Chapter 9: Why 34 weeks is a milestone.
NOTE: DO NOT read if you DO NOT want to read the word “cervix” or know anything about how mine is behaving. You’ve been warned!
34 weeks…already! Can you believe it?! This pregnancy is flying by. 34 weeks has always seemed like a big number in my brain, but today it holds particularly more importance for me.
I’ll back up; since hitting 20 weeks, I’ve always had strong and regular (not in regular intervals, but regular amounts, i.e. 2-4 per hour) Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions (these are “practice” contractions, if you’re unfamiliar, and should be painless). They’ve become part of normal life and they typically seem to only be more frequent when I’ve overdone it that day. (I can’t help my type A-ness on some days, okay?) That being said, the standard recommendations are to go in to the hospital or, at the very least, give your doc a heads up if you’re having more than 3-4 contractions in one hour and they aren’t subsiding with extra fluids and rest. Wellll…that obviously didn’t quite fit me, lest I wanted to be calling the doctor every hour of every day for the last 3.5 months. Last Tuesday night (the 3rd), I started having them 7-9 minutes apart and they were lasting for 50-90 seconds (I downloaded a contraction timer app for the first time that night just because I’d never noticed them so close together before!). J was working the night shift all of last week, so because I was home alone for the night, I wanted to be a bit more diligent in paying attention to them. They stayed consistent for four hours, never gaining in intensity, but just staying steady. I didn’t feel worry or concern in my heart of hearts, so I decided to just head to bed before calling J or even considering going in to the hospital (considering that’s where he was at anyway!). I figured if my body was REALLY trying to go into labor, it would wake me up to tell me so and the best thing I could do was get some rest, as it was after midnight. I don’t know if that was wise…but we can obviously see that it worked out and they tapered off while I slept. However, it had been such an intense few hours that my uterus literally felt sore for two days after! (Think post-intense ab workout!) So, my body was definitely doing something. After that night, my BH were much more intense and menstrual cramp-like, causing a dull lower backache with staying power!
Moving forward to the end of this past week, there were a couple of other things that occurred (I’ll spare you the details!) that are completely normal in pregnancy…just not at 33.5 weeks. Things that should be happening closer to your due date. I wasn’t feeling concerned about any one change in particular, but all together, I felt I should mention them. BUT, I had a routine appointment already scheduled for this past Friday, and most of these changes started in on Wednesday and Thursday, so I decided to wait and just mention everything to the resident then. Based on one change in particular, she decided to check my cervix for any signs of dilation, even though it’s not routine (or even recommended or necessary) to check this early.
I want to stop here to describe this resident to you–she is super sweet, she takes extra time to explain everything to you in laymen’s terms, is very professional and courteous, and speaks in a very calm and collected voice. Are you picturing her? She kind of reminds me of my friend Lydia and would make a great doula/midwife/doctor combo.
Anyway–I’ll never forget her expression mid-exam. I could tell she wasn’t expecting to find any cervical changes (she had already done a visual exam when she was swabbing for a fetal fibronectin test [I'll explain this in a moment] and didn’t SEE any dilation). She had been focusing somewhere on the wall behind me while she concentrated and then all of the sudden her eyebrows shot up and she said, “OH! Well….okay….now….you’re actually dilated to 2cm….which is okayyy….but I do want you to go over to triage for a couple of hours to be monitored…” So, over to labor and delivery we went. They hooked me up to fetal monitors to watch contractions and baby’s heart rate. In the mean time, they sent the fetal fibronectin (fFN) test off to the lab**. I contracted every 3 minutes for the entire two hours, which almost earned me a night in the hospital on its own. BUT, fortunately, after two hours, the resident checked me again and all of those contractions hadn’t dilated me any further (and they weren’t gaining in intensity, according to me). Additionally, the fFN results came back negative…hallelujah! So, they let me go home with orders to take it easy (not bed rest, just not hiking 5 miles), call if ANYTHING changed, and to keep my already-scheduled routine appointment 2 weeks later as a follow-up. The resident told me specifically that her goal was for me to make it past the 34 week mark this weekend because at 34 weeks, they no longer administer steroids (to help baby’s lungs develop faster if they’re going to be born early) and they no longer attempt to stop labor.
