Labor: the mental game (this is hard)

by Sarah Blight Labor and delivery

Can you hear 'em? Sometimes they start soft and crescendo like the French horn section during Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker at Christmas time. Then you can't rid of them. They follow you around everywhere you go. Pregnant whispers.

And especially those whispers between mind and body. You've heard about the "mind-body connection" right? You know, how it's important to get your mind out of the way when it comes to childbirth, because it can hold you back? It sounds so straight forward, so easy, so routine. But I'm finding out that the mental game starts earlier than childbirth. For me it started at 37 weeks and didn't end until 40 weeks + 1 day. And throughout that time, I was in the throes of a mental game of tug of war.

You see, I had read all the books, talked to lots of experts, picked the brains of tons of mamas about birth. I knew better than to have expectations about labor and childbirth.

But, (there's always that "but," isn't there?) I found out in my 39th week of pregnancy, that if I was to be really honest with myself, I completely had expectations about how this labor and childbirth gig would all go down -- pun intended.

With my first pregnancy, my water broke very unexpectedly at 37 weeks and my son was born within 24 hours. Well that was straight forward.

Going into pregnancy number two (this pregnancy), I kept telling myself and everybody else that while I wanted to be prepared for baby to arrive should he or she choose to come early (again), I really wasn't expecting it. After all, this pregnancy has been so very different (in every way) from my first, and I know that babies come when they're ready. But, I was lying, lying to myself and to everyone else. I truly did see the 37 week mark as "the finish line."

Has anyone told you that preparing for labor and childbirth is like preparing for a marathon? Well it is, and it isn't. In this race:

  • We aren't sure what the distance will be.
  • We don't even know what the course will be (flat, hills, mountains, valleys?)
  • There's no set date or time (for that matter) for this incredible race to begin.
  • The race may start and then stop several times before it's time for the real thing.
  • Basically, as you're training, you don't really know what exactly you're training for.
  • And God forbid that you use anyone else's previous experiences of when, how, why labor started (including your own) to guide you. Yours will be your own. With each pregnancy it will most likely differ. Period.

So I sat there with Braxton Hicks as my constant companion, mingled with more painful (warm up) contractions, peeing every 5 seconds, wondering if my water would break in the comfort of my own home or when I was in the refrigerator section of Costco with my precocious almost 3 year old wanting yet more samples, I finally decided to raise the white flag and admit:

Yes, I was convinced that severe back pain last week was labor.

Yes, I thought being 5 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced meant that active labor was imminent. (I ended up being that way for a month!)

Yes, sending my mom back home (a 5 hour drive) after 3 false alarms was frustrating.

Yes, expectations stink. But, at the end of the day, each minute our babies spend in the womb, is time well spent. Did you know that baby's development surges big time in the last few weeks of pregnancy? Rapid brain development, organ development and lung development are HUGE during these last few weeks too. So as much as I wanted to tie my perfect little birth story all nice and pretty in a package that started with my water breaking (at home) and ending 24 hours later with baby at my bosom, my baby needed to do what babies do-grow, develop and get ready for life on the outside.

I could handle it. I just needed to get my big girl panties on while throwing away any remnants of expectations out the door so that nature could take its course.

And ya know? It did!! The day after my due date, labor really began and a swift two hours later my little peanut was born! The waiting paid off big time but it was definitely a test of patience.

Get a FREE chapter of Sarah's new book "Going to the Motherland" by clicking here (ALL 5 star reviews from other moms on Amazon…you'll love it!).

In addition to being an author, Sarah is the founder of She is the mama of a spunky, 3-year-old son and a not-so-sleepy 3-month-old daughter. Sarah loves helping expectant moms learn what experienced moms and leading experts have learned about pregnancy and birth. In her spare time (insert sarcasm), Sarah enjoys naps.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.

© October 29, 2012 Sarah Blight. All rights reserved.