A contraction is not vaguely similar to a menstrual cramp. A contraction is exactly like an outrageous, wildy intense, above and beyond period cramp. Like period cramps weren’t passingly annoying to have in the first place. Same location. Hurts through the back the same way. Brings on the same sense of who-knows-how-long-this-fist-will-clench-my-lower-guts. Except you know what this is. This cramp is the beginning of labor, a potentially long and grueling process that will end with a sleep-ending, cone-headed, pink and purple, dependent and delicious human infant. That alien inside will be exiting your body in ways that are never really conceivable.
But it’s not Baby Time yet. The first contractions are irregular and birth is not yet imminent. Maybe these contractions are just weeks-ahead-of-time warning signals. It’s just your prone-to-exageration uterus getting in shape and amping up for some future day. Certainly these intermittent monster cramps will not lead to a baby before midnight. You can still wince through the laundry, the dishes and do your last-mintue nesting. Every so often you can pace to the hospital bag or un-inflated birthing pool and ponder how far away you are from enacting those plans.
You felt a tiny trickle. Is that your water breaking? A tiny drop of blood. Is that the mucous plug? Pressure on my tailbone. Is that the baby leaping forth form my loins?
You don’t want to end up at the hospital or birthing center too early. You’d have to pace halls that are not your own and get prodded by well-meaning nurses who check everybody’s pulse every fifteen min. You don’t want to tell your midwife to hurry over twenty times before active labor so that she is so tired by the time it’s real that she’s slapping herself awake instead of the fresh alien.
Before Baby Time, there will be more contractions. For the love of everything try to get one more night of sleep. Attempt to get one last full night, even if it is occasionally interupted by the mild cramps that hint at becoming stronger, regular and faster. When you are well-rested, distract or calm yourself anyway you can. Walks to the grocery store, hot showers, sips of water, favorite movies. Download several contraction timer apps for your phone. Unless you are one of the lucky few who progresses to active labor relatively quickly, these contractions are going to creep up on you. And it’s not all that bad.
Despite being a boy, contractions turned me into a want-to-be priestess of Avalon. Labor is badass. Really badass. It’s not all pain and discomfort. It is excitement, freakish strength and zen master mind focus. Because the endless generations of women who have endured this are so well beyond badass, I had no problem begging the universe to let me commune with them. Their magical, tough-as-shit ranks were really helpful to picture whenever a wave of cramping hit like a truck. It feels pretty cool to ride a racing, thundering truck over the edge of a bridge, into a raging river and over the top of a racing waterfall and to still come out on top. There is no shame in bracing yourself, relaxing into a huge cramp and making some manly, audible whooshing breaths through and o-shaped mouth that really does help disipate the pain.
There is also no shame in going for a walk around the neighborhood and stopping every few minutes to hunker over and moan a little. Everybody will understand that, hey, there is one tough mo-fo working it out. If they don’t understand and they get close enough, you can punch them.
There is no shame in wailing to let Partner know that now is the time to push on your lower back with every ounce of strength possible. No shame in finding strange positions. Only congratulations to be had when even a short conversation must stop as the next wave approaches.
It is unbelievably radical to insist that no interventions be given to you until you are ready for them, and then good for you if you say yes to pain meds to get through the craziness that only you are in charge of. You’re the boss and you’ll get through in the rough and tumble manner that you always have, with a bundle of joy waiting to greet you.