The moment I learned I was pregnant, a million questions entered my head. Am I prepared for motherhood — and parenthood? I wondered. Is it safe to eat sushi? Can I still drink iced tea? And can I run? Is exercise okay?
Of course, there were other, more pointed questions — the ones which were medically-based. How much weight should I gain? Is my blood pressure normal? What about my sugar? How does my blood work look? But the question I asked most — the question I Googled on a regular basis — was “what does labor feel like?”
I was curious, after all. I didn’t know what to expect. But after being told (repeatedly) by my doctors, fellow parents, and the world wide web not to worry, that I would “know,” I stopped asking. I ceased my internet search. And that’s how I ended up being in labor twice without knowledge or warning. I was contracting every 90 seconds and was completely oblivious to the sensation and the fact.
Now I know what you’re thinking: What?! How? And rightfully so. I mean, contractions are — for most individuals — painful. There is discomfort. Cramping. Pressure. Pain. But my labor did not proceed as usual. There was no aches or pains, and I didn’t have a bloody show. My contractions were not as described. They were not regular or incapacitating. I could breathe, walk and even run through each (more on that later). And I didn’t feel anything; not really. Instead, an odd sensation began around 3:00pm.
My abdominal area was tightening and loosening, like I was straining to use the bathroom. That, or I was a human rubber band, and when I placed my hand on my belly, it felt rigid, sort of like a basketball. So I timed the sensation for about an hour. It was long and erratic, inconsistent at best. And so I dismissed it. Braxton Hicks, I thought.
I went on a run and out to dinner. I ate buffalo wings and a large plate of fries, and then my husband and I went to the movies. We were planning to see “Pacific Rim.” But after experiencing a small fluid leak just before the trailers began, I ended up in the hospital — at my doctor’s request. And that’s when they told me I was in labor. I was at 4cm and was moved immediately from the ER to the proper ward.
The next dozen or so hours passed as the previous ones did: quiet and uneventful. I watched the needle on the contraction monitor move consistently and rhythmically, but felt nothing. There was still no pain. I walked the halls, hoping to speed up labor. My husband and I played video games. And the nurses checked in on me frequently. “You don’t feel that?” they asked. I was an anomaly, through and through.
But after stalling out as they call it — after failing to make medical progress — my doctor and I agreed it was time to intervene. He gave me pitocin. And boy oh boy, did the sensation change. I went from experiencing painless contractions to being doubled over by them. It felt like someone was taking a hammer to my spine. And this, I remember thinking, this is what I assumed labor would feel like.
This is the pain I was waiting for.
From that moment on, my labor proceeded as it does for most pregnant people. I focused on my breathing and cursed my husband under my breath. I changed my “natural birthing” mindset almost immediately and asked for an epidural, and I moved quickly from 6cm to 9cm. Before I knew it, I was ready to push — and I did. After 36 hours of labor, I gave birth to a beautiful (and healthy) baby girl.
But remember at the start of this article when I said I experienced phantom labor twice? On two occasions I didn’t know I was about to give birth? Well, the same thing happened with her brother five years later. I contracted a full day before I realized the sensation was persistent and consistent. Before realizing that, yet again, my contractions were minutes apart.
Of course, most individuals will have “normal” labor — and experience “normal” contractions. Most will feel some sort of pain, pressure, or discomfort. But if you happen to be pregnant and feel like something is off, know this: It may be. Labor isn’t always like it’s depicted in the movies. So trust yourself. Trust your gut, and know that there is no harm getting a checkup. Because it could end up being more than you think.
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