By Maria Zain
WHEN is your due date? Are you due soon? So soon! You better go get checked. Your EDD (Estimated Due Date) is next week? What did the doctor say? You are overdue! You better go see a professional! You might explode! It’s not healthy for babies to be in the womb for too long. How come you weren’t induced? How come you haven’t given birth yet? Why is there no sign of labour? There must be something wrong. I can’t imagine that you’re not worried about this. Are you still pregnant? Are you? Are you? You are?! Go to the hospital and get induced!
If you have been pregnant or are pregnant now, you’ve probably heard (or are hearing) some of the above phrases. “When is your EDD?” is a common question thrown at expectant mothers. Once I answered: Baby will come when baby is ready. There is no need for an EDD, I explained to the questioner calmly, I even smiled at that.
Unfortunately, the person shot back at me with a: “Don’t be rude. There has to be a due date. What did the doctor say? Why don’t you just tell? You have to know when your baby is going to be born.”
Besides pregnancy being a very sacred journey, and one that should be private to boot (in my personal opinion, that is), very few women receive the emotional support of enjoying pregnancy (let alone birth) as a very normal, physiological development in their lives as women. Instead, pregnant women become topics of public conversation; with the obligation to disclose weight gain, birthing plans, gender, and even their EDD, even if it does not matter to them. After all, the baby will come when the baby is ready.
This is probably due to the ingrained culture of having routine inductions being performed in many places of the world just because a mum has reached her EDD or her pregnancy has surpassed her EDD by X number of days. EDD itself stands for Expected Due Date, the date the mother is expected to birth her baby. Many a times we hear of inductions for that sole purpose – becomes mum is 40 weeks along and there is no sign of labour.
The EDD really is a 40-week calculation from the expecting mother’s first day of her last menstrual cycle before she conceived. It can be said that it is just an average calculation of all mothers who are or have been expecting, as it seems that the AVERAGE gestational length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks. It is not an expiration date, and even the 40 week “cut-off” date is subjective, as others studies show an average of 41 weeks and 3 days or more (see also Your Due Date and Inductions).
Yet inductions are routine, and to make matters worse, many mothers don’t even know that their births were being tampered with. I was one of them during my first birth. The doctor gave an OK to my natural birth plan. She had nodded several times. I didn’t want any interventions, I had said: “NO DRUGS PLEASE!! I want to give birth normally. I don’t want an epidural, thanks”.
Yet on my 39th week when I had apparently dilated to 1cm, she said I was going to give birth “today.” I was so excited that I didn’t realise the drugs I was being hooked up to was an induction agent. I didn’t even know what an induction agent was. And needless to say, everything went awry.
Besides feeling like a twit for nor fully asking, for not questioning, for putting trust into the care-provider at that time, it has come to light that many mothers are being told that they had their c-sections (as I did), because they couldn’t progress or they couldn’t dilate EVEN AFTER being induced. “I was induced three times, but I could not dilate. The doctor said I couldn’t give birth naturally.” This is so unfair and so untrue.
An induction causes a shut down of natural hormones that spontaneously appear in a natural birth. These hormones are important to block out the fear, stress and pain that is largely associated with labour, and a mother, fully-capitalising on these hormones and trust in the natural route of things is able to birth without intervention. The moment inductions happen, these hormones cease to exist and is replaced with hormones to help the mother run away from the situation. Her body shuts the birth down, while the inductions continue to contract her womb – and thus, materialises the “failure to progress.” It’s not the mother who is the problem–it is the drugs!
An induction is actually forcing a baby out way before he or she is fully ready to be born. No wonder so many inductions end in c-sections. In fact, for first time mothers, the risk of having a c-section after being induced rises to about 60%. That is a staggering rate of having a major abdominal surgery that carries risks to both the mother and the baby, which could have been avoided in the first place, had the induction not taken place.
Yet, inductions are happening all over the world, being tail-gated by the impending c-section if the mum is “unable” to dilate or progress according to the doctor’s textbook. The risks of inductions alone (without even talking about the risks of c-sections) are multi-fold – and includes all sorts of side effects, to baby, like respiratory distress.
In the 18th edition of “Williams Obstetrics”, it is stated:
“Pitocin is a powerful drug, and it has killed or maimed mothers through rupture of the uterus and even more babies through hypoxia – asphyxia aka lack of oxygen – from markedly hypertonic uterine contractions.” Hypertonic means the contractions were too strong – which does not happen with a natural labor.
Unfortunately, despite all medical research pointing to the dangers of induction agents, mothers who wish to wait out their pregnancies are often labelled and vilified as being irresponsible and disobedient. They are even seen as crazy, for not wanting to listen to their doctor and come in on time for their “due dates.”
One mother, when advised to skip her routine induction, decided that it would be rude of her not to show up, and she should at least show up to discuss her baby’s due date.
Although I agree that there are some risks for going sorely overdue (like 43 or 44 weeks), the 40 week cut-off time is sometimes too early for babies to be born. And to make matters worse, VBAC mothers are often told to come in at 38 weeks, so “baby won’t get too big.” This could be curtailing a baby’s development in the womb worth of 3 to 4 weeks. It is no wonder that so many babies born in hospitals are being held in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). They are being induced out of their sanctity, when they should be comfortably growing, developing, thinking and feeling, right next to their mother’s heartbeat.
Yet, these mothers are being championed by the medical industry; for listening to their doctors and not reading up too much on the Internet. It doesn’t help that in the advent of freedom of rights, mothers can easily schedule their induction dates – or even non-medical c-sections – to celebrate auspicious dates, or at their convenience, or just because they are tired of being pregnant. Very few doctors would bat an eyelid. I salute those who do, who advise otherwise, encouraging these mums to take the natural route – but more often than not, when the date is set, the date is set!
So where does this leave the mothers who want natural and physiological births – the outlaws, the ones with emotional issues, who want to remain pregnant? In the advent of freedom of rights, surely if a mother can “choose” her due date, then those who wish for natural births can choose to wait for their babies to emerge on the date intended by their Creator? Why the double standards?
It is so hard to detox from the fear of birth, even tiny bits of them like the infamous EDD. When I was expecting my youngest son, a boy who decided to go “overdue” by 11 days, I sat there sorely counting the hours waiting to throw confetti at the first contraction. Even with all my self-study on birth, I was still hung up on my EDD and why I had gone past for over a week. Besides the hormones that were keeping me antsy and on edge, I realise how hard it is for some mothers not to go running straight to their doctors at the due date – they really ARE scared that something bad may happen to their babies. And it doesn’t help that the society at large wants to know why they are not at the hospital if they are already due.
Nevertheless, my “overdue” bub was born in a straightforward, natural and painless birth. I am so thankful that I waited it out. Not that I was going to get myself induced. But at 41 weeks, while throwing up, that thought did cross my mind. “I’m overdue, I’m overdue – I just want to give birth!” even after insisting that: “My baby will come when my baby is ready.”
We really do need to remove that stigma of the EDD and have more faith that birth will happen. No one stays pregnant forever. Induction agents cause all sorts of complications that often lead to c-sections in first time mothers and uterine ruptures in mothers with multiple children. The mindset needs to change – mothers need to become better informed, to fully understand the physiological development of their baby and to trust that baby too, knows how and when to be born.
Maria Zain is the unschooled birth junkie with two c-sections, two natural births, and birth jewellery creations under Gardens of Adneen on Etsy, sketched into her birth resume. She loves everything about natural birth and hopes that one fine day, women will single-handedly take back their power to birth in a united fashion.