Human babies have an average gestation of 40 weeks, or about 9 months.
I think it’s really important to remember that your due date is not like the tracking number you get from UPS. There’s no guaranteed by 5:00 on that date or your money back.
Then where does the 40 weeks number come from?
Well, it’s an average. About half of babies are born before the 40 week mark and half are born after. The normal range is considered 38 – 42 weeks.
A Tale of Two Due Dates
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my due date was in mid-November. But, I had read that sometimes, with your first baby, you run a little over. Whether it’s because you mis-calculated when you got pregnant or maybe your baby needs a little extra time to “ripen,” your due date can be off.
I was determined not to panic if my due date came and I didn’t have a baby yet, so I told myself for MONTHS that my due date was a week later than expected.
I thought this was a clever trick. I told my relatives and friends the later due date and figured I would spare myself a lot of, “Have you had that baby yet?” Questions.
1st Pregnancy, 39 weeks. Note to self: when someone asks, “do you want to hold a baby alligator?” It’s okay to say, “no.”
As it turns out, this plan backfired. From month 7 on, people (friends, strangers, relatives) would ask why I hadn’t had that baby yet. Part of this has to do with my belly – it was enormous in a way that only a baby belly can be cute and enormous at the same time. AND, since I had totally convinced myself that my baby wouldn’t be born until my later due date, when she was born right on time, I was not quite ready. I mean, I had diapers, a car seat, baby clothes, etc. But I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t gone grocery shopping, caught up on my laundry, or installed my car seat, and I just spent the first few days with my new baby trying to get my bearings (which, honestly, you’re going to do anyway, but it would have been nice to have food in the refridgerator).
Fast Forward Two Years and Nine months
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I was determined not to make the same mistake again. I wanted to be prepared for the whole range of possibilities. Part of this was practical, I now had another child who needed to have someone to watch her and play with her while I was delivering a baby (whenever that might be), and most of my family lives 7 hours away, so they couldn’t just come over whenever I happened to go into labor and watch my daughter. So, from weeks 38 – 41, I had planned to have someone on hand who could watch my daughter.
Pregnancy #2. 41 weeks.
Week 38 passed. No baby. Week 39 passed. No baby. Week 40 passed. No baby. Week 41 started, and I started to get intensely impatient. I was not-so-secretly hoping for an early baby and then having 3 weeks with support to get adjusted to life with two babies. But, that’s not how it happened, and I was frustrated.
I own my business, so my employer was very understanding when I needed to cut back my work load significantly because I was about to have a baby. Of course, my workplace has no maternity leave policy…because if I don’t go to work, I can’t afford to pay myself and someone to do my job for me…and to be honest, I can’t pay someone to do my job. But, I was able to work at half speed for the few weeks before and after I had my baby. I was able to take my new baby to work with me, which facilitated breast feeding and bonding, and it all worked out.
But, I can understand how this “baby can come at any time, whenever they’re ready” approach is really challenging for many families. Let’s say you’ve managed to cobble together 6 weeks of vacation and sick leave, you’re 38 weeks pregnant and are sick of going to work every day and having to constantly explain your lack of baby and you’ve said, “No, I’m not having twins. Yes, I’m sure,” more times than you can count. Plus, you’re exhausted all the time because you’re growing a baby, your belly is enormous, your weight is displaced, it’s uncomfortable to do everything – you’ve walked a thousand miles, eaten spicy food, massaged your labor points and basically tried every old wive’s trick to induce labor short of drinking castor oil (though it’s been kindly suggested), and you’re watching your vacation days tick by, and all you want is to snuggle your baby and have your body back.
This is all to say, I can understand why labor induction is really appealing.
Figuring out what’s best
Both of my babies were born on my body’s timeline. They were born without pitocin, epidural, in my home, and they were both healthy, whole and wonderful. After a few weeks of sore nipples, I was able to successfully breast feed. I did all the things you’re “supposed” to do if you want to have a natural birth experience. And I wouldn’t change my experience for the world…maybe.
But…if my life had been different. Let’s say, I had to work out family leave with my employer. Would it really have been better for my baby if I had to use three weeks of leave waiting around for my baby to be born? Would it have been preferable for that alternate universe Maggie to schedule an induction, risk that it didn’t work, and find myself having a c-section, so I could have my leave time with my baby.
What if breast feeding hadn’t been so ‘easy’? I would have wanted to have a lot of high quality and affordable options to supplement my baby’s diet. I would have still loved my babies: played with her, held her, sang to her…and it still been hard to find a balance between letting my body recover, taking care of my newborn, and resuming my life’s responsibilities.
I feel like birth is the first time you’re forced to confront the reality that you are going to second guess every decision you make as a parent. Most of us don’t get to know if waiting for spontaneous labor, inducing, or scheduling a c-section is ultimately going to be the “perfect” choice for your child. You’re just going to do the best you can, and hope for the best for yourself and your baby.
I think it’s important to acknowledge reality – due dates are estimates; we live in a society that doesn’t make it easy for women to bring their baby’s into the world, and you’re going to have to make choices without knowing how it’s going to work out.
I just to say that whenever and however your babies were born: you love them, and you’re doing a good job.