Time and Birth

Photo by  Lukas Blazek  on  Unsplash

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

When I was younger, I went on a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters. We were encouraged not to bring a watch, and we couldn’t bring any cell phones. When one of us would ask our counselor what time it was, they would quietly show us their watch instead of announcing the time to the whole group. They wanted to respect those people who didn’t want or need to know what time it was. As a very Type A, organized teenager, I didn’t understand those people who didn’t want to know what time it was. “How will we know when to eat or how long this portage is taking?" But I slowly began to realize that it was much easier to stay in the moment and tune into my senses when I wasn’t so concerned with what time it was. I could listen to my body to see if I was hungry to decide when to eat. And instead of wondering when I could finally put down the heavy backpack, I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other. This changed my entire outlook on the trip, and I was able to enjoy it a lot more.

I think this same principle applies to birth. Some of the biggest questions my families and students are about time. “How long will it take?” “What’s the longest birth you’ve ever been to?” “How long until the doctor gets worried?” “When should I go to the hospital?” “What if the baby comes so quickly that I don’t have time to get to the hospital!?” People want to know when and how long. And that makes sense to me. Our daily lives are so defined by time and defining chronological limits can help the unknown seem less scary. I know, despite my experience, that I’m very aware and connected to time. But pregnancy, labor, birth and even the postpartum period are very different from daily life. Time starts to mean different things. It becomes less important (but also more important, somehow) and less predictable.

I like to describe the birth suite as the Time Warp. Linear Time means less and less. You’re in Birth Time. In Birth Time 3 hours feels like 3 minutes. 3 minutes feels like 3 hours. And how do you deal with the Time Warp? You embrace it as best you can. You try to change your mindset. If you can feel the face of the clock watching you, ticking on and on, take it off the wall! Or cover it up. Or go into the bathroom. Try to stay in the present moment, just taking each contraction one at a time. There’s no way to know how long labor will last or even how long each stage of labor will last. You could be in early labor for a day and a half and then move right through active labor, transition and pushing in just a few hours. It doesn’t make sense to project the current moment into the future. Remember that a long labor, especially a long first-time labor, doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. Your body needs time to bring your baby down and make room for them to be born. And everybody’s body and baby are different. Just focus on breathing and coping. Just put one foot in front of the other.

Maggie Mehr