Sensory overload in labour 

I have a virus. Not dangerous, but pretty miserable. My sinuses are gunked up, my throat hurts, I have a really unpleasant cough. My gum infection has returned, which is setting off bad tmj (jaw) pain, and my mouth has dried out badly enough that my tongue is cracked and hurting. My face is a big mass of unhappiness and eating is a challenge. 

So when I’m also having contractions in this long, long early labour (12 days now) I’m getting overwhelmed easily. There’s simply so much input I can’t process it all. If I add in bright light and more than one or two other people, noise or conversations, my brain overloads. The pain is exhausting but the input alone is simply too much. 

I don’t have a lot of sensory issues generally, some fairly minor ones around things like needing to be completely dry after showers, not being able to tolerate tags on clothes or tight sock seams that are uneven. I didn’t really consider labour from a sensory perspective. The discomfort is manageable at the moment; my face is the centre stage for pain currently. The sheer fatigue gets to me at times. The difficulty of rest periods being occupied by other forms of pain to manage, so they don’t feel like a good rest. Dialing down the input and finding ways to ground and focus is helping. 

So last night, Rose went out to a lovely little dinner and I stayed home, because as much as I wanted to be part of it, I felt terrible and the prospect of trying to manage uncomfortable chairs, lots of people, tastes, smells, sounds, conversations overlapping on top of facial pain and contractions was too much. A friend stayed with me and we played a board game. 

Rose and Star are off running errands and I’m alone, with the lights dim and about to watch a Wire in the Blood to give me something to focus on.  It’s slow and sad and I know it well, the music is full of grief and it draws me into a calmer place where my breathing steadies. 

Earlier today as I started to overload I simply went and sat by Rose and asked her to hold my hand, tears running down my face. Sometimes adding one more soothing bit of sensory input gives me what I need to ground. 

There’s no way I’m the only person dealing with this. I haven’t seen much out there about it. I hope my observations might be useful to some. If you want to explore more about grounding and sensory supports, try 

Early labour

Back when Rose and I were at the beginning of this pregnancy, we made a plan that we’ve both been careful to stick to. Not telling people the exact due date. As we’ve moved into the third trimester we’ve stopped telling most people what week we are at, we’ve been vague about when full term will be, and the closer things have moved the less specific information we’ve put out in public. There’s a good reason for this – most women find that as their due date approaches, everyone and their dog gets in touch regularly to ask them if they’re in labour yet. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can be horrible. Making the focus the labour rather than the woman or the family can really take the shine off the last weeks of pregnancy. It can add pressure, be extremely frustrating, and really create a huge disconnect between what she needs at that point and what she’s getting from all corners. A lot of women get extremely fed up and grouchy, and some become quite depressive. Many growl at the very support network they would normally turn to for nurturing, and feeling crap about that only adds to stress.

All good reasons to keep the due date to ourselves and navigate the end of pregnancy with just our closest people knowing that information. It was a good plan, and if Little Frog had turned up on Thursday night when I started having contractions, I’d have called it a success. However, as with so much else in life, labour is often very different to what we’ve come to expect based on the movies. After a solid 2 months of pretty exhausting Braxton Hicks contractions, I’ve gone into what is variously called early labour, the latent phase, prodromal labour, or stop start labour (there’s a great description of the process here). What that means is getting contractions that don’t build into the stage called active labour. So they might turn up every 5 minutes, with increasing intensity over an hour, then stop completely and be replaced by the very familiar Braxton’s for the next 6 hours. It’s labour as a marathon rather than a sprint. At any time it could move into active labour, or I could experience this for another couple of weeks and wind up needing to be induced. I’m having chiro and acupuncture to try and move things along.

So, that makes things a little challenging to plan around. And when so few people know what’s going on, I’ve found myself isolated in my own little bubble. So, while I don’t wish to feel harassed by enquiries or deluged with labour stories, hey. I’m due on Monday, and I’m in early labour.

Rose has taken time off work, Star is staying with aunts for the moment. I’m resting, reading, having hot baths, cooking, and making beaded loom projects to manage the pain and help me focus on other things. Contractions come in bursts and then fade away. I’m still struggling with dental pain and need a lot of leg rubs to deal with the swelling. I’m not driving anymore and not able to walk very much. I’m incredibly grateful for the workshops and talking and support we’ve had, particularly from our doula, to arrive at this point. We’ve had to shift our approach as the days have gone by, move into rolling with the various feelings that come up – tremendous excitement, focused energy, disappointment, anxiety and uncertainty, feelings of failure, frustration, exhaustion. We’ve found a groove for now which is to focus on building our reserves (food, drink, sleep, rest/exercise balance, company/solitude balance) so that when active labour kicks off we both have resources to draw on.

We’re also banking our emotional energy – it’s impossible to stay excited and energised through this process for days – purely on a physical level it’s extremely tiring, let alone the emotional ups and downs. So we make space to talk through feelings as they come up, box up things we need to not focus on at the moment (I don’t much care about anything anyone else is dealing with right at this minute and I’m doing my best not to take anyone else’s stuff on), and clear the blocks when they need attention. I’m finding my projects are essential to give the more obsessive part of my brain something to focus on. I’m also surprised by some of the feelings that have come up – like a sense of anxiety that I’m somehow blocking the labour process or failing in some way. I don’t buy into the failure story intellectually and no one is harassing me in that way, but still. We imbibe cultural ideas and they seep into our vulnerable places. That’s why we need our people to help pull those thorns from our feet.

I’m ready. I’m excited. I’m tired. I can do this. I’m a little bit lonely and a little bit sad. I’m strong. I’m clear and focused. I’m vulnerable. I’m breathless with anticipation. I’m resting in the quiet spaces, feeling my hands in flour, the house breathing to itself at 4am. I’m crying in the bath. I’m phobic of speaking on the phone. I’m cranky and growling at the dog because my skin is burning from all the swelling. I’m missing Star and ambivalent about not having her here. I’m being crawled all over by the cats. I’m glowing.

I’m in labour.