Overdue – How long *is* a normal pregnancy anyway?
The two answers you usually get to that question are 9 months, or 40 weeks. But the real answer seems to be “no one actually knows for sure”. The fact that 40 weeks != 9 months strongly hints at that. Despite the fact that we’ve been having babies since the human race started, there’s still a lot of unknowns when it comes to this basic life event. To be considered a full-term baby, a baby must be born between 37 to 42 weeks. Your due date is based on a 40 week pregnancy, even though a very low proportion of babies will actually arrive on or close to their due date. Once you pass 40 weeks you’re considered ‘overdue’ and the talk of inductions begins in earnest. Depending on who or where you’re getting your maternity care from, you may be told that you must induce by 10 to 14 days after the due date. It’s not surprising that the vast majority of women will elect to be induced earlier than 42 weeks. Some because they’ve had enough of being pregnant – being heavily pregnant is not a lot of fun. Others induce or have a c-section for various medical reasons. Then there’s those who feel bullied or pressurised into doing so. Sometimes there’s an indication that the health of mother or baby is beginning to fail and induction is a sensible option, but often the reason for induction is just that the baby is ‘overdue’. Overdue even though there’s two more full weeks left before you reach the end of the full-term period.
It turns out that my babies don’t believe in a 40 week gestation period at all and this one is happily heading towards being a post-term baby. 40 weeks came and went with no sign of Boo wanting to make an appearance. Braxton Hicks only started to happen more frequently and intensely after that date. Something I didn’t experience with the Rascal who was induced just before his due date. In hindsight, that’s a big sign that induction was never going to go well. My body wasn’t even beginning to warm up for labour yet. It would be nice to know just how ‘overdue’ the Rascal would have arrived if left alone. Except it’s unlikely he would have been left alone long enough under hospital care. If I hadn’t transferred away from hospital care this time at 36 weeks I would already have an induction date scheduled for Boo. In fact it would probably already have happened. Today is officially 41 +5 days. My physical health is fine. Boo is as active and healthy as usual and we still have a couple of days before reaching post-term. But thanks to that arbitrary 40 week estimated due date, it already feels like this baby is very late.
Time has slowed to a crawl. The days slowly flip past. Each just like the other. There’s not a whole lot you can do with yourself at 41+ weeks pregnant. Energy levels are low. Ability to concentrate is even lower. It doesn’t feel like there’s any point in starting a new project that will just have to be abandoned. But that leaves light housework and ambling about aimlessly because it’s too uncomfortable to sit at all. Unfortunately the majority of our friends live too far away to help entertain ourselves until something happens. Boo has run out of space to even attempt to change position. Should I lie down more if I can and bank the bit of rest? Should I force myself out the door to keep walking through the pressure that grows with each step? Was that a twinge of early labour, or did the baby just poke something that shouldn’t be prodded?
It’s now that you see the wisdom of being selective about what ‘due date’ you gave other people. There are the ones who empathise with the realities of late pregnancy and will periodically send a supportive short message just to say they’re thinking of you. This leaves you free to respond with as much as you feel like saying. Then there are those who will start with the unhelpful “Any news?” messages and calls before you’ve even reached the due date they were told. The obvious and truthful answer here would be “No. If there was any news either I’d have contacted you already, or I don’t want you to know yet”.
If we reach 42 weeks then my checkups will become more regular. I will have to go back to the hospital for another scan which involves an uncomfortable trip, a long wait, and organising babysitting. It also may involve unsolicited opinions from staff in there. I’m starting to feel more pressure as the days trickle past with no real sense of how long is left. For now we trundle along, trusting that nature knows best.
A check of online homebirth groups makes it clear that 42+ weeks is not necessarily that uncommon, but because medical practices aim to induce birth between 40-42 weeks there is so little data on what the average gestation period really is nowadays. Any research or studies are based on very small sample groups, or old data where maternal age has since increased and medical advances have changed infant survival rates for the better. This wait is probably totally normal for me and any of my babies, but there’s no solid evidence either way that we can point to. Rather than keep pushing the boundaries of society’s expectations, it would be nice for nature to take its course before extra monitoring or intervention becomes necessary. We’re all ready to meet the newest member of our family any time now.