Yesterday evening, as my husband and I were driving out of the city to attend a family event, I began feeling regular contractions. I have to note here, that they were NOT painful, and although this may seem odd to some, after some online reading it seems to be more common than I thought for women to experience non-painful, or even 'silent' contractions. Later, I'll comment on why I became more convinced that this was something I could experience also.
As we drove, I checked the clock on each contraction and found they were coming at 2 to 4 minute intervals. Again, they were not painful, but my uterus was certainly contracting - it felt hard on the outside, and internally felt like a cramped muscle that I was unable to relax before it finally faded after about 30 seconds or so. Occasionally, they were accompanied by a period-like cramping and 'stretching' feeling at what felt like my cervix. I had felt contractions similar to this before, almost always prompted by one of my labour inducing techniques and never continuing at regular intervals for more than about 15 minutes. As we got further away from the city (and the nearest hospital), we decided to continue to our destination since we would then be able to leave our daughter with family and be able to quickly return to the hospital if necessary. I had also read that false labour contractions are likely to fade away if you change what you are doing, or have a large glass of water. I decided that when we arrived at our destination, getting up from a sitting position and having a drink of water would help me determine if these contractions were going to continue, or go away. They remained unchanged - I continued to feel them at regular intervals of 2 to 4 minutes for another half hour. I suggested to Brian that we attempt a longer walk, and excused ourselves from the party for a few minutes to take a short walk around the block. About a minute into the walk, I experienced a contraction - this one even slightly stronger than the others I had experienced that evening.
Considering it was a Saturday evening, so no one had to worry about going to work the next morning, and we were in a location where we could quickly leave our daughter to go to the hospital, it seemed like a convenient time to go in and 'check' at the very least, to see what - if anything - was going on. Brian was also concerned about being 'caught with our pants up' too far away from the hospital, and was in a hurry to get back to the city, 'just in case'. So we left Clara with family and drove back the city. My contractions continued throughout this, some of which even getting more intense and almost painful. By the time we reached the hospital, it had been going on for an hour and a half. I know that for many women, this may not seem like a long time to be experiencing contractions, but I come from a line of women who had under 10 hour labours, some of which were even 1 or 2 hour labours, so I have always been aware that I should not assume to have a ton of time after I have determined that contractions may have begun.
When we got to the hospital, I started to feel as though the contractions were lessening and without the aid of a clock I couldn't tell if the intervals were still regular. When I explained what was going on to the Labour Assessment nurse, she said "Non painful contractions? Is that possible?". This made me feel a little bit silly, I'll confess, but I was sure after my reading that it wasn't as rare as some might think...
I was strapped to their monitoring equipment, and to make a long story short they determined that I was not in labour and eventually sent me home. Frustratingly, I also hadn't dilated any further which seemed surprising considering I thought I had figured out what 'dilating' felt like, and was certain I had felt it a few times over the past few days.
During their procedure, a resident doctor asked me to explain my last pregnancy to them. In a nutshell, I came into the hospital thinking my water 'may have' broken, because I was leaking sudden small trickles of liquid that didn't seem as controllable as urine typically is. It turned out to be true, and they determined the need to induce labour. After induction, I waited for 3 hours - feeling nothing throughout this time - until they broke my water 'completely'. I must have been at 6 or 7cm dilated by this time, and it wasn't until my water was fully broken that I felt anything at all. Last week, I came across a forum post where a women explained having not felt contractions until her water was broken at 7cm. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but in order to dilate, doesn't a woman have to experience contractions? If a woman can dilate up to 7cm without feeling anything, doesn't that indicate that she has experienced some degree of silent labour? This triggered for me, since my experience was the same. I must have dilated to about 7cm without feeling any contractions until they finally rushed things along by 'finishing' the breaking of my water.
Because of all of this, I became determined that just because my contractions were not painful, did not necessarily determine that I could not be in 'true' labour. In this case I was wrong, but I still feel as though this could again be my experience.
Coming back to the article my friend sent me - I read it over twice this morning - and it describes so well how insecure I feel about the entire process of labour, despite having supposedly experiencing it once before.
The article talks about what women are told to expect at the onset of early labour. I recall this from our prenatal classes from my first pregnancy, that we were instructed to try to stay at home until contractions were relatively evenly spaced at about 5 minutes apart or less. I have also known this to be not the best indicator for everyone, as many women in my family describe their labours as happening so quickly that by the time their contractions were 5 minutes apart, baby was 5 minutes away from arriving and they no longer had time to reach a hospital. I have felt an ongoing confusion and discord between what 'women are told' to expect, and what I have heard from other women about what they actually experienced.
The article also mentions how women seem to want to be in the hospital as soon as they believe early labour has begun, instead of remaining at home. I know this isn't the case for everyone, but considering the fact that my first pregnancy didn't follow any of the 'textbook' labour patterns, I feel extremely unprepared for being able to determine what my body is doing at any point in the labouring process, and certainly feel more comfortable with the idea that if I am 'at least' in the hospital, someone else is in control of 'checking' what is really going on with my body.
The part of the article that resonated most with me, was her list of contradictory messages given out by hospitals regarding the labour and early labour process. Basically, all of these messages set women up to believe that although you need hospital and medical staff to help you determine what is going on with your body - these same professionals would prefer for women to stay at home for as long as they can to avoid unnecessary interventions, to avoid being sent home, all of which means that a woman must continue to feel alone and 'in the dark' about what is going on with her body. They give you the idea that being in hospital is the safest place to be during labour, and yet women are often encouraged to stay away from this safety - which is evidenced in how women are often praised for staying at home as long as possible, and sometimes led to feel dumb for coming in too soon.
I can't say that I felt silly or dumb at all for going into the hospital last night for 'nothing'. Based on what I have learned, I still believe that I had significant reason to believe that I should - at the very least - get things 'checked out'. However, I do remain in a state of confusion about what to expect from the onset of labour. I went into the hospital in 2010 fully assuming that it was a false alarm, and that we were going in 'just in case', but it turned out to be 'the real deal'. This time, I was wrong, but what if I hadn't been?
As I write this, another contraction grips my body. This time, I'll expect them to get at least somewhat more intense before taking a trip to the hospital...