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I’m a huge control freak and can’t stand the thought of not knowing when I’ll go into labor, what it will feel like, and how long it will take. How do I deal with all the unknowns?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

I’m a card-carrying member of the Control Freak Club. So not surprisingly, the unknowns of labor were one of the most difficult parts of pregnancy for me. I found it infuriating that even though millions of women have given birth, no one could tell me exactly what to expect. But alas, with the exception of women having a planned cesarean, there’s not a single lady who can know with certainty when she’ll go into labor, what it will feel like, and how long it will take.

Regarding the “When will I go into labor” component of this question, it’s important to note that due dates are far from an exact science. Only 5 percent of moms go into labor on their due date, most first-time moms don’t deliver until around ten days after their due date, and while some believe ladies who have already had babies will go into labor sooner, there’s no science to back that up. We just don’t know. While oxytocin is the hormone that stimulates contractions, what causes the release of that hormone is still a mystery. I hear you if you’re still like, “Okay, I get it. But come on, there must be something I can do to get things going?!” There’s an effective natural induction method I’ll cover below that may help you go into labor.

Now let’s look at the whole “What will it feel like?” thing. While con- tractions often feel like an intense blend of period and diarrhea cramps, I can almost guarantee the intensity is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

And every woman experiences that intensity differently. For example, some experience it as rolling orgasms (jelly!), and others experience it as a call from the body to jump out the window. We don’t know exactly how the body and mind will process the intensity Moms who have already done the damn thing don’t even know what it will feel like with the next one, as childbirth is often different each time. But take heart, I’ll get to the part about how to prepare for this.

And finally, we have no stinking idea how many contractions we’ll have to have before that head pops out. Aargh. When it seems like you have to summon every fiber of your strength to get through each con- traction, it can feel deflating to not know how many more you’ll have to breathe through. If you ask women how long their labor took, you’ll get answers that range from a couple hours to a few days.

So yup. It can feel like a crapshoot, especially for women who (like me) use control as a security blanket. Birth throws that blanket out the window, leaving us cold and confused if we don’t know how to work through it. But luckily for us control freaks, there are ways through this fog of not-knowingness.

What to do

Well first, about that due date…

Think of your due date as a time of month, instead of one day. For example, a due date of May 15 becomes “mid-May.” This perspective shift helps release an obsession with a day that will likely come and go without a baby.

When my due date came and went, I panicked, thinking there was something wrong and that my baby wasn’t coming out because he probably definitely hated me. I was a wreck. I didn’t yet understand that due dates are far from an exact science, as fetuses grow at different rates, and the due date is predicted by adding 280 days to the first day of the woman’s last period, even though the length of women’s cycles varies. Because of this, only about 4 to 5 percent of women go into labor on their due date. So do as I didn’t, and break up with your due date, as this can dissolve the anxiety and sense of failure often attached to its passing.

Make an induction plan. If the last tip had you asking, “But won’t my care provider still be thinking about my due date?” you’re correct. Many care providers start dropping the I-word (induction) after your due date passes. If you’re not interested in induction, minimize your stress by creating a plan with your care provider, well in advance, about what you’ll do if you go past your due date. As you make the plan, stick to your guns, remembering you’re their client, not their patient. They can’t force you into a decision you’re uncomfortable with. If you feel like they’re badgering you during this conversation, consider switching care providers.

The plan many of my clients make with their care providers is to go to the hospital for nonstress tests (monitoring) if their baby hasn’t arrived by forty-one weeks. If the monitoring never shows fetal dis- tress, they keep on keeping on until baby decides to arrive.

Natural Induction Tip: If you go past your due date and feel anxious about getting things going, consider acupuncture, as it can be one of the most effective natural ways to induce. Just make sure you find an acupuncturist well trained in the art of induction, and you let your care provider know about it.

And now, here’s what to do about not knowing what birth will feel like:

Prepare. Take childbirth prep classes, practice the pain-relieving techniques you learn in those classes, read the books, and watch encouraging birth videos. Every time you put in this practice, tell yourself that what you’re doing will make the contractions more manageable — because it will. The breathing techniques, the pressure points, the tub, the essential oils, the positions — they all serve to get you through one contraction at a time. While they don’t eliminate discomfort, they will make it easier to manage.

Research epidurals. If you’re still fearful about the unknown pain after you prepare, research epidurals. That way, if that’s something you end up wanting, you’ll be confident you’re making a well-informed decision. This book provides epidural insights that can get you started.

Make peace with the unknowns. To infuse your pregnancy with more acceptance for all the unknowns, listen to this guided meditation: yourserenelife.wordpress.com/unknowns-of-childbirth/.

The main thing I want you to remember, no matter how you choose to get through the sensations of childbirth, is that you will get through them. They will not kill you, and they will absolutely help you realize your superhero strength.

To deal with the frustration of not knowing how many contractions you’ll have to get through, try these ideas:

Think of each contraction as its own event. Instead of concentrating on the unknown number of contractions you’ll have, focus only on one contraction at a time. As a new contraction begins to roll through you, tell yourself that all you have to do is get through that one con- traction. When it’s done, put your full attention on resting. Then reset, and do it again.

Remember that each contraction brings you one step closer to your baby. Even if you’ve barely dilated over a four-hour period, those con- tractions are still doing something, getting you nearer the enchanting moment of meeting your babe. So welcome each contraction, even if that sounds like crazy talk.

Don’t get too wrapped up in your cervix dilation number. While this number is a decent indicator of how far along you are, it doesn’t really help us know how much longer you have to go. For example, I once supported a mom who got to ten centimeters in three hours, then had five more hours of labor before baby was born. Another woman was at four centimeters for two days, then dilated to ten centimeters in forty-five minutes and had her baby an hour later.

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