Practice makes perfect!

Had my first really convincing "false alarm" last night. Went in to the hospital and everything. Really glad we did too, because I feel so much better and more relaxed knowing rather than guessing. Here's my story.

We've had a lot of thunderstorms the past couple weeks, interspersed with gorgeous spring weather. I love thunderstorms, but the pressure changes have been giving me contractions. Real contractions. Radiating from my back to my front contractions. DEFINITELY not Braxton-Hicks contractions. Coming every 5 minutes or more frequently. Until last night though, they were only strong enough in intensity to make me notice them and maybe breathe through the peak. Not quite enough to convince me this could be "it." Last night was different.

Hubby and I were watching a movie and putting together a new jigsaw puzzle when contractions started at about 10:00pm. Not too bad, but within the hour they were stronger. I was restless, physically and emotionally, and started swaying from side to side and breathing slowly through contractions. Hubby suggested I take a walk on our treadmill, so I drank a glass of water, went to the bathroom (dehydration and a full bladder can aggravate prelabor contractions), and walked while watching some tv. 20 minutes later, contractions were still going strong, and I had to pee again, so I stopped walking and decided to call my doula at 11:30pm. She suggested a shower, encouraged me that her bag was packed and she was ready to go, and to keep her posted. The shower was wonderful. Contractions definitely were easier in the shower (water in labor is amazing!), and I thought that was the end of it, until I got out and dried off. Contractions were still going, and seemed to be more intense and lasting longer than before. Hmmm, sounded like this could be it. Hubby watched me during a contraction, and told me I was acting like I was the morning our son was born, so we started timing contractions while I drank more water and ate the last of a carton of strawberries (mmmm... note to self, need more strawberries!). While contractions were definitely irregular, they were also averaging 1:30 minutes long and 2:30 minutes apart. That and the fact that they had increased in intensity over the last 2 1/2 hours had me about 75% certain this was labor. I also want to get to the hospital sooner rather than later with this baby because this time, I am GBS+(***). I need to be at the hospital with IV antibiotics for at least 4 hours before the baby is born to prevent our baby needing to be closely monitored for signs of infection. I would MUCH rather have an IV myself than my baby need one! So, with some solid information about my contractions in hand, I called my midwife's office, talked to my midwife, and told her I'd rather be sent home than come in too late. She told me she thought that was a wise decision, and that she'd call the hospital to let them know I was coming in. We got Grandma over to the house to stay with our son while we were gone, called our doula to meet us at the hospital, and away we drove.

So, we met our doula in the parking lot, and went up to labor and delivery at about 1am. I was still having contractions, but with the flurry of excitement, they were less frequent and less intense, which is to be expected (adrenaline slows contractions). We did the paperwork, they brought me to a room, I changed, and our nurse came in. Baby is doing well, nice strong heartbeat, plus a round of strong hiccups, I was having regular contractions still, and measured 1-2cm dilated and 60% effaced. Cervix was still high and posterior. Aaah, I could feel relief running through me. Definitely not too late. Now the only question was what would happen after an hour went by. Since it was 2am, we decided to try and sleep while the nurse talked with my midwife, and I could feel the contractions easing. At 3am, no more contractions, my cervix was the same, and I was ready to go back home. My midwife agreed, so I was discharged from the hospital and we went home.

I wrote this realizing the vast majority of women would be incredibly discouraged by being sent home from the hospital. I know that my feelings are atypical, but I hope I can encourage other women with my reasons:

Practical matters! Serious contractions sure kick parents into gear! We now know that our car needs gasoline before our next hospital trip! We also were able to consolidate all our hospital stay stuff into the car. We gathered the nursing pillow, got new batteries for the camera, typed up how to use our entertainment system for Grandma while she stays with our son, and we've been much better at keeping up with the laundry, dishes, and keeping food in our pantry the last two weeks. I refilled some prescriptions early yesterday, just in case. We've had the infant carseat installed in the car for a week. Being 6 days from one's due date with a toddler whose life must go on while we're laboring and recovering sure makes a mom get and stay organized!

I know that there is no such thing as "false" labor. Contractions of all kinds are doing work, and there are many changes that need to happen to the cervix before it can begin dilating in earnest. These early labor or prelabor contractions do that work, warming up for active labor.

Another reason I'm relieved we had a practice run is that I know that our leaving-for-the-hospital plan works well and can be done quickly. I am much more confident that we can get everyone in place in a timely fashion, which is a huge relief.

Also, as a second-time mom, I know that caring for this baby is a lot easier while he/she is on the inside! No diapers to change, no pillows and nursing covers to arrange, no blankets to keep baby warm, no swaddling, etc! So easy! Especially now with a toddler to care for at the same time.

I am also confident that I can do this again. In the past week or so, I have been worrying that this baby's birth will be different from my son's birth. I know that it will not be exactly the same, it may even be wildly different, and as we humans know well, the unknown is a frightening possibility. But with these contractions, I have more faith in my ability to accept my labor as it comes, rather than pining for a repeat of my son's birth simply because it is familiar.

I love this quote from the American Pregnancy's website: "The scenario is different for everyone, but false alarms seem more convincing in second and third labors despite the fact that those moms have experience." I feel better knowing I'm not alone in being a second-time mom having her first practice hospital run! I know what "real" contractions feel like now and I know my labor is likely to be shorter than my first, so I'm being careful, which resulted in being sent home from the hospital because I wasn't in labor. I also know enough not to be embarassed by this. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, pregnant woman to think she's in labor when she really isn't. Babies keep us adults on our toes. They're really good at it, even in utero. :)


*** GBS, or Group B Strep, is a bacteria found in about 1 in 4 pregnant women's vagina and/or anus. Its presence is often symptomless. Of women who have GBS, if no treatment is given, approximately 1 in 200 of their babies will be infected with GBS at birth. GBS infection in a newborn is serious business. Symptoms include breathing, heart, kidney, and gastrointestinal problems. The infection can develop into meningitis, pneumonia, or sepsis (blood infection), serious complications that can result in death. However, if IV antibiotics are given to affected mothers during labor, the risk of infection to their babies drops to 1 in 4000 of their babies being infected. These antibiotics can of course be declined by the mother, but because the relative risk that her baby will be infected is so much higher with no treatment, her baby will be closely monitored, perhaps given IV antibiotics him/herself, and maybe even subjected to invasive tests such as a spinal tap, chest x-rays and extensive bloodwork.

Joyce Dykema