7 Ways to tell if you are in labor.

Deciphering your contractions & other signs of labor.

Most pregnant women who come to the hospital think they are in labor, but only about half of them are. Here are the top seven ways to deterimine if it’s really the big day!

The 5/1 rule.

You have a contraction every 5 minutes or less for at least one hour straight. Contractions will usually intensify and can be felt in your back and/or your lower abdomen. Most women describe the pain at first to be like a strong menstrual cramp. These pains will come and go and you will feel your skin over the baby become tighter with the contraction.

Nursing Tip: If you take your fingertip and touch the tip of your nose, that is what a “mild” contraction feels like from the outside. Your chin – “moderate” and your forehead – “strong”.

Your back HURTS.

You may not feel the “cramping” type contractions as above, you may just have a low back ache that won’t let up. Try a good hot bath or shower, have your honey rub your hips and lower back for you, or put some heat where it hurts. When none of this really helps and the feeling starts to increase in intensity, it might be time to see if you are in labor.

Nursing tip: False labor can look just like labor…except your cervix is not dilating. If you think you might be dehydrated, consider drinking 1-2 liters of water and putting your feet up first (especially if you have spent the day walking the malls or hanging out on the beach). Your body can act like it is going into labor but your symptoms will improve with a little rest and re-hydration.

Photo by Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash

Your water broke.

I tell my patients that this can be an overly dramatic experience like in the movie Fools Rush In (Selma Hayek & Matthew Perry; circa 1997). Pregnant Selma shouts, “I think my water just broke!” followed by a high pitched scream and ambulance siren as a baby girl is delivered in the middle of the road (highly unlikely, especially if it is your first baby).

OR

More likely you will see a little trickle of liquid that keeps running down your legs, sometimes after experiencing a strange “pop”-like sensation (but not always). Most ladies are highly embarrassed to be seen, thinking they have simply lost all control over their bladders at this stage of pregnancy (this is sometimes the case, and nothing to be embarassed about).

If you notice any fluid leaking from your nether-parts…call your midwife/OB/nurse practitioner for advice. More than likely you will need to come to the hospital or birth center for evaluation even if you do not feel the above mentioned contractions.

Your discharge changes.

Typically in pregnancy you experience various degrees of discharge, appearing as whitish or yellowish that is nothing more than an irritant. But many times when labor begins, that discharge takes on a new consistency. It becomes more mucous-like and can take on a tinge of pink or red. Be on the look-out for changes in your vaginal discharge, it could mean your body is readying itself for the little one to come!

Nursing Tip: While there is much ado about the “mucus plug”, this usually means less about going into labor than you may think. There does in fact exist a mucus barrier that you will see when your cervix starts to dilate and it “falls out”. HOWEVER…this can happen hours, days or even weeks before labor starts. Call your provider first before heading into the hospital!

You notice some bleeding.

While you are told throughout your pregnancy bleeding is a bad thing, when labor begins slight bleeding or spotting can be a great sign! It means whatever braxton-hicks contractions you’ve been having is starting to actually change your cervix (this is the opening from your vagina to your uterus and needs to change from completely closed to about the size of a full-sized bagel)!

Bleeding can also be a normal result after intercourse, (totally normal and okay!), or after your cervix has been “checked” by your doctor or midwife. It may not mean you are in labor but could still be the beginning of things.

NOTE: Notify your provider or go to the ER right away if you are saturating a pad with blood at any time in pregnancy. This could be indicative of an emergency and the sooner you are evaluated the better.

Tummy trouble.

Many times within a day of labor starting, women will go from pretty constipated (all those vitamins!) to suddenly diarrhea-like. It’s almost like your body knows a baby will be coming out from “down below” and it is emptying itself out to make more room!

There is also a tendency to have a big change in appetite. This can swing from a sudden desire to hit all the fast-food places in town, to barely being able to keep down some crackers and ginger-ale. Whatever the case, this could be your body’s way of telling you to get ready!

Something is just different.

While not an actual sign of labor, many women have a sense that something is up. Usually you are nesting like crazy, without a really good reason why. Suddenly you can’t get the toilets clean enough, you are taking curtains down from the high ceilings to steam clean (NOT advisable…) and you have an urgent need to rearrange the family room. This burst of energy is mysteriously common among women just before labor starts.

