I have now reached 40 weeks pregnant. My due date has been and gone. There is still no baby and my bump is as huge as ever. But, despite all of this, I don’t consider myself “overdue”.
When I was pregnant with Frog I remember looking at her due date much as one would look at a deadline. To me, that date marked the end of my pregnancy and the beginning of motherhood. The idea that my baby may have other ideas didn’t even cross my mind.
In the end, my daughter came into the world twelve days after she was “due”. She was perfect, weighing only 6lb 14oz, with pink skin and a tiny smattering of hair. There was nothing about her to indicate she was twelve days “late”. Her skin wasn’t all wrinkled and she wasn’t scarily big. Looking back, I now know she simply wasn’t ready to be born at 40 weeks.
And the same is true of this baby. Having given birth to a “late” baby once before and being a bit more clued up this time around, I’m well aware that babies don’t stick to a schedule. I’m also well aware that not all women carry their baby in the same way. As legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin puts it, some women need longer to cook a baby – and it’s not a race anyway.
This knowledge partly contributed to my earlier decision not to make my due date public. After all, if I was happy to ignore the calendar I didn’t want other people putting the sweats on me instead. The last week of my pregnancy with Frog was full of, “Eat a hot curry” advice and I was constantly asked, “Haven’t you had that baby yet?!” by people I barely knew. It made me feel like I’d somehow failed to perform. In my tender, vulnerable, hormonal state it wasn’t what I needed to hear.
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. I now know that spending time Googling “overdue baby” and reading countless pregnancy forums is not good for a heavily pregnant paranoid woman’s mental health. It seems to me that everywhere you turn in this country there’s an idea that a pregnancy lasting beyond 40 weeks is abnormal. Each day past the due date is ticked off with a “I’m XX late now”, as if it’s a bus people are waiting for and not a baby.
A little research tells me this idea of all pregnancies lasting bang on 40 weeks is a fairly modern phenomenon. The date is based on a 28 weekly cycle (a cycle that not all women share, by the way) and a scan at 12 weeks. But, crucially, it’s an estimated date. And, as the brilliant blogger and inspirational midwife Clemmie from Gas and Air told me once, less than five percent of babies actually arrive on their due date anyway. So, that’s a whopping 95% of women who DON’T give birth on their due date. You would have thought, then, that the notion of going beyond 40 weeks wouldn’t be such a big deal to some people.
A pregnancy is considered “full term” anywhere from 37 weeks to 42 weeks in the UK. In France, your due date is calculated at 41 weeks. In some countries you don’t even get a due date, but a “due month” instead. It’s not as if women are built differently in different countries, so it seems to me that this whole due date thing isn’t an exact science. And you know what? I’m not entirely sure having a fixed date is helpful anyway.
I can completely understand a woman’s eagerness to give birth once she reaches the end of her pregnancy. If I’m honest, I’m ready to give birth now too. There’s the excitement of meeting your baby and, if you’ve had a difficult pregnancy or are uncomfortable, then you just want to stop being pregnant. But, for me, the idea of hurrying along this baby before it’s ready feels like a betrayal of trust in my body. I’m trusting my body to be able to give birth, so I need to trust it to give birth when the time is right – not when it fits the correct date on a calendar.
Where I live in the UK you are closely monitored if you go beyond ten days past your due date. My midwife tells me they don’t like to let mums go over fourteen days, so if it got to that stage I’d be strongly encouraged to have an induction to start my labour. I’m not one to go against medical advice and, hopefully, it won’t come to that anyway, but I can’t help but feel this is a bit of a “one size fits all” approach. Surely if the monitoring showed mum and baby were fine, there shouldn’t be a rush to begin an induction? Induction is a pretty big deal after all – all the evidence shows that once you start a labour artificially there is more chance of needing further interventions as the labour progresses.
Again, Ina May Gaskin points to the fact that many of the babies she has delivered were to Amish women in America, who often carried to 43 weeks. And, in fact, the research into letting pregnancies go beyond 42 weeks is a little hazy anyway, because so few women go beyond this date.
As I said, I’m hoping to avoid an induction and have my fingers crossed that, like his or her older sister, this baby will make an appearance before I have to face being induced. And, in the meantime, I’m going to continue to waddle around, doing bits of yoga and listening to meditation CDs while eating chocolate and taking naps. There are some plus sides to going beyond 40 weeks you know.