A totally new experience for first time moms is Braxton Hicks contractions. Named after John Braxton Hicks who first described them in 1872, these non-painful contractions are the body’s way of training to prepare for the big day. My entire abdomen would tense up and get really hard to the touch and then relax. Sometimes it would do this, at regular intervals, for hours.
Every night, at the end of my first pregnancy, I would lie down in bed and they would start to occur. Since I had been told a full two weeks before my due date that I could, “go any time”, and I was now after my due date, I paid a lot of attention to them. Bob got tired of hearing about it. Early on, I found myself timing them and they were as regular as “real” labour. How was I supposed to know the difference?
The midwives had told us that when we thought that labour had begun, I was to have a small glass of wine. It is an amount that will not hurt the baby and will be completely metabolized before the baby is born. This is important because a baby’s liver cannot metabolize alcohol and that is why when babies are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy it can have such a devastating effect on their development.
The wine served two purposes. First, Braxton Hicks labour will stop when you have a glass of wine, so it made it possible to distinguish warm up contractions from the real thing. Second, wine will relax the mother. After having no alcohol for an entire nine months a small glass hits you like a wall, but it does have a calming effect.
There is a difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real ones and it is not what you think. When real labour starts your body knows the difference and begins preparing. Unlike having Braxton Hicks that made me feel like I was grasping and needy, almost as though I was trying to will labour into happening, real contractions have more of a peaceful feel. The body begins to produce endorphins, the natural painkillers, at the same time as real labour begins.
This means that the pain of labour is somewhat mediated by the endorphins but it also means that you get the ‘high’ that morphine users must experience. When my actual labour started the world was rosy and there were endless possibilities for goodness. I did not feel like I was trying to urge labour to begin. I felt like the world was in technicolor. This was a marked difference and it occurred at the beginning of true labour, each time.
So, I was well past my due date for my second pregnancy. This upset my doctor considerably and he had begun the induction threats as he had with my first pregnancy. I was not worried. Midwives take a different stance on this. They have been trained to help you to “check-in” on the baby. Essentially, you can feel the baby moving and the baby should be moving regularly. I forget how often and that sort of details but it is not just random. The baby needs to be behaving normally.
There is a large black bird just hanging out in my front yard as I edit this. It has been walking around in the rain, going back and forth across the yard and up and down the driveway. I thought that I should add this into my story. These birds are my consistent totem animals and my guess is that it just wanted to be mentioned.
As a veterinarian, I had learned how long the pregnancy should be for cows. It was recognized that different types of cows had different pregnancy lengths. In general, smaller breeds of cows had shorter pregnancies. Why was it that human doctors thought that all women should have the same length of pregnancy regardless of ethnicity and size? It did not ring true for me.
As a scientist, I had known exactly what day I had ovulated on. This is not actually the start of pregnancy, per se, but it does determine the timing. The egg moves into the uterus and may or may not become an embryo along the way. It is more exact to know when the egg was released than any other measurement. So, dating my pregnancy was not a question. I knew how many days my first pregnancy had been from ovulation to birth and so I had a pretty good idea how long my second pregnancy should be.
I was unable to get the same primary midwife for this second pregnancy because of the political climate. Midwifery had become a contentious issue. The medical doctors could see a large amount of their practice going to what they considered to be an “unregulated” profession and they had started to fight back legally. In some parts of the United States, parents were being arrested for child abuse or neglect by choosing to have their babies at home. I was not aware of anything so outrageous in Canada, but the medical profession is quite powerful and well funded.
It looked like midwives were going to have to be licensed, so my first midwife had decided to go back to university to become a nurse so that she could continue practicing in Ontario. The Mennonite women did not care about the law regarding births outside of their community so it did not have the same impact on them. I was able to get two midwives. The primary midwife was different but the secondary one was the same as for my first birth.