Holy braxton-hicks, batman
It’s hard to know, exactly, whether a symptom has suddenly appeared or it has just become frequent enough for me to realize it’s happening. Whatever the case may be, this week Braxton-Hicks contractions seemed to swoop in out of nowhere. And they took over–happening all the time (or so it felt. Not really all the time. It they were happening all the time, I would call my doctor. Or chalk it up to irritable uterus. But they are frequent!)
There is a lot of question about Braxton-Hicks contractions and how they compare to real contractions. How exactly are Braxton-Hicks contractions different from real contractions? The usual mark of delineation is that Braxton-Hicks (or “practice contractions”) are not painful, and real contractions are. This is hogwash. Real contractions are not always painful. (And you can have not-painful, irregular, real contractions that stop when you sit down and pick up when you stand up again that will cause your cervix to dilate. Ask me how I know.)
They do feel different, though. The tightening is in different spots. With Braxton-Hicks, what tightens up is the lower part of the belly. As a result (I assume) I get a weird sensation like my stomach is raising up, similar to the feeling you get when you drive down a hill or go down a roller coaster (though obviously not quite as pronounced as the sensation produced by the latter.) Or even, in a way, the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re nervous. It’s this weird stomach flip-flop that I recognize first, not the tightening of the uterus. It’s a funny feeling. Sometimes I stop and mentally ask myself, Why am I nervous? And then I realize it’s a BH happening.
When this happens, if I push on my belly up by my belly-button, at the top of the uterus, it’s not tight at all. With a real contraction, the tightening goes all the way to the top of the uterus, and when you push up there you can feel its tautness. I also don’t get the stomach flip-flop feeling with a real contraction. It is more of a horizontal feeling than a vertical one, if that makes sense.
Now, irritable uterus is a horizontal-feeling tightness but that doesn’t go all the way to a full contraction, and also doesn’t go away or relax. Sometimes for a long time. But that’s a story for another time–I’m not experiencing that yet this time around.
I can vividly remember when I turned a corner with Beatrice’s pregnancy. It was just before Christmas–maybe two weeks before–and we were working on the renovation of the Colloquium. We had just brought in someone to do the wood floors. I should have been very excited about that. Instead, I felt this wave of irrational emotion sweep over me. Things that didn’t bother me before bothered me now–a lot. I felt incredibly anxious about the renovation, about the baby coming, and tired and weepy over everything else. I do remember feeling better after getting a couple of random, impulsive personal nesting projects out of the way. (Fixing Elvie and Eldore’s room, and doing those polka dots all over our bedroom wall.) Otherwise, I felt overwhelmed with this constant flow of emotion, which had even me looking at myself sideways and wondering what the heck the big deal was.
I am due a couple of weeks later than I was with Beadie (May 1 as opposed to April 19) and a similar corner has been turned with Flannery, just a couple of weeks later, as may be expected. I don’t like to say that I’m upset over everything, but I’m upset a lot over a lot of things when I really shouldn’t be. I also feel like I’ve lost my ability to have perspective on anything (everything feels like it has always been the way it is and will never change–I feel this way a lot in the first trimester, too.) Maybe it has to do with the resurgent physical limitations that are heralding the arrival of the third trimester. (As a side note, I don’t remember having this sudden corner-turn with Eldore or Aurick, but I never really got a reprieve from the difficulties of the first trimester with them, and one difficult month pretty much blended into the next.) Maybe it’s just hormones, or more hormones, or it’s something I’m doing that I could be doing differently. I don’t really know. I just think the parallel with Beatrice’s pregnancy is interesting. I don’t clearly remember this happening with anyone else, except maybe Ephraim, and it hit right around/just before Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just a holiday problem.
A note on misery
I’ve gone back and changed a few words here and there in this post–words like “miserable”. I am thankful for this pregnancy like I have been thankful for them all. The fact remains, though, that pregnancy is really difficult, pregnancy as an elderly mother (ha!) is difficult-er than it was when I was younger, and pregnancy while trying to keep up with myriad responsibilities like homeschooling or cooking real food for real people is not a walk in the park. I despise the sugar-coating of things. This account is principally for me to refer back to should I ever, in the future, wonder if I was ever this miserable before, and to remind me that yes, I was, and yes, it goes away, and yes, I will survive and everything will be fine. If someone else can benefit from it, so much the better.
However, I know my own tone in my head, and realize that most of my readers do not have that advantage. I am speaking mostly tongue-in-cheek, even when I use words like “miserable”. But such things are easily misinterpreted and misconstrued. So I have tried to soften my language to avoid sounding like I am complaining, or bemoaning any pregnancy, which for all its trials is a huge gift that I am thankful for. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk and I appreciate your patience as you read along.
