Surrender to what? My three week wait to birth my son

Guest post by Andrea

Positions for Laboring Out of Bed Whenever it comes up that my baby was born twenty-one days past his due date, the reaction is invariably, “Wow, they let you go that long?” Well… not exactly.

About a week before my due date, I was in the change room at the local pool, and a woman in her sixties told me that each of her three babies were three weeks late. I was mildly appalled and silently certain that she must have had her dates wrong or some deep-seated psychological issues about being a mother. Being the nerd that I am, I had four years of data on my ovulation cycle. I was pretty confident about the dates.

I wasn’t expecting to be on time. I knew that first babies are typically a week late. Besides, friends of ours were getting married a week after my due date and I wanted to be at the wedding. I had “talked” with the baby, asking him to stay put a little longer so that mommy can have one last hurrah. I was more than happy to still be pregnant at that event.

Edging into to my second week post-date, I began actively trying to get the prostaglandins flowing. I broke out the evening primrose oil. I drank litres of red raspberry tea. I began obsessively chanting “open, open, open” while doing dishes. And, well, there was more sex involved trying to get that baby out than there ever was to get that baby in.

Ten days post-date I asked the doctor to sweep my membranes, but my cervix was still so closed she couldn’t even reach it. She brought up the idea of induction, explaining that they do not like to wait any longer than two weeks at the most. I knew this would come up, and I was armed with statistics about the effects of medical inductions against an unripe cervix. I said that as long as there was no indication that baby was at risk, I would like to wait to see what my body would do.

I had a lot of faith that my body would birth this baby when the time was right. Having been a birth story junkie throughout most of my pregnancy, one lesson I had garnered was that I needed to surrender to the birth process and the wisdom of my body. The previous three years had been a time of major revolution in my relationship with my body. In response to a diagnosis of severe arthritis in my hips, I had really adopted a wellness perspective and established a serious yoga practice. Feeling I had made progress in embracing my body’s capabilities and limitations, I began to regard the impending birth as a sort of a test of how far I had come.
Also, because midwives are not available in my community, obsessive research became my coping mechanism. I knew the risks associated with post-date deliveries, but also felt that the medical model of childbirth often emphasizes risk over natural variation. I knew that there were some respected midwives out there who say that some babies just need to cook a little longer.

The doctors started sending me to the hospital obstetrics unit every day to check the baby. The measures were always good. However, with every visit, there was a different doctor on call. Every day, I had to listen to a new lecture on the risks of post-dates deliveries and reiterate my desire to let my body initiate my birthing time. This repetition was the most stressful part of the wait. If it weren’t for the critical information on baby’s health I got at the hospital, I would have just locked myself in my room.

By the time the two week mark rolled around, it was a Sunday, and they don’t do inductions on the weekend. Come Monday (Day 15), still no sign of go-time, and I consider it a minor victory that I was able to stall by “agreeing” to come in to be induced two days later if nothing happened.

Was continuing this stressful, soul-sucking battle against medical induction on the premise of trusting my body surrendering? Or was surrender recognizing that societal circumstances and medical opinion just did not support this experiment in body wisdom and letting myself be induced?

I spent the next two weepy days begging my cervix to open and playing a lot of Scrabble with my husband, who had taken time off work to wait with (read: distract) me. At this point, the composure I had maintained throughout most of my pregnancy was not just crumbling but outright imploding. I was venturing into uncharted territory — I couldn’t find a single birth story from which to take comfort.

I began to question which course of action actually constituted surrender. Was continuing this stressful, soul-sucking battle against medical induction on the premise of trusting my body surrendering? Or was surrender recognizing that societal circumstances and medical opinion just did not support this experiment in body wisdom and letting myself be induced? I did not feel that I was unnecessarily risking my baby for some pie-in-the-sky ideal. If any of my daily measures of baby’s health had been off, I would have put the IV in myself. However, I was being crushed by the weight of the question of how far was I willing to take this charade.

On Wednesday (Day 17), after a sleepless night, we went in to the hospital feeling anxious and defeated. As we were waiting, my husband told me that he would not think any less of me if I gave in, but that he supports me either way. I could see, though, that he was also weary. I was beginning to think I should end this ordeal, but when the doctor on call displayed about as much bedside manner as a bulldog, I balked.

