quantify this hormonal advance — the prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol, relaxin. But for now, it is still shrouded in mystery, and we know only how to measure thinning and dilation.

“You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”      -Tinkerbell

I believe that this is more than biological. It is spiritual. To give birth, whether at home in a birth tub with candles and family or in a surgical suite with machines and a neonatal team, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey.

We need time and space to prepare for that journey. And somewhere, deep inside us, at a primal level, our cells and hormones and mind and soul know this, and begin the work with or without our awareness.

I call out Zwischen in prenatals as a way of offering comfort and, also, as a way of offering protection. I see how simple it is to exploit and abuse this time. A scheduled induction is seductive, promising a sense of control. Fearful and confused family can trigger a crisis of confidence. We are not a culture that waits for anything, nor are we believers in normal birth; waiting for a baby can feel like insanity. Giving this a name points her toward listening and developing her own intuition. That, in turn, is a powerful training ground for motherhood.

Today, I am waiting for a lovely new mother named Allison to call me, to announce that her Zwischen is ended and labor has begun. I am in my own in between place, waiting. My opportunity to grow and open is a lovely gift she gives me, in choosing me to attend her birth.



Jana Studelska CPM/LM, is a licensed midwife practicing in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. She has been working with babies and mothers since 1998–as a La Leche leader, a certified doula, a childbirth educator, a regional birth network board member, and finally as a credentialed midwife. She is an author and writer, and has won several national awards for her work. Currently, she is the MANA Region 4 Representative for the Midwives Alliance, representing the upper midwest. She lives in Duluth, MN, with her husband, teen-aged boys, and a herd of dogs.

41 thoughts on “The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between”

  1. LOVE this Jana. Thank you for articulating the exact thoughts I needed to clarify in my pregnancy-muddled brain.

    I have just begun my Zwischen time with baby number five and wish you were again along for this journey. You were a great comfort last time to me in those last few weeks. Now I find myself feeling more apprehensive and anxious, not knowing what a hospital birth will bring (or if I’ll even make it there!). I wish you were close and we could again do a nice quick homebirth. :)

    I am glad to see you writing here and sharing your wisdom about birth and mothers. We sometimes forget these things about ourselves.

  2. This is where I am right now. Just this past week I’ve started to feel all out-of-sorts. I try to explain it to my husband, but it’s hard to explain. One moment I’m caught up in imagining our new baby … the next I’m crying over my toddler because he’ll never be my only child anymore. I feel anxious, just having to get things done. I spent two hours in the kitchen the other day making lasagna completely from scratch — and then was so sore from all that time on my feet I couldn’t stand up for the rest of the evening. I obsessively gather my supplies, check them over, wonder if I should make more of anything. Right now I’m upset because all I want to do is finish planting my garden, but it’s too early, but if I don’t do it now, I won’t be able to get it done after the baby’s born for weeks. And I’m too sore to bend over the garden beds. But I planted things today anyway, and now I’m aching again. I worry obsessively about the babysitter for my toddler; how will she ever care for him the way I do? How long will it be for? At what time of day or night? Will labor be as bad as last time? Will my husband be better at coaching me now that he knows what to expect? Will I really connect with the midwife, or will her personality still frustrate me the way it does right now? Will I be able to nurse the baby from the start this time? How will my life change? How long will it take before I recover, and before having two kids feels normal?

    These and so many other questions. I feel like I have to get to this point of frustration and desperation for my desire to have this baby OUT to grow larger than my fear. If we never reached this place, we’d hold back.

  3. Jana, I wish with all my heart I had read this before my first baby was born…..22 years ago! I learned to birth intuitively and to honor that time, but nobody talked about these things and it surely would have helped.

    I love your writing style and this blog post. If you are interested at all, I am currently producing a body art book with several topics and I don’t have a writer for the maternity/birth segment yet. If there is any way you would be interested in learning more about the project, I would LOVE to chat with you. I can be reached at [email protected] or on FB at “Faces by Ren”. thank you!

  4. Thank you for this! I am “due” in 1 week yet always go past my due date. What a perfect description of this time. This is my 4th pregnancy and I am thankful to have gotten most of my “nesting” done the last 2 weeks…. as this week I feel the need just to be. to be ok letting my kids watch another show so I can just sit on the couch and rest… to do easy meals. To enjoy my husband. I am feeling and allowing my body to prepare the way for this little one, and I love allowing my body to do that in its own time.

  5. Thank-you so much for posting this. It brought me to tears because someone else was acknowledging the wonder of that time. With both my pregnancies, I couldn’t wait for them to be over, and then after birth, I would mourn those remarkable few weeks when my child and I were still of one body and the whole world could see my miracle. Next time I’ll remember to cherish that time.

  6. Love this – so touching and true!! My zwischen was an amazing time 5 months ago when I had already started my maternity leave and could do last minute nesting, reflection, and really up my hypnobabies practicing!

  7. Love this post, thank you sharing your thoughtful insights! I’m heading into week 38 in just a few days, and up until now, I didn’t know what to call this crazy time.. in the last few days, I’ve been feeling like I’m slipping out of my head, but in a good way!! LOL I’m mostly serene and dreamy, with occasional surges in hormones/emotion… I’m enjoying this time – my Zwischen – and I thank you for this beautiful post that has given it a name!

  8. I absolutely love this post Jana and it describes so well this time. I am always gently encouraging my prenatal yoga students and clients to be patient, to wait, to enjoy and to celebrate this precious time. Would you allow me to put this article on my website with your blurb and a link back to the original Mothering article so that my mamas could read it? Just let me know if that would be ok.

  9. im glad to have found this post again! 😉 im so glad that you’ve written it. this is the first, but certainly not last, time i will share it with a mother at 40 weeks who’s got people knocking on her (facebook) door wondering when, if, what. :) this is what they need to hear. :)

  10. Thank you for this article. I am in my 37th week of my first pregnancy and have been intensely feeling through this transition. Its not always comfortable but I am also trying not to label certain feelings as “good or bad”. I like how you validate women by not telling us to “cheer up” or be excited when that is not what our truth may be in this period. I personally feel very inward and reflective but also heavy with emotion and have been having bursts of feelings. I don’t feel like myself and the truth is I am becoming something new, so my old self is mourning in a way and I think its so important to recognize how even these “happy” times come with their share of grief and emotion and to not shy away from these feelings. There is no perfect way to do this phase, just to honor and nurture whatever comes up. For now I am honoring the grief and the feelings of un-specified sadness and allowing them to rise up while I sit with them, not trying to change my state, not judging. Just being with whatever is. Thank you for articulating this in your article.

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