Getting to the hospital too soon is likely at the top of the concerns list for most moms. Obviously, not getting there in time is also worrisome for those not planning a home birth. The goal is to get there at just the right time where you aren’t completely uncomfortable in the car and certainly not walking in at 2cm’s.
But yet, it happens. You start labor. Excitement is in the air. You feel every tightening and eventually the contractions turn from a tightening to a tinge of pain with it. Either the timing or the intensity of the contractions convinces you that you are, in fact, in labor. You’ve been told that contractions lasting five minutes apart for a minute or longer is worthy of heading toward the hospital so of course if your labor starts out with contractions 2 minutes apart that must mean this is gonna be intense!
You labor for a certain period of time (hours or half a day) convinced with each passing contraction that it is getting close to time to get in the car. You make the uncomfortable ride to the hospital. You are in control (or not) and breathing well (or not) and tell the staff “yeah, they are pretty intense.” And then they check. 2-3 cm’s. What? How is that even possible? I’ve been contracting for hours (or days).
So what transpired that makes this a common occurrence? And can it be prevented, and if so, how?
One of my birth mottos has long been “Natural Birth is 90% mental preparation and determination.” But what does that have to do with getting to the hospital too soon? As you may know, labor has three emotional signposts: excitement, seriousness and then self-doubt. Each marking a portion of your labor and cervical progress. But because there are mental factors in play, I believe that what we expect can greatly effect our perceived pain during each of those signposts. I’ll explain.
1. There is an expected time frame. We have often been told “call the doctor when you are five minutes apart lasting 60 seconds or longer for an hour apart.” Well, that’s all well and good, until you realize not every labor is the same. Some labors start out with contractions 2 minutes apart and throws mom and dad for a loop because, while they are not lasting a minute or longer, they are sure 2 minutes apart is of extreme importance. We have to remember that there are many variations of normal. And starting with contractions that more frequent than expected is not the whole picture.
2. We really want for this to be IT. Look, I get it. I’ve been there. I am so ready to be in labor that I am very aware of any small tightening going on and any slight discharge that is there (or not there). We want so badly to believe that early labor signs are worth our focus. It’s only logical to assume the only way to know when they are “five minutes apart for an hour” or “5/60s/60m” is if we are timing contractions as soon as we notice them. But this is only contributing to the problem. We mentally tell ourselves: “Labor is work. Therefore early labor is still labor. Thus early labor is work as well.” This means we feel the need to practice our relaxation as soon as those first contractions start. While this is good in theory, it can cause our mind (the 90% mental I mentioned) to believe that these contractions are worth the focus. And when focus combined with sheer desire for this to be IT combine, it can lead to believing something is more intense than it actually is.
So what do I suggest? What have I suggested to mom’s before who are experiencing all of the above? I tell them “It’s time to FLIP THE SWITCH!”
It is time to flip the mental switch. If you arrived at the hospital at 3cm’s in some intense pain, no one is going to tell you that it doesn’t hurt. It very well does. But it doesn’t have to. Flip the switch. Tell yourself these contractions are nothing to you. In fact, its not active labor. These are contractions that are easy for you. And no, they are not worth timing. Are they the beginning of labor? Yes, they likely are. But you do not have stay in that mental place that this is too much or too hard “even at 3cm’s?” No. And your support team can help you get to that mental/emotional place.
If you are ready to say some choice words to me, let me give an example. How does a mom go from walking into the hospital at 2-3cm’s convinced that she “has got to be super close to pushing her baby out” to completely relaxed and looks like she’s sleeping 6 hours later at 6 cm’s? She has flipped the switch, found her rhythm and is mentally on top of her contractions. Maybe she went home and decided that she would focus more on rest and relaxing than on timing her contractions, or “practicing breathing through them.” She determined that she could ignore the irregular contractions and trust that she would know when it was time to go the hospital. That is why us doula’s will remind mom that early labor means still following the pattern of the day: if its daytime when early labor starts, continue your daytime routine and if it’s night time then go to sleep. Why in the world would we say that? So that you will know: these contractions are not worth your time. When they get longer, consistently and make you focus (rather than you intentionally focusing) that is more like it!
I understand, nobody wants to be told that what they are feeling should be ignored, but the mind is a very powerful thing. And our pain receptors respond to messages from the brain. It’s time to flip the switch on early labor and understand that early labor is the beginning . . . not (always) the culmination of it.
Let me give you a personal example.
I was getting a pedicure when my contractions (that had been off and on for 2 days) seemed to get longer and stronger. I was refusing to time them but the trigger was when I noticed, during a contraction, how badly I wanted to “shush” the lady painting my toenails. So I went to the doc to get checked. Turns out I was 8cm. But this was me at 8cm’s:
Why am I talking on the phone chatting it up with my sister? Was I not just wanting to shush a lady painting my toes? I got to the hospital at 8cm’s but when my doctor said “Well you are 8cm but he’s still really high, like -3 station. I don’t want to send you home at 8cm, but you have a while to labor him down.” That completely “flipped the switch” for me. I have time. I need to chill. These contractions are not a problem. Also, it’s important to note that my water was still in tact and the contractions subsided in intensity while in transit to the doctor and from the doctor to L&D.
But here is my picture a couple of hours later. Ruptured water, double peak contractions. I am definitely in self-doubt. Having to use every ounce of focus to not give up mentally. While there was only the difference of 1cm from this picture and the one above, the contractions were completely different. The measurement of my cervix does not give the complete picture that helps to explain where we are in our labor.
At this time let me stress a very important message: if you end up at the hospital and are found to be at 2-3 cm’s there is NO SHAME in that. Take that as your mental cue to FLIP THE SWITCH and then sit back and watch how things change. Rest, relax, find your rhythm and enjoy the birth day!