I haven’t found time to write since the birth of my new baby boy, 8 weeks ago. I hope to, soon! But I did manage to respond to this email from my sister, due to birth her first baby in the coming weeks. Our sisterly correspondence will have to suffice for now!
From my sister, at 38 1/2 weeks:
You know how you said that if you try and work up until you go into labor, then you won’t go into labor, or it will be harder, or things like that? Is that something people talk about a lot, is there literature on it or anything to read? Or is it just more of a feeling some people have? I keep mentioning this when people ask how long I’m going to work, and they mostly seem to think it’s a weird idea. So I was wondering how to better explain it, both to other people, and to help me decide when I should officially stop.
I went through a really stressed phase for the past few months wanting to get so much done before I leave, that I of course didn’t get done. Then I went through a guilty phase where I’ve been feeling really bad leaving everyone else with all this work. And now I still feel those things but I also just don’t feel like dealing with any of my work, either the frustrating parts or even the fun parts. I keep thinking I shouldn’t waste vacation days before the baby is here but maybe I should . . .
There are a couple parts of it, in my understanding. One, all of my care providers were concerned with my being as healthy, strong, and as well-rested as possible before the birth. The birth itself is physically very strenuous and your body needs a lot of reserves to recover, and then breastfeeding combined with sleep- deprivation are very depleting to the body. So it makes a real difference to be as strong as possible beforehand. Sitting at a desk isn’t great for your health, you may not eat as much/well during the work day, and it’s better to spend some time before labor really just resting. I found after several days of really napping all the time, then the next day that I went out walking a lot, labor started. That was with both P and D. Also eat red meat!
Also, the hormones of labor are suppressed by any kind of stress, fear, anxiety. This is a great article about them.
I believe that most workplaces are not completely “friendly” towards the whole mothering experience — taking time off is treated as a hassle, people aren’t very understanding about the postpartum overwhelm, that your children are your top priority over work is seen as negative, etc. Those can be stresses. So I think it’s helpful to be in a little cocoon at home where no one is criticizing you or giving you any negativity so that the right hormones can kick in. The hormones require the right environment — quiet, darkness, peace. Those are the hormones that make you not feel the pain, too, so you really want them in top form! When labor fails to progress is when all those medical interventions start that can spiral towards c-section. You want to do everything to give those hormones a chance!
Lastly, self-care! You are going to be totally devoting yourself to another person now for months and months with little space for yourself. It really pays to do something special and relaxing for yourself in the final days. Nature walks, tea at your favorite cafe, yoga, massage. Whatever makes you feel good is really worth doing. It will be a long time before you’ll be alone again.
So that’s my two cents! I think when women worked on their farms or did physical chores at home, working up until labor started was different. It’s because our modern work is in opposition to laboring in so many ways that I think it’s good to stop. Even a few days can make a big difference. I think listening to your body is the key — if your brain and body are saying they can’t work any more they are probably telling you something real! And that’s the best skill to take into your labor, too. Listening to yourself.
And then she said:
I think my job and the people there, it’s probably one of the better places to work and have a baby. They’re really nice and flexible and everything. But, still I think you’re right, being at work and doing work is just not conducive to relaxing or letting go. It’s all very rational and there is a lot of talking every day, plus lots of little things stress me out and I can’t just stop thinking about it even at night. I feel like I never have time to relax, and resting up to store up reserves does seem important.
I think I look at a lot of women who plan to work right up until they go into labor and I think, yeah, why wouldn’t I be able to do that? Plus it makes sense to not waste vacation time. But that is all such rational thinking and I guess I don’t have to think that way. Just over the last couple days I started to think I really don’t feel like doing this anymore. And I do have the vacation time to spend, so why shouldn’t I use it for this time? Even if I am off work for two weeks before the baby comes I guess I would enjoy the time. I just hope it’s not too hot or I’ll wish I were back at the office. But yeah, so today I am leaning towards this being my last week. It’s just so hard to make it official and really stop altogether!
And I said:
Great that your mind is leaving the intellectual realm and that talking is difficult!! It means you are preparing, heading into the realm of labor and the subconscious . . . good progress! As midwives call it, the veil is descending.
I love what she said about the rational thinking, and realizing you don’t have to think that way, but instead can use your feelings to make the choice. In fact, it might be rational to take more time off, even unpaid (if it doesn’t jeopardize keeping your job). In the US most of us have to use vacation time for maternity or paternity leave, but this time off is far from an indulgence. You can think of it as a once in a lifetime investment in your child, your child’s well being, and your relationship together. Some families even choose to use their savings to fund this special time, so that a parent can be the primary caregiver in the early months or years. This is a really solid choice if it feels right to you!
In the meantime, the in-between waiting period before the birth is so unique. Here’s wishing my sister a special last few weeks and a safe passage for the little one, sobrinito!