Or you may just have a “feeling”. This is different than the desperate need to be rid of the extra weight off your bladder; that huge mound you carry which makes sleep (or breathing even) impossible. This is an intuition of sorts that is as unexplainable as the nesting phenomenon, but nonetheless very real. Somehow your psyche just knows this baby is on the way.

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

The crystal ball.

While these are all very typical signs of labor, every body is different…just like every baby is different. Not a single person follows all the rules of pregnancy and delivery, making it nearly impossible to say when your labor has started or when you might deliver your sweet little one. (I like to tell my patients somebody broke the crystal ball years ago!)

Stay in-tune with your body and keep the lines of communication open with your delivering provider. They will help you decipher when it is finally time to bring that baby bag to the hospital and start your journey to delivery!

Family Over Fame: Why I’m on Ellen’s Side

Waiting in line at the grocery store, as mundane and ordinary as that is, I had an epiphany. Sometimes it’s the more ordinary moments which bring to light the most profound thoughts.

The headline was hard to miss. Ellen DeGeneres Chooses Family Over Fame.Good for her, I thought. And then…what does that even mean? Why do I care? It’s not like that was a choice I would need to make in this lifetime.

Then it hit me. I already had.

My name might as well have been in her place, screaming to the world my professinal decisions for the sake of my own family (Maybe us ordinary folk aren’t so different from those superstars as we are made to believe?).

Unlike Ellen, our every move is not documented, photographed and scrutinized for the world to see (you put it that way, why would you choose fame???). But our choices are foundationally the same. How we balance our home lives with our careers, what priority we place making money over our relationships, influences the trajectory of our lives and our happiness within it.

I had been happily going about my career as a labor nurse, taking advantage of the twelve weeks of maternity leave. It was October; the sun was shining, the leaves were changing, and I was grateful beyond belief to have all that I needed to care for my family. I had no plans to climb any professional ladders. I was going to go back to work (albeit reluctantly) to continue on.

Within days of returning, I was faced with an enormous professional decision. My director had stepped down, and I was from day one of my return been courted and elevated to a new level. I was the obvious choice to lead our unit, they said. My experience, personality, professionalism and ability to form lasting relationships was exactly what was needed to repair our broken state. It was up to me to pick up the pieces, holding together the people I had come to love and admire over the previous years.

Wow. I had no idea I had so much power. How humbling it is to be told you posess the gifts that will repair old wounds.

How convincing.

So I did it. To this day I’m not sure if I so much agreed or was guided into it by those above me. The stroking of the ego and the flash of money made it difficult to refuse. That would certainly take care of my family, which really was my top priority. There was no harm in trying right? I mean, what was the worst that could happen?

ENTER STAGE RIGHT: The reality of Corporate America.

WOAH.

It was a whilwind. People trapped in a state of ego. High heels, fancy cars, bigger houses, name brand clothes. Every morning the leaders of the hospital grouped together for a “safety huddle”, reporting safety concerns for their prospective units. This gathering left me with such anxiety and distaste. Yes on the surface it was about safety, but the undercurrent of this gathering was about showing off and showing up one another.

And then there was the expectations. I had told my supervisior in the beginning, I had one very defined boundary. My time with my family was important…no it was imperitive. Conditional even. I had a newborn and two other children at home. I would be there. I would be present for my children. For choir concerts and kindergarten presentations, to put my baby to sleep at night and take the kids to school every morning. I would be there.

Sure. No problem. They said.

Except it was a problem. For months I had to explain myself. Why I wasn’t in the office at 7:00 am like everyone else, why I couldn’t stay until 8:00 pm every night. I did my best to balance. I knew it was important to be present for both shifts, which required some early mornings and late nights. What I couldn’t get accross was why I wouldn’t put in 15 hour days. And when I did, why I wanted to work a 4 hour day later in the week. You have to be here, they said.

So…I did everything I could to be there. Compromising my boundary without even knowing I was doing it. Being pulled into the hypnosis of a rat race I never really signed up for. Money being the proffered pocketwatch pendulum, swinging back and forth, ever convincing of my need to continue. To give in a little more. To make this one other sacrifice.

