When I was 37 weeks pregnant with my eldest son, in severe pain from a bad back and sweating buckets through a heat wave in a tiny Manhattan apartment, my midwife asked me a seemingly innocuous question. Do you want me to check you? I quickly consented, eager to know if there was any progress or end in sight to my misery. 3.5 centimeters! Both of our eyes widened as she told me I would never make my due date.
I left the appointment elated, quickly calling my mother and telling her she should plan to come up for the weekend from her home and job in Washington, D.C., since her only daughter was about to give birth. My husband and I celebrated, all the while accompanied with a sort of smug satisfaction that unlike most first time mothers, I wouldn't go post-dates.
She came. And then she came again at 38 weeks. And again at 39. Eventually we decided she should stay home until I was in "real" labor.
I like to say that my son was evicted. At 42 weeks, despite being 4cm and 70% effaced by that point, I was still not in labor. I was subject to an intense induction since my body had no interest in contracting on its own until I had been on pitocin for 5 hours, at which point it all kicked in at once. He flew out three hours later. The nurses and midwife told me to stay close to the hospital next time, but I knew the truth- my precipitous labor had nothing to do with my body's natural course, and everything to do with the vast amount of chemicals flowing through it.
The thing is, I was initially expecting to go overdue. It's very typical with first time mothers, and due dates are only guesstimates after all. By that one single question, do you want me to check you, my entire experience changed. I spent the last five weeks of my pregnancy on edge, waiting to go in to labor at any moment. I eventually became disheartened and depressed, and started to doubt my body's ability to birth my son. I had planned for a midwife, doula, and birthing center, believing in my own power combined with the right support. By the end, I agreed to any intervention that would help, completely unsure of my ability to handle labor.
Women who experience prodromal labor are often the same. Their contractions are very real, have a pattern, and they have the emotional effect of convincing the parents that the birth is imminent. These women are often sent home from the hospital being told it is "false labor" or not "real." This can go on for weeks.
False labor is false. It doesn't exist. Prodromal labor does, and can be exhausting both mentally and physically. It's not false. There is a purpose to it. Your body is preparing. Your baby is preparing. Often, those women's actual labor is faster than the norm since the body is already primed. Being told what you are experiencing isn't real can be extremely damaging and dangerous in multiple ways.
You can dilate over the course of weeks, as I did, a mentally exhausting process, thinking you will be early, and then going post-dates. The comments from others towards women experiencing either of these phenomenon or other symptoms, can be truly disheartening, and blaming on the birthing woman, leading her to doubt her ability to birth and mother well in the coming months. It can also lead her to ignore critical symptoms that often turn out to be important.
All of these experiences are just another variation of normal and should be treated as such with compassion, dignity, and support.
We will never be able to successfully support women in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum if we negate their experiences. Doula support should be covered and reimbursed appropriately by insurance since we are integral to this process. Providing support for someone progressing like this is crucial to their mental and physical health for the actual birth.
We do not cost as much as some articles depict. We do need to charge a living wage, but we are not there to gouge anyone in their time of need. Doulas are there because we are passionate about supporting women and families at this critical time in their lives. From the time I sign a service agreement, my phone doesn't go off. I am there for you not only during the actual labor, but in the lead up and aftermath as well.
Sometimes, these mothers need me more then, than at the actual birth.