This week mostly continued in the same vein as the last couple. More mood swings, more fatigue, more Braxton-Hicks, more weird heart episodes. I felt really, really discouraged this week.
I am at a loss as to how I should deal with these limitations. One way is to take things very easy, scale way, way back on my to-do list, sit down a lot, etc. The problem is that that doesn’t usually make me feel better. Sometimes, but not always.
Another way to just push through a bad spell and see what is on the other side. A lot of times, this is all that’s needed for the moment to pass. Many mornings I feel terrible, but in the afternoon I am fine, if I don’t stop moving. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Many mornings I feel terrible but I just feel worse if I don’t stop and rest.
I can never really know what a day is going to be like. I may “take a day off”, hoping that the next day will be better, but it isn’t. I may make a plan for a particular day, then when the day arrives, I can’t execute said plan because I can’t breathe when I stand up. Just today I am typing this while in bed because, while I was perfectly fine this morning, a trip down and back up the stairs completely wiped me out, and I had to lie down because of the persistent, painful cramping that that little jaunt earned me. (Why? I have no idea. I go up and down the stairs every day. I usually get breathlessness, but not pain.)
So what do you do with this? If you ask your doctor, your doctor reminds you that you are 1) pregnant, and 2) elderly* and that this is par for the course. I have been around this block enough to know that they’re right when they say this, but for some reason it doesn’t stop my brain from trying to find some kind of remedy, some kind of secret sauce that will allow me to be pregnant without feeling pregnant.
no clear path
If you try to adjust your behavior to either account for the difficulties, or to attempt to avoid the difficulties, or to ignore the difficulties, you are likely to be disappointed no matter what. Following the whim (that’s what it feels like) of your body each day is fine if you don’t have anyone relying on your being consistent from day to day, but my seven little people who look to me to be some kind of reasonable person and not a constantly changing victim of chance wouldn’t exactly appreciate it. (I am mincing words. There is harm possible here.) It’s also not exactly a good idea to, say, grocery shop for the week, then leave all the food to rot because you had to order out every night because you didn’t feel well enough to cook. Option one is simply miserable if you’re in an environment that requires any kind of planning ahead at all, and I am in such an environment.
Its twin, I suppose, is option three: to just ignore how you feel in order to be consistent and stick to Your Plans. The problem with this, of course, is that the pregnant body cannot be ignored. Sometimes it can! …Sometimes it can’t. And you end up stuck in bed anyway because you can’t breathe, or you can’t walk, or you can’t straighten up for the cramping in your side. What do you do then?
It seems like the answer should be simple: you can’t prioritize the feeling, and you can’t ignore it, so you must find middle ground. But what does this look like in real life? What does this look like when you’re looking at the week ahead? What does it look like when you get up in the morning? This question, and the attempt to put something like it into practice, is frustrating and exhausting.
We have been reading a bit about the view of man as machine (Morris Berman’s The Reenchantment of the World; Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances) and I can’t help but regard option two (avoid the difficulties by following some sort of regimen) as a clear example of that; of course since I am not a machine, this approach doesn’t do much good. In what moments of quiet I have I have tried to reflect on what I can learn from this predicament I find myself in–what I could gain by acknowledging this mystery of pregnancy without trying to control it so much, but also without its controlling me. There is something potent here beneath the surface, but I haven’t found it yet.
Sorry it is so hard. I have also been an older pregnant mom (last pregnancy (5th child) was at age 39) and have had some similar issues, but recently I found out that some of them were caused by an underactive thyroid as well as some nutritional deficiencies. I apologize if you’ve already said you’ve done this, but maybe bloodwork for things like thyroid (tsh and t4 free), iron (esp. Ferritin, usually they just check hematocrit) and vitamin d to see if there is anyone your body is needing. Maybe it won’t help at all, but if you are deficient, it can’t hurt to nurture yourself a bit!
Hey Jen, thanks for the suggestions! I have had my thyroid checked and everything seems to be fine there (but I have neglected to include that info here on the blog!) And I am taking extra vitamin D. But I suspect my iron is likely low–that’s something they’ll be checking next time I go in. Us “elderly” moms need all the help we can get, right? 😉
Also, thank you for reading this very long, self-indulgent update, which I am a little embarrassed by. I appreciate it!
No problem. Hahaha. I once had someone say to me, “Well, I’m not like you, you love being pregnant!” I was like, what are you talking about? Pregnancy (especially as I get older) is incredibly difficult and painful. I just love having babies and children.
I know exactly what you mean!
Also, after your comment I realized that I take my vitamins (with the extra vitamin D) in the afternoon, and I almost always feel better after I do. So I moved that to the mornings and have really noticed a difference in my days overall. So I think you’re definitely right that that could be contributing. Thanks again!