I’m 40 weeks + 3 days pregnant and counting. I’m waiting on the border of my patience for my baby to be born. I have heard the phrase, “When the baby decides to come…" countless times each day for the past few weeks, and the wording has gotten under my skin.Babies don’t make decisions. How could they? They don’t know what the options are. They come blindly into the world, forced out of the womb by basic human biology.
But what constitutes that basic biophysiological function? What pushes a woman’s body into spontaneous labor? What do we actually mean when we say “the baby decides?”
I asked my doctor at a third trimester appointment, and she told me (disappointingly) that no one knows. I demanded to know why there wasn’t more research to find out. She said that there is research, billions of dollars worth, because pre-term labor accounts for a disproportionate amount of spending in our health care system. Everyone would like to know how to stop labor from happening. Certainly, what initiates labor is part of the question. But the best answer my doctor could rustle up was some combination of the baby colluding with the mother’s body to trigger labor.
With each subsequent appointment, the science of starting labor appeared more and more fuzzy. My doctor would check to see if I was dilated or effaced, starting around 36 weeks. Every time, she turned up with nothing. “But that doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “You could go into labor tomorrow. But you probably won’t.”
I brought up a friend whose doctor had told her she would be waiting for another week, and then went into labor that night. “I’ve been wrong like that before,” my doctor said. “But I’ll see you next week. Or maybe earlier.”
As I’ve gotten into full-term territory, it’s become clear that the indicators of labor indicate barely anything. I had prodromal (false) labor starting on my due date, and I continue to have frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions. No one knows what specific purpose they serve in getting the body ready for labor, but my doula assures me that they are signs that everything is headed the right direction. I lost the mucus plug and again, a good sign, but it could mean labor is a few days away - or one to two weeks. Who knows?!
As a result of this lack of knowledge and control over possibly the most important event in my life, I’ve turned to “natural” induction techniques, which other parents are quick to offer up. Science’s ruling position on this has been totally thrown off. I’ve turned eagerly to drinking raspberry leaf tea, calculating astrological charts for ideal birth dates, and acupuncture. I know that nothing is proven to work, even if a friend swears it put her into labor with her second. Out of all the natural induction techniques, acupuncture has been the most studied. But the study I read last night showed that the often-quoted successful results have not been replicated by the same research team that produced them.
Looking further into the research with Google Scholar, I found only one paper that attempted to answer my basic question, “What initiates labor?" - from 1983.
Science is obviously more focused on interventions for babies in danger than with my frustration of having to wait to deliver a healthy, full-term baby. And I know I’ve been very lucky to have a very healthy pregnancy, and that the “problem” of this gap of knowledge isn’t an actual problem for me. But - I want answers, gosh darn it! I’m tired of folky sayings and anecdotal evidence. And I’m way pregnant, so shouldn’t I get what I want?