Looking back on my labor experience,I have to laugh. I laugh because I went through a period of latent labor which I grossly misinterpreted as the real thing. As I poured through message boards and repeatedly encountered bits of advice like, “don’t worry, you’ll be able to tell the difference between braxton hicks contractions and the real thing,” I had no idea how true those statements were. The difference between braxton hicks contractions and true active labor contractions is so significant, it is like describing the difference between a jet and a compact car. Yes, they are both modes of transportation, but one is confined to a road going 65mph and the other propels you through the atmosphere at such force that even gravity cannot pull you back to earth. Likewise, braxton hicks contractions may cause you to shift your weight to get comfortable, but the real thing will suddenly empower you to crawl up the walls in the labor and delivery room like a tree frog on caffeine pills.
I remember when I started experiencing real contractions. I had been in latent labor since Wednesday and it was a Monday afternoon. I am not kidding. I had been contracting regularly, but with so little force that I doubt I could have given birth to a caterpillar. I required the contraction boosting power of Pitocin, and once the drug kicked in, I probably could have given birth to a gorilla. My uterus starting contracting with such momentum that I was certain I had swallowed a jack hammer. Someone told me they would feel like strong menstrual cramps. What kind of menstrual cramps was that woman experiencing? I wasn’t experiencing any kind of cramping. Cramping implies compression or tightening. I was experiencing the exact opposite: the jaws of life were clamped onto my pelvic bones, pulling them apart. I was a helpless wishbone, about to be snapped in half so the whole room could have their wish and start singing happy birthday to my son for the very first time.
There is no comparison between braxton hicks contractions and real active labor contractions. If you are not sure whether or not you are in labor…. you are NOT in labor.
(Disclaimer: This blog was not in anyway intended to scare anyone from giving birth. It’s intention was to reflect the intensity of emotion and surprise experienced by the author at the pinnacle of her childbirth experience, which may or may not reflect reality.)