Your Vagina is Not a Crystal Ball

I follow Lindsey’s blog called Mother Rising so when she asked if she could do a guest post here I said, “Absolutely! Pass along anything you think would be a good fit for the site.” As soon as I read the title of this dilation post, I knew it was good for the Burd.

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No Vaginal Exams!

When I was pregnant with my son, Gabriel, I swore up and down that when I got closer to my due date I was not going to ask to know my dilation in pregnancy.  I knew that by having a vaginal check I would be tempted to start prophesying about when my labor would start and what my birth would be like.

 

Yes Vaginal Exams!

Of course, I had no self-control and I asked for vaginal checks starting at 35 weeks.  I was 2-3 cm dilated and 40% effaced.

I could have easily started stressing and wondering if I would go into labor before my due date.  I could have got really self-confident and assumed my labor would be shorter because I was already 1/3 done dilating.

I didn’t do any of those things because I knew that my vagina was not a crystal ball.

I repeat.

YOUR VAGINA IS NOT A CRYSTAL BALL.

 

Dilation in Pregnancy

Dilation, effacement, and station information cannot predict when labor will start, how long or how easy/hard labor will be.

The only thing that vaginal checks will tell you is what your body has done to prepare for birth.

If you opt for a vaginal check at a prenatal appointment and find out that you aren’t dilated at all – you could have your baby that night.  Or a week later.  If you find out you are 4-5 cm dilated you could have your baby tomorrow, or two weeks later.

Seriously, vaginas are not crystal balls.  Your vagina will not tell you how long you have to go until you push your baby out.  Even when you get to 10 cm and start pushing you still have no idea how long it will take.
Stepping into the unknown is the nature of labor, birth and being a parent.  Care providers do a disservice to mamas by prophesying when their baby will arrive. 

But, I can understand why it is done – because it is HARD to sit in the unknown with an expecting mama and to not know with her. 

However, care providers should censor birth predictions because it is much more compassionate to hold the space for mamas while they step into the unknown than to predict the future.

 

What About You?

Did you find out your dilation in pregnancy?  How was it helpful (or not!) for you?  I’d love to hear your story.

If you found this post helpful, you might be interested in this post on how to check your own cervix or this one about how your vagina is not a vacuum cleaner.


Lindsey Morrow is author of two websites: a pregnancy blog called Mother Rising and a pregnancy book review site called My Best Pregnancy Books.  Lindsey is a childbirth educator, doula and mother of two.  She attends a lot of births and often freaks people out by posting placenta pictures on Instagram.  Lindsey lives in North Florida with her family and dreams of moving some place more temperate like the mountains.

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What the Heck is an Episiotomy?

 

Ahh, the episiotomy. There are some things about having a baby that just make you go: “Seriously? No, seriously. I so didn’t sign up for that.”

Here are the nuts and bolts: an episiotomy is an incision made in the perineum – that fleshy area between the vagina and the anus. It speeds up delivery because the vaginal opening is that much bigger. Once the baby’s present and accounted for, the incision is stitched back up.

If you’re thinking “WTF?” you’re not alone. But there are some very good reasons to have an episiotomy. Like, you find out you’re having a breech birth. Or maybe you’ve been pushing for several hours and you just…can’t…push…again. Sometimes that perfect child you’ve been dreaming about for nine frickin’ months pretty much refuses to budge and he needs a little encouragement – like forceps-or-the-vacuum kind of encouragement. Or very occasionally, your wee one can go into distress, where his heart rate shoots up or drops way down. It’s rare, but it happens.

In all those cases, your doc or midwife will very likely say it’s time to get the baby out and that means it’s time for an episiotomy. In all those cases, don’t hesitate.

But what if your delivery is chugging along just fine? Is there any reason for you to have an episiotomy? Doctors – and many midwives – used to think so. They were trained to think that episiotomies help prevent and heal better than more extensive vaginal tears. The procedure was also thought to keep the bladder from drooping and the rectum from protruding into the vagina after childbirth. (Yep, you read that right. Drooping bladder. Protruding rectum.)

Here’s the problem: there isn’t any evidence to suggest episiotomies do any of that. It’s now generally accepted that a routine episiotomy – not one done for any of our “good reasons” – does not provide any significant benefit, either right after delivery or in the months that follow. Some medical-types thought that recovering from an episiotomy might hurt less than from a tear, but that’s not backed up by any evidence. There isn’t even any proof that having an episiotomy will prevent your insides from ending up on the outside. Ain’t that the shits?

So how do you avoid one, if you can?