They called in the overseeing obstetrician to talk to me, ostensibly to convince me. However, he pretty much acknowledged I was in a gray zone that they almost never had to deal with, since most moms are happy to get things rolling by this point. He said that as long as the baby’s heart rate and movements, my fluid levels and blood pressure continued to be normal, we could probably take it day by day. I felt somewhat vindicated, but braced myself for more waiting.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait much longer — or so I thought. When the waves finally started rolling after I went to bed that night, I willingly welcomed each one, focusing on the self-hypnosis techniques I had been practicing. I was thrilled that the waiting was over, thinking I would probably meet my baby sometime later that day. Wrong. The next morning (Day 18), on the way to the hospital for the daily check in, the contractions petered out. For the rest of the day. The next night and day (Day 19)? Repeat.

By Saturday (Day 20), after three sleepless nights, the contractions finally started lasting through the day, but it still felt like they were just toying with me. I was exhausted and scared that this was going to compromise my ability to stay focused when things really picked up. At the hospital, the doctor on call recommended a morphine shot saying that if this was just pre-labour, it would suppress the contractions and help me sleep for a few hours. Though reluctant, I knew that I desperately needed some rest. I took the shot and went home to bed. The good news was that the contractions were legit and persisted. The bad news was that in addition to not being able to sleep, I was now unable to focus. This was most distressing.

When we called the doctor to report what was going on, she said to come back to the hospital. We packed our bags this time, hoping that we wouldn’t have to make another trip. What was the measurement of my “progress” after two days of contractions? ONE FREAKING CENTIMETER! At this point the doctor recommended Cervadil, a vaginal prostaglandin insert they normally use as the first stage of induction, to help speed up the dilation process. Suddenly, surrender took on a whole new meaning. The fact that my body had technically initiated birthing on its own combined with my sheer exhaustion allowed me to be at peace with accepting the drug. An hour later, things were in full swing and I spent the next twelve hours in and out of the shower in the birthing room, with my husband being everything I needed him to be.

How could my beloved, trusted body be sending me signals to push before it was ready? How could my body put me through three days of labour and not live up to its end of the proverbial bargain?

By early Sunday morning (Day 21), I was mercifully overwhelmed by the urge to push. FINALLY! But when the doctor checked me, a grave and troubled look came over her face. I was completely shocked to learn that I was only at four centimeters. Utter disbelief. How could my beloved, trusted body be sending me signals to push before it was ready? How could my body put me through three days of labour and not live up to its end of the proverbial bargain? What was going on?

As a nurse was teaching me a horse-type breath to counter the urge to push, I overheard someone whisper c-section. Between breaths, I asked if there is anything I can do to avoid one, and the answer was surprisingly welcome: “We could try an epidural.” Without at trace of regret, I nodded my head and submitted to the onslaught of instrumentation. Blood pressure cuff on one arm, IV on the other, needle in my back, fetal monitor on my belly. The whole shebang. The waves started coming faster, but feeling more distant as the epidural began to take effect. The nurse told me that I probably had several hours before the big event, so I sent my husband back to our room for a nap.

A mere hour-and-a-half later, I knew it was time. It took a bit of convincing to get the nurse to check me, but when she did she barked to an aid “Get the doctor, this baby is crowning!” I added, “And get my husband while you are at it!” The very power of the earth was coursing through me and nothing my body has ever done felt so completely liberating as pushing out my baby. Twenty minutes later, on Day 21, I joyously pushed out my healthy, beautiful boy. The wait was finally over.

What I have realized is that I was perhaps confusing the idea of trusting my body with the idea of surrender. Bodies are wondrous things, capable of so much, but they are not perfect.

Did I pass my test? Maybe, but it certainly wasn’t the last hurdle on the path to body wisdom. I am happy that I was able to protect my body’s right to initiate birthing on its own terms; yet the overall experience of childbirth and subsequent experience of chronic low milk supply actually brought on a whole other suite of issues related to trusting my body. Why did I get the urge to push when I was a mere four cm dilated? Why, despite excellent postpartum support and breastfeeding advice, was I unable to produce enough milk for six months? These are questions I still struggle with.

