I gave birth to our son when I was 42 weeks and 5 days pregnant. That's right, 19 days past his estimated due date. Almost 43 weeks pregnant.
Try searching for #43weekspregnant... you won't find much. So I thought I'd share a little bit about my experience, in case there are any other very very pregnant mamas out there desperately searching the internet for proof that they aren't the most pregnant human ever to walk the earth.
I knew throughout my pregnancy that we made the right choice in care providers, because I felt more confident, calm and empowered than I ever thought possible. I'm a worrier and overthinker, but I felt relaxed and at peace as a pregnant woman, mainly because our midwife helped me feel that way. Instead of assuming the worst, we trusted pregnancy and the birth process. We had a feeling I would give birth after my due date. First, there are the statistics: only 30% of women give birth before their due dates, 5% give birth on their due date and the whopping 65% of women give birth after their due date. Also, I just had a feeling. I kept thinking that I didn't feel pregnant enough, uncomfortable enough, physically ready enough. So when my due date passed, I was okay with that. Well, up until a point...
In the weeks after my due date I had three biophysical profile exams, which are a combination of an ultrasound and a non-stress test. It measures the baby's heart rate, muscle tone, movement, breathing and the amount of amniotic fluid. I had more ultrasounds in the final three weeks of pregnancy than I did in the first 40 weeks! I met with my midwife several times each week for her to feel my belly, take my vitals and listen to the baby's heartbeat. Each visit, and each biophysical profile, confirmed that my baby and I were perfectly healthy. He just wasn't quite ready to be born. We weren't being stubborn or irresponsible, we were being rational and science-driven. Nonetheless my midwife said that if I had any strange instinct or gut feeling that, despite the great test results, something was wrong then we should factor that into our course of action. Mama instinct is real, and we held space for that as we monitored my baby.
I was okay with my due date passing, really. I even handled getting to 41 weeks pretty well, because I was sure that I would have the baby within the next week. "Just a matter of days," I told myself. Then 42 weeks hit. The number that sparks ominous warnings, concern from strangers and very few anecdotes from other women who reached 42 weeks because the conventional OB community doesn't really like women to gestate for that long. I searched and searched for examples of women who gave birth past 42 weeks without intervention. There isn't much out there. Our society is not comfortable with the idea that pregnancy and birth have somewhat unpredictable timelines. Sure, labor starts before 42 weeks for the majority of women. But I wonder how many women would give birth after 42 weeks if we gave them a chance? If after careful monitoring, their pregnancies were still deemed healthy and there was no medical reason to induce?
At 42 weeks, doubt started to get the best of me. We met with our midwife on Saturday. She shared statistics, standards of care and options. We were still comfortable with what our monitoring tests indicated. On Tuesday, I had her try to sweep my membranes to get things started. I imagine for some women this falls on the "uncomfortable" side of the spectrum but for me and my not-at-all-ready-for-birth cervix, it fell on the "toe curling pain" side. I broke down in tears, partly because I was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pain of labor and partly because I was so damn pregnant. For the record, labor hurts but in a much different way than having your cervix tugged around when it's not ready, just as my midwife had assured me :) After a very caring and helpful pep talk, I still left her office in tears and immediately bought and ate two doughnuts, went home and watched old episodes of 30 Rock while laying on the couch sniffling and generally feeling sorry for myself. Then I went to my mom's for lunch and had a glass of wine.
So many friends and family members checked in on us, which was lovely because it's nice to know we are so loved, but also added to the pressure. (But if you are reading this and know someone who is super present, still check in with them and offer some words of encouragement. It's better than deserting them, even if it annoys them. Just don't say anything stupid :) I felt like everyone was wondering why we hadn't chosen to be induced yet, wondering why we were being so stubborn and selfish. That they thought we were putting our baby at risk, as though our baby's health somehow wasn't our top priority. I imagined them doing their own internet research and coming up with the worst case examples. That they were wondering what the hell I was doing. I felt embarrassed and guilty. I had a hard time trusting myself. I doubted that labor would ever start and questioned whether my body was defective. I was done trying to enjoy the last moments of being child-free. I wanted to be child-full. I needed that baby to come out. We were ready.
On Thursday, we went to our last biophysical profile exam. As always, the baby was just fine. On my way home, I stopped for two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream, because what else was there to do? That afternoon my midwife called and I told her that maaaaaaybe I was having contractions. I'd been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks, maybe months, and what I was feeling that afternoon was so subtle that I wasn't sure they were anything new. She said, "This is good, Christine. You're going to have your baby soon." We had read somewhere that baking cookies is a good labor project because it keeps you busy and takes your mind off of early labor, so Chris texted me from work and told me to start baking. I walked into our kitchen, started crying and laughing at the same time because I finally felt like I might get to meet this baby boy soon after all. And I made cookies. Really delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Later that night, the contractions grew more obvious.
The next day at 12:31pm, our beautiful healthy son was born at home with no complications.
Answers to frequently asked questions
Yes, the estimated due date was calculated correctly. In fact, if you just used one of those online calculators they come up with an even earlier July 6 as the due date but my midwife added on a few days because my cycles tended to be longer. So July 10 it was, and that is what we based the 42 weeks and 5 days count on. If you dare to trust the internet (hint: don't), I was somewhere around 43 + 2.
Yes, my midwife "let me go that long". But she didn't make her recommendations without looking carefully at my specific situation and closely monitoring my baby's well-being. Statistics about scary outcomes for post-term babies lump everyone in together: women with complicated pregnancies, special risk factors and those whose monitoring tests revealed concerns. Statistics can be helpful, but it's more helpful to consider the specific case at hand. My tests and monitoring visits were all positive. My pregnancy had been complication-free. I was low-risk. I made a series of informed fact-based decisions to trust the birth process and my body.
Yes, we could have scheduled an elective induction. We chose not to, as it was not medically necessary. We made the personal decision that the benefit of getting to meet our baby sooner did not outweigh the risks of induction if my body wasn't ready.
No, I don't believe that spicy food, long walks, sex, bumpy car rides or wishful thinking can start labor. Maybe, just maybe, these things can speed up the process once it's in place? But if all you need to do to start labor is to want labor to start, well, I wouldn't have stayed pregnant so long! I think in most cases, labor begins when it is supposed to. If you happened to have Indian food the night before labor starts, let's just call it a delicious coincidence.
No, I didn't birth a 20 pound monster. He was born a perfectly average 7 pounds and 5 ounces. I'll share the story of his birth soon.
That, my friends, is the low-down on being 43 weeks pregnant. Did I mention it was July? A very hot July? I can just picture myself trying to get him on the bus and saying, "Clark, you're always late! You were late being born and now you're going to be late to school!" and eventually he begs me to stop throwing that in his face all the time. If you are reading this and are 43 weeks pregnant and you trust your care provider and are being closely monitored for signs of risk and you listen to your instincts, have hope. You'll get to meet your baby soon.
Updated to add, for those inquiring-- our midwife was Kelly at Sage-Femme Midwifery. The best.