Preterm labor isn’t something I was expecting. All signs pointed to a pregnancy of 40 weeks or more. For 27 weeks and 9 days I was in a low-risk pregnancy. Then 28 weeks hit, and something changed. I started experiencing bleeding and contractions. I called my doctor, and he told me to come in so they could assess the situation. Sure enough, my body was experiencing preterm labor symptoms, and we needed to slow it down. I was ambulanced to one of the best maternal fetal medicine units in the state, and measures were taken to minimize the contractions, and to get baby ready for birth (just in case he decided to come early).
After 24 hours in the hospital, contractions had stopped thanks to a magnesium sulfate drip and rest. Baby boy did great the entire time, kicking and dancing up a storm all weekend, with zero evidence of fetal stress. The care team was even impressed at how active he was, and how fully developed he was for 28 weeks. At about 40 hours in the hospital, the doctors decided to discharge me, since the baby and I were doing great. Thankfully, I was able to stay pregnant, and baby boy is still a movin’ and a shakin’.
Preterm labor is never something you plan for, but incidentally it happens in about 12% of all pregnancies. Even though I was seemingly low-risk, with virtually no medical or lifestyle risks for premature labor, I experienced an event. What does this tell me? Well… not much actually. Even the doctors weren’t entirely sure why the contractions and the bleeding started. But I learned a lot from this experience, and my hope is that by sharing what I have learned that another mama-to-be will feel more confident and secure in her pregnancy.
Amenities Are Secondary to Care
This sounds rather obvious, but there is an important point to make here. When I first found out I was pregnant, I knew that we would be moving at the start of my third trimester. I began to look around at the various hospitals of the locations we could be moving to, and I fell in love with St. Luke’s in Duluth, MN. The hospital recently renovated their maternity floor, and it looks amazing.
It has tubs for birthing in just about every room, and they focus on baby-centered care, meaning that after your baby is born (as long as everything is okay with mom and baby), baby gets to stay in the room with mom and dad. Plus, it actually had decent seating and sleeping areas in each suite for your partner or your family members who would visit or stay with you.
When I saw that setting, I knew that’s where I wanted to deliver. I mean, what more could you want from a delivery experience than to relax like a queen after you’ve given birth?
I’m more clear minded about the whole situation. Yes, amenities are great, especially when you are in recovery. The real work happens during labor and delivery, and a pull out sofa with extra support isn’t going to help keep you calm while you’re pushing.
What you need is an experienced care team who will go the extra mile to make sure you and baby are safe, calm, and healthy. When I was admitted to Yale New Haven’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Unit, I immediately recognized the level of professionalism and concern for my welfare. This team truly wanted to make me as comfortable as possible, and ensured that every single one of my needs were cared for. They explained every procedure to me; what it was, why they do it, and what side effects to watch for.
The care team at Yale New Haven was beyond anything that I could have hoped for in the event of a threatened preterm labor. I didn’t care that I didn’t have a birthing tub or that my birth plan wasn’t finished. I knew I was in good hands, and that this team was going to keep me and my baby safe.
The last thing you want when you go into labor is a complicated checklist of all of the things you need to have with you, or items you need to tell the doctors. The more stuff you bring with you (mentally and physically), the more complicated your delivery is going to be.
Listen, I am all for having an empowered birth experience. You should absolutely be able to get what you want when it comes to giving birth to the human you have been carrying. I want that for you. And I want that for me. Simplifying my expectations and minimizing my “requirements” are going to dramatically increase the level of calm I experience when labor actually happens.
Why? Because I won’t have to grapple with the mental load of potentially struggling with my care team to get what I want out of delivery. This is not about what I want. This is about keeping my baby healthy; allowing both of us to recover in the most optimal way possible.
With that being said, I know that there are tons of birth plans and birth strategies out there to choose from. My recommendation is that if you feel that a birth plan is in your best interest, use one. Keep it simple. The last thing you need is to create this highly detailed birth plan that can’t be followed because of an emergency situation that is out of your hands.