What I have realized is that I was perhaps confusing the idea of trusting my body with the idea of surrender. Bodies are wondrous things, capable of so much, but they are not perfect. Surrender in this case did not mean grasping blindly to the limitations of my body’s functions, but rather it was a matter of dropping my resistance to the larger context in which my body was operating.

Comments on Surrender to what? My three week wait to birth my son

  1. I can relate to this post so much. I did all the research and prep I could and went into the process trusting my body. Unfortunately my body and my baby had other ideas.

    My story ended in an emergency c-section (after 20 hrs labour and being 10cm for an hour) and although I don’t feel that a cesearean birth is bad, I do feel disappointed that my body couldn’t do what it was supposed to.

    • I can sympathize with your story as well. I also ended up with an emergency C-sec after a day and a half of induction attempts got me dilated to a whole fingertip :/ These things happen, I know, but I was disappointed as well that things didn’t go the way they were “supposed to” (and haven’t really since then either).

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. To this day, I still wonder what would have happened and if my story would have ended any differently had I the gumption to stand my ground and wait longer before surrendering to an induction. I gave birth (after 26 hours of induced pain-med-free labor) via cesarean to a two-weeks-late 10 lb 9 oz baby girl. I wanted so badly to give my body more time, but was convinced otherwise by my midwife.

    How big did your babe end up being (just curious!).

    Congrats on your birth, on standing your ground, and on getting through other hurdles that were thrown your way. There will always be questions, and will always be uncertainty. But as mothers, we try to do our very best for our littles… both despite AND as a result of what those around us do and say.

    • Yeah, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried that he would be huge ( I am only 5’2″), but I still wanted to believe that my body would handle it. In fact, he ended up weighing only 7lbs 8 oz, so I think he probably really needed those few extra weeks.

      I agree, as mothers we definitely have to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty.

      • I’m 5’2″, too (on a “good” day… lol!).

        Sounds like your little man just need some extra time to cook. Your instincts were fabulous, mama. Congrats, again. 🙂

  3. I also felt the urge to push well before I was fully dilated — and I didn’t resist. For that reason (and the fact that the baby was presenting face-first), I pushed for 11 hours. Ask me about my pelvic floor!

    I talked to my midwives about it later, and they said that it’s pretty common for women (especially first-time moms) to feel the urge to push before the cervix is fully dilated. Why? I have no idea. But you’re not alone in your experience!

    • OMG, you poor woman. I certainly knew it happens, but I kept hearing about it happening when people are like 8 or 9 cm dilated, NOT 4! I guess anything is possible on the wild ride to giving birth!

    • I read a really great article a month or two ago about why bodies say “PUSH” when we’re not fully dialated yet; it’s to help the baby get into the best position for delivery! It’s not to push the baby out, not yet, but it can help move a poorly positioned baby into a better position. I wanted to push too at 5 or 6 cm when I was in the tub but, like we all were, was told not too and got an epidural.

  4. This is very similar to my own birth story, only I was two weeks post due date and it all happened in about 9 hours rather than several days, as I went in for the induction right at that time. XD But, I got the epidural at 8 when I felt like pushing and my body wasn’t actually open enough, then a c-section because he decided to go back up instead of dilating me more.

    My son, though, also took those extra two weeks to pack on some weight and grow an extra large head that my small frame just could not handle.

    I am now a strong believer in Cervadil, I’ll tell you that. Sometimes that really is all you need!

    • Me too! Every time it comes up people look at me like I’m insane: “no, no, your mother must have told you the wrong thing,” “no way, they must have calculated the wrong date,” or – my favorite – “that’s not physically possible.” It happens! Here I am!

    • I know it is unbelievable. We don’t have them in my area either unless I wanted to drive 2 hours to get to the nearest city. (I know women who have done it!) I did so much midwife hunting with no outcome, then finally asked an Amish friend which led me to my beloved midwife. I have since learned that there is a large underground network of midwives. Sad that it is like that though.

    • It is appalling, isn’t it? At the time there was only one available in my city of 18,000, but she was not available to me because she takes vacation in the two month period surrounding my due date. Her position has since been cut.

