When we learned the due date (May 27th) for the baby I am carrying, my husband looked at me and smiled. He said cheerfully “Let’s just plan on sometime in early June.” Both of our children were born a few days after their due dates and he knows that date is more of an estimate than a prediction. After all, only 5% of babies actually arrive on their due dates.
Although I know all this, I could only manage a weak smile in response to his comment. I experienced so much morning sickness in those early months that imagining continuing the pregnancy for any longer than the official due date seemed more than I could accept. As my pregnancy continued I tried to adjust my mindset to a “birth date range” rather than a “due date.” I felt confident as I entered the third trimester that I had done this and calmly told friends and family that I wanted our baby to stay in as long as she needed to, even if she went past the due date.
And then I ate my words.
As my due date neared I carefully groomed our home and family life for our little girl’s arrival. Nursery – check. House clean and organized – check. Freezer meals – check. To-do list complete – check. Everything felt streamlined, bright and welcoming. We enjoyed our evenings together playing as a family of four, sure that any second all of this would change. I felt reassured of a timely arrival by the many uncomfortable contractions I was experiencing so much earlier than I had with my other two babies.
Each night I went to bed with the bright anticipation that those contractions would bring me my baby. Each morning I found myself still pregnant, but I staunchly stuck to my positive thinking. When I arrived at my due date with a well-occupied belly, I mustered all my optimism and decided to make some dark chocolate cream pie to distract me. Surely any minute now.
The next few mornings I did not feel quite as cheerful.
Day 1 post-due date: I woke up disappointed.
Day 2: I awoke discouraged.
Day 3: Mildly depressed.
And by day 4, I was livid.
I am not typically an angry person. But man, after waking throughout the night with some strong contractions that did not land me in the hospital (for something like the 6th night) I just felt furious.
I realize how ridiculous it sounds for me to feel this way. And honestly, it has surprised me that I do. But I also know a lot of my friends have described riding an emotional roller coaster after passing their due dates baby-less. Let’s examine why this might be.
For starters, there is all the terminology we use in western obstetrical culture. Well-meaning friends ask me in sympathetic voices “Well were you late with your other two?” If you are asking if they were born after their due dates, then yes. But let’s think about the implications of the word “late” in our culture. The word typically designates under-performance, an irresponsible person, a slacker.
“Were you dilated at your appointment? Are you progressing??” Progressing means moving forward, succeeding. Lack of progression implies lack of effort, inadequacy or inability.
“Wow, your body has a hard time getting to delivery, doesn’t it?!”
“Did you try x, y, z trick to induce labor?”
And now suddenly I feel three things: First, that the fact that my baby has not arrived within a specific 24 hour period after nearly 10 months of comfortably cooking inside me is somehow problematic and worrisome. Second, that this tragedy of not hitting my due date is somehow my fault. My body is not competent, prepared or relaxed enough to nail this performance on cue. And third, that the arrival date of my baby is something I am capable of somehow dictating with any number of wives’ tale tips and tricks. (Believe me, I have tried them all and am still pregnant.) Turns out all of these take-home messages are entirely false and more than a little disheartening to a full-term mama.
Can we all lay off me and my uterus for a minute while we examine some facts?
Statistics show that, as mentioned earlier, only 5% of babies are born on their due dates. That means 95% are not. Why would this be? Well, the due date “calculation” assumes that every woman has a 28 day cycle and ovulates on the 14th day of her cycle. A study published in 2000 indicates that only 30% of women match the “fertile window” indicated by current clinical guidelines. Most are fertile before this window or after it. If you deliver before or after the “due date,” it may be because you are one of the 70% of women who have a fertile window that does not match the measure used by the medical community.
Additionally, babies are considered “term” anytime between 37 and 42 weeks. That is a five week window for a healthy, normal, birth. A baby is not technically “overdue” until after 42 weeks. In fact, babies born between 39 weeks and 41 weeks have the best health outcomes, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
So why all the panic when a woman reaches 40 weeks and the baby is still comfortably cuddled inside? Well, folks, any “term” pregnant lady has endured the better part of a year carrying her child with this date as her motivating finish line. And friends, families, often even doctors constantly remind her that this date is the goal. What if we were to change the terminology? Some childbirth educators now help to mentally prepare expectant mothers by referring to her “due month” rather than her “due date.” The term is certainly more accurate and would take a lot of pressure off mamas during the final stretch of pregnancy.
From now on, I will think of due dates with a two to three week padding on either side. Due month. I like it. In the days since I adjusted my mind set on this I have felt a lot of peace about allowing this babe to enter the world when she feels ready. Will you join me? Perhaps we can start to change the culture and in doing so help a few mamas avoid what I have come to refer to as “due date rage.”