Lots of people recommend massaging the perineum during your pregnancy. Now, I’m all about a good massage, but studies suggest this is only really effective for first-time moms. There isn’t much of a consensus on how long to do it either, but 10 minutes a day from 35 weeks on seems to be a common recommendation. If you’re into it, I say go for it. It can’t hurt.

You can also try applying warm compresses to the perineum during the pushing stage of labour. This may help soften the tissue and make it easier for the baby to head on out. Some health care providers also massage the area as labor progresses.

You might also want to give some thought to who’s going to deliver your baby, if you haven’t already decided. Studies show that midwives do fewer episiotomies, while older doctors do the most. Weirdly, more episiotomies are performed in the middle of the day than the middle of the night. Maybe it’s because doctors have more stuff to do during the day so they want to speed things up a bit.

But the most important thing you can do is talk to your health care provider. Ask them how often they do episiotomies and under what circumstances. Remember, though, it's important to go into labor with an open mind. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and you have to make decisions on the fly.

 


Maggie writes. Mostly for advertising. Sometimes for environmental and arts groups. 
When not at the helm of her ever-expanding freelance empire, she spends her time making semi-successful attempts at self-improvement. That may explain the decent down-the-line backhand and respectable shot from the point.
She is married to John Foote (dashing Emerg Doc) and has two shockingly tall kids.
She thinks Pregnant Chicken rules the roost.

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Best Books to Read When You're Expecting

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I often get asked for book recommendations from newly pregnant women – I can only assume it's because they've already read every nook and cranny of Pregnant Chicken (cough). 

I actually read quite a few books the first time around and I didn't like many of them (I was lucky to read a cereal box the second time). I found they were either scary, patronizing or both, and none of them made me feel more prepared for the arrival of my son. Instead, they made me feel completely incompetent and overwhelmed at my inevitable failure as a mother.

So I decided to ask you guys what you thought and you came up with some great ones! 

I've listed most of them here but feel free to check out the original link on Facebook for even more good reads.

 


"I Am Woman!" Books

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't read more birth books. I was going to have a hospital birth and was going to get my epidural as soon as humanly possible so I figured that I didn't need to read up on this hippy stuff. Well, if you run a pregnancy website for a while, you really get to see how fear based this industry is and many of the magazine headlines and website teasers are crafted to get your attention and often scare the shit out of you.

Books like these give you the big picture. These are the books that remind you that women have been giving birth for a long, damn time and our bodies are set up to deliver a baby. Regardless of what your birth plan is, they are a good read.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth: If you've never heard of Ina May Gaskin, she's the Obi Wan of midwifery (I love that word). This lady knows her stuff and has been bringing babies into the world for over 30 years.

"Reading this book will make you feel confident about your body's ability to give birth, as well as positive and excited about the birth experience."

 

 

Birthing from Within: As a designer, the cover of this book gives me diarrhea, as a woman, this book gives me a feeling of real control and empowerment.

"I recommend this book to any expectant mother, no matter what type of birth she intends to have. "Birthing from Within" helps you get in touch with yourself and your expectations, fears, and hopes to allow you to make the birth of your child a very personal and soulful experience."
 

 

"Nitty Gritty" Books

The majority of books I read when I was pregnant was this type. I wanted to know all the little details because I thought I would feel more prepared when I knew all the facts.

They are great for getting getting a crash course in birth without having to become an OBGYN, but a word of warning, these books become dated fast (that probably says something too) so if someone gives a book that is over five years old, chances are a portion of it is no longer applicable. 

Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: The Mayo Clinic has always been a reliable source for information and this sounds like it's a pretty good read and many women preferred this book to the "What to Expect" series.

"It is written by trustworthy professionals in clear yet -professional- language, it provides information on "pregnancy, childbirth and your newborn"..."
 

The Baby Book, Revised Edition: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two: I've always been a big fan of Dr. Sears. Not just because of his hippy leanings, but because of his trust-your-gut philosophy.  

"This is such a great reference, but the best advice in the whole book is that what works for you and your family is right for your child."
 

 

Breastfeeding Books

This is another area where I wish I'd really knew my shit before giving birth. I just assumed that breastfeeding would be all easy peasy and I just needed to get the hang of it. Well, sort of. Breastfeeding can be tricky and to add to that pressure, you have a baby that has to eat NOW all the time. 

Breastfeeding issues are one of the most popular questions on the Ask the Chicks forum, so going in armed with some knowledge is never a bad thing and can really help with a 2am crisis moment.  

 

 

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: This book is written by the La Leche League so it's going to be pretty pro-boob to say the least, but this is a community that has supported breastfeeding moms and babies for years so they know where the stumbling blocks might be. 