      We are working very hard to lobby for the reinstatement of a midwifery program here, but the political climate is not super conducive. On the good side though, our local hospital Labor & Delivery Unit is apparently one of the best in the country, with among the lowest rates for c-sections and other interventions. So I tried to take some comfort in that. I wonder if I would have been able go as long elsewhere.

  5. This is a great post. I understand not knowing what the heck your body is doing. With my first child we had lots of trouble breastfeeding. I did not know if it was me or her, but it bothered me a lot. I felt inhuman sometimes because of it and felt also like I could not talk about it with people. Ugh, glad that time has passed. With my 2nd we were breastfeeding right away, go figure.

  6. Northern Canada? I wonder if you’re anywhere near me in Northern BC.

    My birth experience (never did go into labour on my own, and ended up with pre-eclampsia, a c-section, and very difficult recovery) and subsequent problems with breastfeeding left me feeling like my body had failed me. It took awhile to feel OK with that, but I just had to accept that even when you do everything right, sometimes you just have to accept some help. I was very glad to have great doctors, nurses, a doula and a very helpful husband to help me through it. It’s difficult to feel vulnerable, but that’s part of being human and accepting our limitations. I think that’s part of yoga practice too.

  7. I want to hug you! I was in labor for 32 hours without progression then had my natural birth dreams shattered by an epidural and the dilation drugs. It was a must have thing or I would have had a c-section. I still had to have the babe removed with forceps,but it was all worth it!

  8. Right there with you! I would have pushed my over due baby longer, but she was VBAC and huge, so I ended up with a second csection. Low milk production is hard, and you do what you can. It isn’t anything you’ve done wrong. I started a support group for it! 🙂 I am not producing at all anymore, and I am happy for what my 4 1/2 month old got! You are amazing!

  9. I pushed before I was 10 cm (at least I think, because we didn’t check my dilation). I remember doing little pushes and bearing downs during that last hour or two. It just helped with the pain. The pushing after he was crowing was a slightly different feeling and a much stronger pushing. I think that it is something that they don’t tell alot of moms.

    • I felt the urge to push at 5cm which apparently is quite common with a posterior positioned baby (as mine was). I was lucky in that I knew that going into my labour or otherwise I would have tired pushing!

  10. My girl was born 18 days late (at only 6lbs, 14ozs) after a Cervadil-then-Pitocin labor lasting ~3 days…she was delivered via C-section after her heart rate dropped after 3 hours of near-constant contractions.

    I, too, wonder whether I ever would have done it on my own. I don’t regret how she got here… I mean, she IS here after all… but all those what-if’s are hard to quiet.

    I was born 3 weeks late, myself. I wonder if some people just cook ’em longer? If I (can/wish to) have another child, I’d like to try to let my body do it herself as much as is safe.

  11. I currently have a looming induction date of tomorrow, pending a non stress test. Monday would be two weeks, but they are really pushing not to go that long. While the waiting is killing me, it is really the the not knowing what my body is doing that is the hardest part. Thanks for posting.

    • I wish you luck Stephanie! One thing someone told me while I was waiting was that no matter what happens, in the end you have a baby and a story. Both are beautiful offerings to the world…

  12. This was such a beautiful story. Beautifully written, and I couldn’t stop reading. Even tho it was different from my own experiences, it brought a little tear to my eye. Birth is so unpredictable, but your courage and trust in your body is beautiful.

  13. Hi Andrea (and other mamas)!
    I just wanted to say something about the pushing-before-complete question. My graduate research paper was about the urge to push, its relation to dilation, and whether it was armful to push before you are “complete”. I won’t bore you with the whole paper, but in summary:
    1. The urge to push has more to do with station of the baby (how low it is in your body, called -1, +1, etc) than dilation. Your body doesn’t know (or care) what number dilation you are. All that originated with twilight sleep medication when women were so drugged that they weren’t participants in their births, so doctors developed a way to calculate dilation to know what stage of labor they were at.
    2. It’s 100% normal to have an urge to push before you’re completely dilated.
    3. You can’t hurt your cervix by pushing before it is out of the way.

    So, your body is normal and was doing the right thing! As evidenced by the fact that an hour and a half later you were “complete” and your baby was crowning. 🙂 Birth attendants just haven’t caught up to that yet.