My body began to show signs of my suffering. I was exausted beyond any measure I had been before. My phone had been possessed by everything work related. I got multiple texts throughout the day AND night. From the staff, from my supervisor, from the automated system updating us to the hospital census. There was no break. Saturday and Sunday rolled into the work week. Even when I was home I was not home. Not present. Not emotionally or mentally there. Even with my physical boundaries I discovered it didn’t matter. The constant e-mails and demands of this job kept me away from my family for an entire year.

It took a mistake for me to see the truth. I sent a text to my friend, my angel really, for she listened to my struggle on a daily basis. Only when I pressed send did I realize the receiver of my message, my complaint about my boss’s negativity and my struggle to remain present and positive, was in fact…my boss. My heart sank to my feet as I realized my folly, sure to get me fired.

Being a Friday event, I left work almost immediately, wanting to escape persecution for what I had done. I had the weekend to think about it all before facing her Monday morning. I spent hours and many tears agonizing over what to do, realizing in the end it was a very simple decision.

Actually, it was suddenly clear the universe had played its hand in making this decision for me.

Sitting accross from her that day, watching the anger eminating from her body, I told her the truth. What I said was not wrong, and how I managed my days was the best I could do. I stood firm in my ground that I would not sacrifice my precious time with my family. She stood firm in her ground that this factor was the expectation of this job. We could not reconcile our personal beliefs with what was necessary for me to continue.

I was released. I was relieved. And best of all, I could go back to being me. I returned to where I started, taking care of patients and shoulder to shoulder with my best friends. With those like me, committed to choosing family over fame. Commited to choosing to honor themselves over what money could bring.

That time among those seeking more, those motivated to acheive in this corporate world, was a time of great struggle and great learning for me. There are those who are made for the fame of it all, who are able to balance and be who they really are in such a cutthroat environment. I applaud them. I am grateful to have leaders willing to put it all on the line and am in awe of those who are able to be themselves and be present. It is a rare bird indeed who can keep their wits about them, not losing their true Selves when their selves are striving for attention and status.

I, for one, am grateful I was able to experience and bear witness to my own ego in the midst of so much evidence of its power. It brought me back to myself, validating my true pupose in this life. My true power, despite a smaller paycheck.

I am a nurse. I am a writer. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am present.

I am.

Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul is put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come. -Ellen DeGeneres

Well said Ms. DeGeneres. And well done.

Confounded by Co-Sleeping? What No One Wants to Say.

Flashback to 2008. The baby’s crib is perfect in the gender neutral hues of green and yellow. It had a bumper which of course was only for cute. The little one would never sleep in a crib with the bumper. Everyone knew that was not safe. My husband and I had moved to the downstairs bedroom from the much larger master upstairs. We were going to be close enough to the baby to hear any cries for help, yet separate enough to maintain our private space. That way we could all get the sleep we needed and the baby would be trained to sleep properly. Self-soothing was the way to go. I was even willing to let the little one “cry it out” like the books said. It was worth it. Soon we would all be harmonious in our slumber. Peaceful. In our seperate beds. As it should be.

In the Beginning

The first little guy arrives, all squeals and squalor. He is cute as a button and breast feeding like a champ. I’m exhausted. But I’m still the happy kind of exhausted where I will gladly drag myself out of bed to pick him up from the pack-n-play set up in our smaller version of a master bedroom. We had painted the “baby’s room” next door a cheerful yellow and the crib had the perfectly fitted sheets so he wouldn’t inadvertently tangle himself when he started sleeping there. Oh we were going to use it. We had even tried it for a couple of naptimes but right now the baby was just too little to sleep alone. Soon enough he would be sleeping longer and we could go to back to “plan A”. You know. Harmonious slumber. Peace. That was coming any day now.

But right now I was squeezing my heavy, leaking, bleeding body between the temporary crib and the bed…two, three, wait…what time is it??? Ok maybe seven times since we went to bed. No matter. It’s only been a few weeks. Soon I wouldn’t need to do this and he would be sleeping next door. In his crib. But for right now I would just lay down. Didn’t the lactation consultant say something about side lying? That sounded good. I would stay awake…I promise. He could just nurse and I would put him back to bed. Right after. I promise.