"I'm not bf'ing yet, but as an expectant mother I wanted to get some info before trying to deal with it once the baby's here. The book has made me feel very confident. It has all the info you need."
 

Breastfeeding Made Simple: I like how supportive and encouraging this book sounds. Although, as with all breastfeeding books, it is, well, big on breastfeeding, and it's pretty hard to argue for something without getting pretty heavy about the negative and that can come off as being judgemental to some. Take it with a grain of salt and just take in the info.

"I am a birth doula and refer to this book all the time. The chapters are organized in such a way that makes it very easy to find solutions to common concerns."
 

 

 

Reality Books

Some pregnancy books really lean on the wonder of birth, but in reality some parts of pregnancy are just plain shit. If you read too many "beauty of birth" books you may start feeling guilting that you're not embracing your constipation and hemorrhoids because every aspect of birth is amazing and you don't love your unborn child if you're not cherishing every moment. These books are the kick in the ass you need to snap you out of that funk.

 

 

Pregnancy Sucks: A good book if you want to feel like you're not alone in hating the morning sickness and fatigue. There are a few times where she claims you can't eat things when you can (soft cheese, etc.) which is obviously a bit of a pet peeve for me, but take it in stride and see it for the humorous take and enjoy the vent.

"Whenever I have the slightest whine about my discomfort, changing body and mood swings, the reaction I usually get is - that pain is a blessing! Shame on you for complaining! Well, yes, I am thrilled to be having a baby, but I am so relieved to know that I am not the only one can be honest about the discomfort that must come before the ultimate joy of delivery."

 

The Panic-Free Pregnancy: I love that this doctor has actually stepped up rather than hiding behind all the "just to be on the safe side" crap. Some people criticize him for being too lax about certain topics, but you're a big girl and know what you're comfortable with doing and what you're not. It's refreshing to see the pendulum swing to the other side of the hysteria is all I can say.

"I'm about to be a second time mommy and I learned an awful lot from this book and found that I avoided sushi for no reason during my last pregnancy! that will not be happening this time around!"

 

Girlfriend Books

Sometimes it just nice to read a book by someone who gets it and, while everyone's birth is completely different, there is something comforting about reading about birth from someone who's actually given birth. Obviously I'll sing a different tune when I launch my "Beauty of Being Kicked in the Balls" series.

From the Hips: This book features experiences from a whole collection of people (parents, doctors, midwives) so you're not just getting one point of view. It's praise for its non-judgement view on and friendly approach without sugar coating anything.

"The authors are clearly really funny, warm women who have BEEN THERE. They take their subject very seriously but are also capable of laughing at themselves and at this insane ride we call parenting."
 

The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy: This is a fun tell-it-like-it-is book that gives you the down low on pregnancy in a friendly, non-scary way. Some people really pick on it for being too "west-coast-white-upper-middle-class" but I found many of those people missed the point of the book's humour – plus, I'm always a little leery of people that say they have an excellent sense of humour yet didn't find something funny – as if humour isn't subjective – but maybe that's just because I'm hysterical (snort). 

"Definitely your girlfriends take on a pregnancy. Very informative without being too scary."
 

It's Really 10 Months: I love how this book is broken down into short stories. It's a great, funny, informative read that makes you feel like you're at a table chatting with your friends.

"This book skillfully takes on all the disgusting and disturbing things that no one tells you about pregnancy. Reading it is like having a conversation with your best friend...say anything and feel anything and it's all good :)"

 

Funny Books

Speaking of humour, I know I just said humour is very subjective, but if you read this site, clearly you are a funny aficionado a have a finely tuned sense of wit and charm – I mean c'mon. So, I'm sure you'll appreciate a little taste of humour in these pregnancy books because, as my accountant says, "If you can't take a joke, don't have kids."

 

 

 

Let's Panic About Babies: I don't know what's funnier, this book or the handful of people who gave it one star on Amazon because there wasn't enough serious medical information – there are lasers coming out of the baby's eyes for fuck sake. 

"After ordering so many serious books about pregnancy, a friend recommended this one to me. It is a great way to laugh a little or a lot after reading so many other medical books."
 

Belly Laughs: If you like Pregnant Chicken, chances are you're not going to be offended by Belly Laughs like some people on Amazon are. Jenny McCarthy's honest, straightforward approach isn't everyone's cup of tea but this was one of the few books that I read when I was pregnant that made me feel normal and exhale. Good clean fun with the word "fuck" thrown in once in a while – my kind of book.