    By the way, this is true of doctors AND midwives. My research showed that even homebirth midwives (of which I am one) who believe so strongly in women listening to their bodies are reluctant to “let” people push if they aren’t fully dilated.

    • I must be the exception to that rule…I had the urge to push at 5cm dilated but even when I got to 10cm the baby was still 4/5th above brim. The baby refusing to descend was one (of many) reasons I ended up with a csection.

  14. My body did not make milk. With any of my three children. Probably the hardest thing about it was enduring the scathing looks of my breastfeeding peer group while their babies happily sucked away at the breast. I felt like an outcast and I got really tired of explaining what I went through to try to get my body to lactate.

    I really love this post. As idealistic women, we have to understand that, even with the best education and support, sometimes things don’t go as we want.


    • Aimee, I am so sad that you were treated that way for something you had no control over. The really messsed up thing about that kind of judgement is, a)those women probably didn’t even (politely with genuine curiosity) ask you why you were not breastfeeding (not that it’s any of their business, and b) would they have treated you that way if you had adopted a baby? Probably not. The bias is ridiculous.

  15. My daughter was born 3 weeks late too. That was 20 years ago, when I was a scared teenager strapped to a baby monitor and not allowed to move. (Despite there being no other problems with the pregnancy.) My daughter was 9 pounds 10 ounces, born vaginally with no epidural and minimal drugs after 24 hours of nauseating induced labor. I sometimes look back and lament that I had such a horrible and unempowering experience, but I am happy that all turned out well in the end. And I’m really happy that education had progressed so that women today are offered more support, freedom and options.

  16. Fantastic post and beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
    I’m not yet a mother and while, I can imagine it would be really frustrating to not have things go as you hoped, your body still made a person…and that’s really amazing.

  17. Oh, wow, I really loved this post. Very well-written.

    I find it funny, and I don’t mean this to be insulting or disagreeable, that people trust their bodies at all. Maybe this is because mine is just so messed up, but I would never expect it to contain any “wisdom” that I can rely on. Cervix isn’t dilated? Well, there could be a million reasons for that, but it really has nothing to do with your body’s wisdom. I know that yogis talk a great deal about these kinds of things, but in my understanding, bodies are merely vessels that work the way they can to the best of their capacity – sometimes that capacity isn’t all we had hoped for. Our bodies are incredibly machines, and we can push them pretty hard, but we can’t expect every part to behave the way we imagine they should. We can’t WILL our individual parts and cells to necessarily cooperate when the time comes for something extraordinary, like birth, to take place.

    I am sorry you didn’t get to have the kind of birth that you wanted, but I am glad they didn’t give you a crazy vaginal c-section or something! Congrats on the bouncing baby boy!

  18. This sounds remarkably like my son’s birth. I was 9 days overdue, I’d been having contractions off and on for almost 2 weeks straight. I also was induced using Cervadil, or as we called it, Mr. Cardboard. That was left in for 12 hours, then I was given an epidural the next day. During one of my cervical checks, the nurse accidentally broke my water.

    The contractions became stronger, but I didn’t really feel them until about 1:15 the next morning. I had one giant monster contraction, and luckily the nurse came in right after it. I told her she needed to up my dose of medication, which she did, then she checked me again. Apparently that one contraction took me all the way to up to 10cm, and the baby was already making his way down on his own. She called the doctor, my husband called my mom and sister, and after 90 minutes of pushing I had my boy.

    He was 7lbs 11oz, with some extra skin on him because he was late. We just had his 2 month check-up today, and he’s up to 12lbs 6.5oz. His birth didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but he was and still is healthy, so I have no regrets.

