It was only a few weeks later, when it started happening basically all the time, that I thought to Google "pregnant, sudden tightening of the belly" and realized what was going on. These were Braxton-Hicks contractions, and they were a good thing. They were my body's way of "training for the marathon of labor." I was pleased, because if this was my body gearing up, and it was starting this early and with this crazy frequency, then I was surely going to be a rockstar at giving birth in February.
But there was just one hitch. Every article I read about Braxton-Hicks contractions contained this line, "If you have more than four contractions in an hour, you could be experiencing preterm labor. You should call your doctor and head to Labor & Delivery." My belly tightened for what was probably the 11th time that hour and I thought, um...
I called my midwife, who is level-headed. "The concern of course," she said in her soft British accent, "is preterm labor. But it doesn't seem like you are having any other symptoms." She was right, it was just these massive quantities of contractions. She asked a few questions, made some hm sounds, and then told me to drink a bunch of water, a half a glass of wine, and to spend the weekend doing nothing. I was to keep track of any contractions and report back to her on Monday.
Tiny glass of wine in hand, I Googled until I eventually found, huddled on corners of pregnancy message boards, little groups of women who shared my symptoms. They contracted when they walked the dog, when they folded laundry, when they bent to tie their shoes, when they sat up quickly, when they sneezed, when they where thirsty, when they had to pee, and when they were just lying on the couch with their feet propped on pillows. None of their contractions seemed to get worse, or to follow a timeable pattern. Most of them had been to Labor & Delivery at least once. Some were given medications that made them tremble and their hearts race. Some were put on bed rest. Some were given Magnesium IVs. Some sought second and third opinions and were told completely contradictory things. No one knew whether they should stay in bed or get exercise, no one knew if the drugs were working, and no seemed to be able to tell them their odds for preterm labor. They each at some point were given the term "irritable uterus" which is a catch-all diagnosis with no standard of care. "May or may not lead to premature delivery," the one website about it read.
I contracted all weekend but had no other symptoms. The contractions never formed a pattern, never got stronger, never went away. I found more women on older message boards and followed their stories. Some went into labor before 30 weeks and had micro-preemies who stayed in the NICU, but most seemed to make it almost to term. They had their babies at 35 and 36 and 37.2 weeks and they considered this a triumph. "Baby born a month early, but I'm finally free from my angry witch of a uterus!" they said.
Before this, the idea that my baby could ever come early had never once crossed my mind. My siblings and I were each born nearly two weeks late. We were big babies, fully cooked at 8 and a half and 9 and 10 lbs. I could have imagined a million things being wrong with my baby, or with me, but coming early couldn't be one of them. Now I didn't know what to think.
All was inconclusive at my checkup. I was contracting the entire time, but there was no dilation or worrisome changes, the baby swam and kicked around and had a beautiful heartbeat, my blood pressure was low. So what was happening? My midwife couldn't tell me. She gave me some magnesium powder and instructions to take the next two weeks as easy as possible- no exercise, no stress, but that was all she could do. "This might just be your normal," she told me with a sort of consolatory smile.
So now I'm on "modified bed rest," which means I lay around all day even more that I used to. If I have to do something like carefully walk the dog or flip a load of laundry I lie down immediately afterwards. I spend a lot of time reading stories about irritable uterus and try to spot patterns or find clues. I worry about preterm labor. I stop worrying. I contract a lot. I worry some more. I throw up (yes I am still doing that!)
I'm trying to take it easy mentally, trying to focus on happy things like the baby's energetic kicking or the comic hugeness of my belly. I have been sewing little things, and reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, which I find enormously comforting. If the baby comes early, I live in a city with good care. And if this is just "my normal" and I go to term, at least my belly will have had a lot of practice.