Try to keep your birth plan to less than 2 pages. This will not only simplify the process for you, but for your care team as well. It will be easier to keep everyone on the same page when there aren’t a handful of pages to keep track of.
Preparedness Goes a Long Way
An emergency is after all, not something you plan for, but it doesn’t hurt to take extra steps to make sure you’re ready. I had a pretty good idea of what to bring in a hospital bag for labor. Since I was only 28 weeks, I didn’t have one packed. Thankfully, I was able to stay calm and grounded as I evaluated what I really needed in case I did need to stay overnight. Which thankfully, wasn’t a lot. Again, simplification helped a ton here.
I knew that if I was going to be staying overnight, the hospital would have pretty much everything I needed in the realm of clothing, but I also wanted to make sure I had a couple things in case I needed them, i.e. a zip up sweatshirt, deodorant, a brush, contact solution/glasses, and chapstick. Honestly, that was all I needed. I packed a couple pairs of underwear just in case, but the hospital has disposable ones so I just used those for my stay.
What I’m getting at here is that being prepared can help quite a bit when it comes to minimizing the stress of an emergency situation. Not only does physical preparedness help (packing a go-bag), but mental preparedness as well. Researching procedures and terms ahead of time makes a huge difference when it comes to understanding what your care team is talking about.
This is not to say that you should research every single obstetric procedure known to man and know the exact risk factors and all other scary stuff that goes with it. That is is not the point. The point is to educate yourself so that you are equipped with the knowledge to make the best decisions for you and your baby when the time comes.
Read as many pregnancy and labor/delivery books as you can throughout your pregnancy to help prepare you for the changes your body goes through, your baby’s development, and possible procedures you may need in order to keep both you and baby safe and healthy.
Mindfulness & Affirmations Really Work
Throughout the preterm labor event, I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew that if I stressed myself out unnecessarily, that the stress would only affect my baby to his detriment. My solution was to pray, to be mindful of my mind and my body, and to affirm to myself that whatever happens will happen, and that my baby and I will be safe. These are some of the affirmations I said to myself while I was in the thick of uncertainty.
- My body knows what to do to keep my baby safe.
- This event is temporary. This stress will pass.
- I am confident in myself and the health of my baby.
- I will keep my baby safe and calm by breathing deeply, and embracing feelings of love and security.
In addition to prayer and strategic breathing exercises, these affirmations helped me to keep my breathing steady, and my mind clear. Yes, I was nervous, and yes, I had fears. But I knew that by repeatedly praying and saying these affirmations that I would ultimately keep myself calm and collected, and be able to make better decisions when necessary.
What I’m Doing Differently
The preterm labor scare taught me a lot of things about myself and what is truly important to me. Because of what I have learned, I’m doing a few things differently than I had planned.
- Prepare an emergency bag for my car. Something simple with a change of clothes, a few toiletries, and a couple of snack bars and bottles of water. This bag will be helpful in any emergency, regardless of whether or not I’m pregnant.
- Keep a copy of my medical records with me if possible. I want to keep a small record of recent events on my Emergency ID on my phone. That way, if something happens while I’m out and about or alone, whichever hospital I am sent to will have my information and will be able to make more informed decisions about my care. This information will include medications, current medical status (i.e. pregnant), allergies, medical directives for care, etc.
- Get a better support system in place. With my husband in the military, there is no telling whether I will be on my own or not. Thankfully, with us moving closer to family, I will have more support options, but this event made me realize that I’m really terrible at making in-person support networks. Online? I’m a freaking pro. But in the real world I’m pretty limited. I’m so thankful for the people who helped us out during the worst of it, seriously you guys are amazing. But I know that having a few more people in the pipeline that can offer assistance is going to ease quite a bit of strain off of my mind.
Thank you for reading my experience with threatened preterm labor. I truly hope that this finds someone where they need it most, and can help them to manage the emotions that go along with this event.