Enter: A ton of bricks. Directly on my head.

I awaken several hours later mortified. My husband and I had slept uninterrupted, and with my sweet, precious tiny baby right smack in between us. OMG. It was the horror of all horrors. I had allowed for my baby to co-sleep. IN MY BED. I was officially the worst mother in the world and I should be put to death. I didn’t deserve this child. I was destined to roll over him in my sleep, or my husband would, and it would all be over. The universe would take my precious baby away from me and I would be devastated and all alone.

Ok. So I needed to calm down. It would NEVER happen again. I mean, he was ok. No harm no foul. And I was more rested now. Obviously I was delerious when I fell asleep. Now I knew better. Everything was for his safety and I would never do THAT again.

Except that it did happen again.

So here’s the thing. I had heard all the horror stories. I was a nurse, and I sent my patients home with the very good and evidence-based education that they needed to keep the baby in the same room but in seperate beds. The theory behind this practice was to minimize the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) while also avoiding the increased risk of suffocation that placing a newborn in bed with you afforded. There was also the possibility that babies could roll off the bed (it happened to me) causing serious injury or death (fortunuately did NOT happen to me). There were co-sleeping cribs especially designed to allow direct access to the baby while remaining in your own bed. There was mountains of literature, expert opinions, studies and surveys that all pointed the same way. Do NOT sleep with your baby in your bed.

And yet…I did. And I continued to do so despite all this expert advice and opinion. And not only did I continue this practice with my first born, but it carried over to my second and third kids. In fact my now two-year old rarely climbs into his crib at night. He still sleeps between mom and dad and honestly that is okay with me. It is okay with us both. But it is not always okay with every parent. And it certainly…and I can’t stress this enough…NOT recommended.

So here’s why I did it anyway.

So I tried. I really did. I kept setting deadlines. At two months. Then three. Okay six. But it never felt like the right thing to do. Eventually I gave up the fight and my husband and I moved back upstairs. We brought the crib with us but really, it was kind of for show. He hardly ever slept in his crib.

Determined not to let my toddler win.

By the time he was two I was on a mission. He may be in our marital room but he was GOING to sleep in his crib… come hell or high-water. I read books that taught me how to lay him down and stay next to him but ignore his cries for comfort. You had to sit there and slowly work your way out of the room. First one foot. Then two. Then outside the door with it open. Finally you could close the door. This was supposed to transition my little guy to self-soothe, since I failed when he was a newborn to allow him the opportunity to learn. Now I was paying the price by spending ninety minutes a night slowly exiting his sleeping space (Wait…wasn’t it my sleeping space???). And that was if I was lucky. Most of the time I layed down in my own bed and without realizing it fell asleep with him next to me. Day number 53 a failure. Tomorrow was a new day.

Then I became pregnant with my second son. My husband started to get irritated with my exit the room strategy. He said I needed to take care of myself and just let him cry it out for goodness sake. A few rough nights was all it would take and we would finally have some peace. I thought I knew better, and I am stubborn by nature so I kept at it. Right up until the night I went into labor. Literally. I had held him and rocked him around the room for almost an hour, laid him down and then declared myself ready for bed. I laid my head on my fluffy cool pillow and…pop! My water broke.

Exactly 1 hour and 37 minutes later my second son was born. Thank you boy #1 for inducing my labor.

Accepting who we are…

As these things go, adding another child in the mix forced us all to change. I no longer had the time or patience to walk my now 28 month old around the room before bed. And you know what? He transitioned just fine. Now we had a bassinet for the baby, the crib on the other side of our bed and the two of us were alone at last (In the actual bed that is).

At least until the side-lying nursing method became a thing again. Sigh.

So again, I had to do what was best for myself and my kids. I found that I actually liked having my baby next to me. I felt safer that way and it worked for us. I knew that co-sleeping wasn’t the recomended way to habitat with your children, but so what? My husband grew up on a ranch in deep Mexico. They ALL shared a bed. All 12 of them.

It could always be worse.