  19. Reading this post in June 2016 as I want for my first child who was due Memorial Day, has helped me so much to understand the questions I’ve been seeking answers to. I keep asking if it’s so natural, then why hasn’t baby come yet and struggling to understand why babies are late and why some women never go into labor naturally. I’ve been stressing that it’s supposed to be “natural”, but why isn’t it happening. Reading that our bodies aren’t perfect helps put me in perspective and accept that as truth even if I already knew it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  20. You know I have never understood the urge to push thing. Fortunately my labours were fairly short and straightforward but here’s a short outline of my 4 pregnancies and deliveries. 1st: Exam on due date showed 3to4 centimeters dialated, mucus plug came out and doc happily proclaimed my cervix was ripe and ready and wouldn’t be surprised if I was back and in labour later that evening. 12 days later and labour was induced by a knick in my bulging amniotic sac and my daughter was born 4 hours later 8lbs8oz. 2nd: Week before due reveals 4cm dilation, doc says I’ll be seeing you soon. I rolled my eyes, remembering the docs prediction at my last pregnancy. 9 days after my due date, another manual rupturing of membranes, my son is born an hour later as I am screaming at nurse to check me as his head is passing through my vagina (she’s rolling her eyes like no one can go from 4 to 10cm in 1 hour, boy was she shocked, lifting the sheet, seeing my son’s head there). There was no urge to push, just the opposite as my body was automatically expelling my son, I was trying to hold him in until someone could catch him. 9lbs7oz. 3rd baby: Due date, again 4cm. Doc is smart enough this time to keep his mouth shut about how ripe my cervix is a Labour is imminent. 5 days later I am pleasantly surprised to wake up an 5am in labour. Yay. All by myself! Contractions are consistent and strong, but tolerable. I putter around the house until 9am before going to the hospital. After admittance, I am informed I am 7cm. Yay! At noon, I am told I can push. My son is born at 12:45pm, 8lbs15oz. Although this is my longest labour thus far (almost 8 hours) it’s the one I remember most fondly. I guess it kinda felt like it was on my own terms. No induction, go to the hospital when I felt like it etc. But I never had an urge to push. Just did when I was told. Last baby (4th). About a week before my due date, I am doing laundry, and as squat to take items from the dryer, I feel like a pull, and lowering, like my baby’s head is right THERE, but not out of my body, it was the weirdest feeling ever. No contractions, no pain, just pressure. Weird as hell. It actually terrified me, I yell for my significant other and ask him to check me out (for what? I,don’t even know, but I was panicky). He does, perplexed, and says everything looks normal, at least externally. I walk around, feeling oddly bull legged, but otherwise fine. This goes on for a few more days, no contractions, just downward pressure. As I am shopping with my mom, I feel more pression. My mom promptly takes me to the hospital to be checked. Nurses perplexed, ask me if I was sure I wasn’t having contractions or pain. No no, I tell them. Just this weird pressure. The contraction monitor validates me. They are surprised as they explain that the pressure is my babys head which they can feel as I am 7cm dialated! I am not as shocked as they are, based on my history of early dilation and overdue babies. Unsure of what to do, as I am not contracting and not overdue, they ask me what I want. I told them I would go home and wait for the action to start and come back when I felt ready. The next day is my birthday and my spouse takes me out for lunch. I am grumpy, feeling bigger than any of my other pregnancies (and I was always big in pregnancy, 50lb weight gain, belly of immense proportions). But this day I feel huge! And I feel self conscious because I feel like every one is looking at me because I am walking funny. Hubby tells me it’s all in my head, and I don’t look any different from any other pregnant woman. Two days later, 8pm, one day before my due date, I start contracting. Like clockwork! Because of always being overdue, I am shocked at the mere fact of being in time. I sit in the tub for awhile, then knowing that I am at 7cm I go to the hospital out of fear of accidently having an unattended home birth (Im not against home births, it just wasn’t something I planned for). At the hospital, from 9 to midnight, I am having regular but weak contractions. When checked at midnight, I am disappointed to learn I haven’t progressed much. Irritated, I demand that the nurses break my waters and I would have a baby within the hour. They tsk tsk me, and tell me that’s not the natural progression of things. I ask to see my doctor. I explain to him that to get things going he needs to break my water (now, understandably, a lot of women in labour have no use for doctors, but I have known my doc since I was 16 and he tended to all my pregnancies and we get along famously). Based on my history, he agrees to my wishes. Triumphantly (and perhaps a little smugly to the nurses which isn’t nice because they were awesome) my 3rd son is born 45 minutes later on his due date 9lbs 8oz! Now you would think with all the pressure I would have had the urge to push, but nope. And that’s why I began this long (sorry I didn’t mean it to be so long, whoever had the patience to read all the way through) but I never had urges to push, even walking around for days at 7cms with his head right there! Anyway thanks for reading, even if I rambled on and peace be with the new moms and soon to be moms out there.

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