The longest weeks of my life were the ones right before my due dates. I was convinced with every pregnancy there was no way I'd go full term. I'd contract away for weeks in advance. I predicted undoubtedly 30-40 pound giants. So really, under those circumstances, what woman could go the full 40 weeks? Apparently, I could and they all turned out to be reasonably sized babies.
Even though I went overdue with a couple, week 39 to 40 felt longer than those after my due dates. By the time I crawled past my due date, I'd switched over to magical thinking. I would be pregnant forever. I knew it had never happened before but maybe I was the first? I'd be an old woman with a giant belly and never have the baby. I'd be in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I gave up shaving my legs (as I did religiously in week 39) in case "this is the day" and let the pre-labor manicure (done in week 38) chip away. Being that pregnant, enormous, exhausted, uncomfortable and still not in labor really messes with a woman’s head.
How about women who have preterm contractions? They can spend weeks thinking the baby’s coming any minute. They might have to hang out on bed rest, on medication or in the hospital doing whatever it takes to cook that baby as long as possible. Nobody wants a premature delivery. Actually, I’ve had a couple patients who wanted inductions at 30 weeks but they had other crazy issues. Once the pre-termers meet the magic gestational age (around 36 weeks), all bets are off and most doctors let them out of bed and stop the medication. If the baby’s going to make an early appearance, so be it.
These poor women are really entitled to magical thinking. After weeks of hoping they’ll stay pregnant a little longer, it’s as if their due date was scooted up to 36 weeks instead of 40. If labor doesn’t start early after all, those last weeks as they go full term (and beyond) take years. It’s pretty common for our pre-term patients to see their 40-week due date fly by and leave them in the dust.
Due dates aren’t expiration dates. They’re crazy-making approximations. If you know exactly when you got pregnant (oh, say, right after the inauguration or on New Year’s Eve?) and exactly when your last period was, chances of getting really close are pretty good. If your periods are less than clockwork and you don’t have the conception date solidly programmed in your hard drive, your chances are less absolute.
My advice for the last weeks of pregnancy is: stay busy. Go to the movies, take long walks, clean the house, work in the garden, keep working, throw a party, volunteer, read a good book, go to the museum or do whatever it takes to keep your brain too busy to play mind games.
I’ve had women write and say, I’m 38 weeks and my doctor wants to induce because I’m close to my due date. I hate to sound heartless, knowing how uncomfortable they are but without a clear medical reason they’re still not due. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women say, “My doctor won’t let me go past my due date.” It’s not a privilege, Ladies. It’s a medical intervention and you get to make the call. If there’s a solid medical reason to scoot your delivery up—by all means do so; that’s what inductions are for. If not, don’t.
Yours might be the baby that needs a little more time in the oven or the cervix that’s just not ready yet. Let your body work its own magic even if you’re heading into delusion-land like I was. Don’t expect a call from the Ripley’s people.
You’re rounding the corner and getting ready to slide into home. But the game’s still on and there might be extra innings. Try to have fun with it. OK, try to make the best of it.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.