Monday, April 13, 2015

The Fabled Tenth Month

I know this announcement deserves a bit more fanfare, for those who may only read the blog and don't follow us on social media, but our son was born a week ago. This first week has been filled with so many new things for both of us -- well, all of us, I suppose...

And while there are a hundred blog posts worth of thoughts in my head, I don't have the time or energy to put words to any of them. Instead, this is something I wrote the Friday before he was born, not even knowing if I would share it, but needing to get it out.


(Friday, April 3, 2015)

I can't remember when I first heard the myth that women are actually pregnant for 10 months, but it was from someone who was pregnant at the time, and I certainly wasn't going to argue with a pregnant woman. I've since heard the same argument multiple places, including blog posts from actual pregnancy websites.

Sorry, but no. Just because 4 x 10 = 40 doesn't mean that pregnancy lasts 10 months.

With one exception, a month isn't exactly four weeks. Those extra days add up, and three months together are almost exactly 13 weeks, depending on which months they are. If it's two 30-day months and one 31-, it is 13 weeks exactly. If it's two 31-day months and one 30-, it's a day longer. And even February-March-April, the shortest possible three-month span, is closer to 13 weeks than 12... 12 weeks and 5 days (6 in a leap year), to be precise.

So, 13 x 3... those 9 months are going to be almost exactly 39 weeks. (To look at it another way, 52 weeks in a year minus the 13 weeks of those other three months equals 39.) The magic number 40 is one week longer... except that the way the weeks are counted, you don't actually conceive until sometime during the 2nd or 3rd week. So, if you give birth on your due date, you've actually been carrying that baby for just under 9 months. It may seem like an eternity, but the math doesn't lie.

The term makes a little more sense (even though I've just proven it's not totally accurate) in my current situation: I'm now past my due date, which means that, according to some, I've started the tenth month. "Started" being the key word. I'm not ten months pregnant. I will never be ten months pregnant. But if we're going to fudge the numbers a bit and say that 40 weeks = 9 months, I'm now one day into that fabled tenth month.

I never thought I'd get to this point. I was convinced for several reasons (most of which aren't the slightest bit scientific, I'll admit) that the baby was going to come early. I didn't think I'd make it to April at all.

But even in that part of my mind that conceded the possibility that I'd get to my due date or beyond, I never thought I'd be making this decision -- the first of many I'll have to make on behalf of my child -- this early. Oh, sure, I've been making little decisions every day that affect us both... but this one feels very different.

How long do we wait for labor to happen on its own?

In my head, when I did let myself think about the pregnancy lasting that long, I figured it would be at least a week before we considered inducing.

In reality... three days.

Oh, we've been discussing it for longer. This was by no means a snap decision we made on the due date. Our OB first brought it up at my 39-week appointment, when he was concerned about my lack of progress from the week before. And at that point, the idea really freaked me out. It felt way too early to even be talking about it.

(Which is, of course, ridiculous. It's never too early to start discussing options, to be prepared. But it caught me completely off-guard.)

Just so you know where I'm coming from, I've never had a vision of having a completely natural birth. I have a pretty low threshold for pain, and I was expecting to use some sort of drugs to get through it. Breathing and focus points and massage may work great for some women... and I figured I'd start out using some of those methods, but at some point they'd stop being enough, and I was fine with that.

But even though I wasn't opposed to medical intervention, the idea of things starting on their own was apparently more important to me than I'd realized. I've been lucky this whole pregnancy. (I've been miserable, but lucky.) The baby's health was never at risk. My own health was never at risk. There was never any reason we would need to balance the two and get the baby out at that intersection of risk where it wasn't too dangerous for either of us.

So I never pictured anything, or prepared myself for anything, other than going into labor naturally. I read all about that, because it terrified me... not the idea of the pain (at first, anyway), or the embarrassment of my water breaking at an inopportune time and place. No, for me it was the thought of not knowing what was going on, of not recognizing what it was when it came, that freaked me out the most. Especially the closer we got, and the more I started feeling things that could be signs that labor was near... or could be nothing at all. Hmm, my back hurts more than usual today, could that be back labor? What about that cramping that feels like PMS? And I knew I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a while, but most of the time I couldn't differentiate between a contraction and the baby stretching out and making everything tight. It all felt so vague.

And nothing I read reassured me. The most common response was simply, "You'll know when it's the real thing." But then I'd find another story from someone who hadn't known, because it came on so gradually or was so similar to what had come before. Even if they're the minority, they still poke a big hole in the "you'll just know" argument.

(Of course, the upside of that would be a nice chunk of my labor going by with so little discomfort I didn't even realize it was happening. But it's still scary to not know what's going on with your own body.)

Even with all my uncertainty, though, I never imagined it happening any other way. So suddenly looking at induction as a real possibility... I sort of froze. Luckily, we had time to think about it and weigh our options... all the while hoping, of course, that nature would make the decision so we wouldn't have to. But when we got to our 40-week appointment and still nothing had changed... it was up to us. Wait and see, or take action?

We decided to take action, setting up my induction for just three days after my due date. But it wasn't easy.

I could weigh pros and cons forever, but what it ultimately came down to was my doctor's advice vs my own gut feeling. How committed was I to letting nature take its course (assuming that it would, before an elective induction became not-so-elective)? But also -- and perhaps the bigger issue -- did I trust that my doctor's recommendation to induce now was in my best interest? And in the end, that answer is yes.

One thing that makes me feel better about the situation is that, when I had my ultrasound, they estimated I was actually five days ahead of where we thought. They told us they won't actually change a due date unless there's a discrepancy of a week or more, but if we go by that estimate, I'd actually be over a week overdue by the time we induced... a time frame that felt more reasonable.

So... it may not be what I imagined, and I know other women would choose to do things differently. This isn't about defending or justifying my choice to anyone. It's about how I got here. It's about coming to terms with a decision I didn't think I'd have to make. It's about the realization that my pregnancy (which, despite the assurance of the calendar, felt like it would never end) is finally ending.

And maybe, somewhere in my reasoning, this is just a last-ditch effort to feel like I have control over something before I lose control over everything. I can't be 100% sure this is the right decision. I can't be 100% sure about any decision. But what I can be 100% sure of is that I'm doing the best I can with what I have.

Seems as good a way as any to start my journey as a parent.