**[fFN is a glue-like protein that essentially attaches the placenta to the uterine wall, so when delivery is nearing, some of that fFN can "leak" out and be detected. If the test comes back positive, it really doesn't mean you WILL be going in to labor soon, but if it comes back negative, that means there's a 99% change you WILL NOT be going into labor in the next 1-2 weeks.]
So, hallelulejah…I’ve made it to 34 weeks and, according to the fFN, there’s a 1% chance I’ll be going into labor in the next 7-10 days! However, unfortunately, this episode has me all sorts of messed up mentally. By the end of the afternoon yesterday, I was just beginning to process all of it and this wave of anxiety began to rush over me. I was not in a good place. I had myself talked into BELIEVING that I had to wait until 42 weeks (or whenever they would induce me before that). I figured if I was prepared to go “all the way,” I could be pleasantly surprised if I went earlier or on my own (I’d LOVE to not be induced, so I can be reassured baby is ready and coming on their own time). However, “early” in that perfectly coiffed scenario of my head did NOT mean 6 weeks early…it meant like…close to my due date. You feel me? So, here I am, walking around with a dilating cervix (essentially, I am technically IN early labor), feeling like a ticking time bomb, but knowing that many women walk around at a certain dilation for weeks before actually going into labor (or even having to be induced, ultimately!). My type-A brain nearly exploded. I knew that I would eventually hit this mental wall of knowing it could be any time, but not knowing when exactly…I just wasn’t prepared for it to be this soon. I wasn’t prepared to walk around for up to SEVEN WEEKS with it hanging over my head as “any minute…any second…be ready to drop everything…” Seven weeks of this? Torture for someone like me. How do I prioritize? How do I plan? How do I live my life? (Sorry, pregnancy is bringing out my type-A to the extreme…)
As I was talking all of this out with one of my lovely sisters-in-law last night, she kind of chuckled and said (paraphrasing), “I just think this is funny because you are a planner and you thought you were going to be prepared for every scenario, so God thought it would be funny to hand this to you and say, ‘ohh really?‘!” And yes…she is right. My “plans” rarely actually come to fruition because I am not in control, no matter how badly I want to be or how much time I invest in researching, planning, and scheming. I am not in control. That freaks the socks off of someone like me. I like a good adventure…but I am not a flexible person. Not without significant notice.
So, in summary…I’m in early labor. There’s no reason to freak out. This could last for hours or it could last for weeks. How many weeks max? There’s absolutely no way for me to know or for anyone to say. I must trust that the Lord is sovereign and allow him to prepare my heart for what he has coming next…whenever that is. Do I think it would be encouraging to hear about how long you or your Aunt Berta walked around at Xcm? No, not really–don’t take it personally. In the end, I can hear 100 stories about 100 different labors and that’s exactly what they’ll all be–different. It’s fair to say I’m at the point where meant-well comments can be super discouraging. So, what’s my plan? I don’t have one. Each activity, each to-do list item, each day will be taken individually. Am I scared? No. Am I excited? Yes! Am I anxious? YES! So, assume that no news is exactly that–no news! Don’t wait on the edge of your seat to hear of the newest addition…you could be on that edge for a long time and your buns might get sore. But, if you think of it as you go about your day, I wouldn’t dare turn down your prayers! Specially, prayer that our baby’s development matches the timeline for his or her delivery (we’re measuring exactly on time at this point, which is good!), prayer that we will feel emotionally prepared to become parents when that day comes, and prayer that we will have a safe delivery.
In the mean time, I realized I should move the nursery’s rocking chair down the priority list and replace it with installing the car seat and packing the hospital bag. Just in case we need either in the next SEVEN weeks…
Aye yi yi.
P.S. Here’s what a difference 10 weeks can make! Below is 24 weeks and 34 weeks…ironically, both in the same tank top (I didn’t do that on purpose). Anyway, the reason I ended up putting these two pictures together is because the baby has dropped significantly in the last week and 24 weeks is the last time I had this much room to breathe and eat!!!! It’s GLORIOUS. I even woke up in the middle of the night last night with a growling, starving stomach. (You know I got up and ate a Luna bar at 3:00 am–ain’t no thang!) The only negative side is that my bladder lost all of that extra space my lungs and stomach gained. One swift punch or elbow jab from the babe and I find myself frozen, trying not to pee. It’s great fun.