"I had tears running down my face. This book is a quick read and you can finish it easy in 1 - 2 days. This book takes a light hearted look at pregnancy. Pregnancy is a beautiful experience, but it was fun to read her frank and funny views on gas, the belly expanding, and the all so quiet topic of pooping on the delivery table."
 

 

Baby Books

I had all this time read pregnancy books when I was pregnant, but no time to read baby books when I had a baby (go figure). Now the trouble with reading baby books is that, while you may have the time, you don't have a baby. That makes things tricky because the laws of nature ensure that whatever theories you have on babies often goes out the window once you have one. I actually read a sleep book when I was pregnant and was all armed with my "shush pat" techniques, but it all went down the tubes when he was born because he wasn't a "shush pat" kid. I would treat these books as little "seed planters" – when the issue arise you'll remember you read something about that and go back and look it up. Like breastfeeding, sleep questions dominate the Ask the Chicks board so you may as well wade in now if you have the time.

 

The Happiest Baby on the Block: If you've read my What You Need to Know About Newborns post, then you've got a good idea of what this book is about. It kind of decodes the reasons babies cry, which is worth it's weight in gold in those first few months. Some say it's a little too wordy – a beefed up 10 page pamphlet to justify the cost of a book – but what are ya gonna do.

"I was skeptical, but these methods really do work! Would make a fantastic baby shower gift and every new parent should read this."

Baby 411:  This is a well organized reference guide for new parents. It's touted as being straight to the point with no filler. It's only criticism seems to be the sleep chapter because it supports the cry-it-out method which isn't for everyone. I don't think that's worth ditching a book over especially considering all the amazing, clear advice it offers.

"I am a new mom and an Emergency physician, and I bought this book after reading some other reviews on amazon. Well, I can't agree more with the positive reviews. This book is worded in simple and clear language and gives frank and detailed advice. After reading it cover to cover, ( I couldn't get enough), I thought, why didn't I think to get this before? So many of my patients ask these questions and I give the advice that is easily accessible for less than 20 dollars- in a book- while they are spending time and money to go to the ED to relieve their worries. I will definitely recommend this book to friends, family and patients."
 

 

Awesome Books That I Can't Think of a Category For

Most books fall into a neat category, but some books kind of step away from the crowd which makes them particularly awesome. These are just a few of them.

The Baby Owner's Manual: At first glance this seems like a bit of a gag gift, but it really is an amazing book. I had it with my first son and loved it.

It's easy and quick to fill out and it will save your bacon if you have more than one child because you can look back to see when baby number one rolled over when you're hanging out with baby number two – you think you'll remember but you don't. 

"Although this book gives you the same info a lot of others do, this one is shorter and easy to read. Plus the charts and the other fill-in pages I the back are nice if you want to keep track of things."
 

The Circumcision Decision: When I found out I was having a son I wanted to read about circumcision. Should I circumcise him? What's everyone doing now? What are the medical advantages either way? Well, good luck because it doesn't take you long to figure out that people have a pretty strong opinions about it so an unbiased book is pretty rare. 

What most impressed me about this book is that one author is in favour of circumcision and one isn't, yet you'd never know it from reading the book. Even if you know what you're going to do (or not going to do for that matter)  it's still a great read to arm yourself with more information and confidence in your decision.

"An honest, balanced and human approach to the subject of circumcision to truly help a parent make a personal decision. It covers all the issues, weighs all the facts and even discusses all a parent's doubts."
 

 Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: This book skips all the your-baby-is-the-size-of-a-avocado stuff and answers some of the curious questions around pregnancy, such as: Why are your dreams more vivid? Why do skinny chicks have more daughters? Do fidgety fetuses become feisty babies? Where does maternal instinct come from?

It's a fascinating yet easy read.

"I enjoyed reading this book. lots of interesting scientific stuff and answers to questions even my doctor didn't know. easy to read too"
 

 

Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: I used to watch Alyson Schafer on TV before I had children and I'd use her tips when I'd babysit because they always worked. So, when I saw this book I decided to pick it up and it's amazing. I wish that I'd read it when my kids were babies (or when I was pregnant) so I would have known how to deal with certain challenges right from the get go. Some may find it a little too child-lead, but I found the book really positive and simple to follow.

"Taking a positive approach to parenting and encouraging my children (as opposed to a focus on punishing misbehavior) is really helping our family."
 


There are tons of great pregnancy books out there but just as many crap ones, so if you find something isn't sitting well with you, ditch it and move on. Reading up on this stuff can make you feel a little more prepared, but this baby is coming whether you read up on it or not, so don't feel like you have to hit the books like you're studying for a physics exam either. Just read Pregnant Chicken and the Sookie Stackhouse series – that should about cover it too.

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