She’s curled up on the couch, waiting, a ball of baby and emotions. A scrambled pile of books on pregnancy, labor, baby names, breastfeeding…not one more word can be absorbed. The birth supplies are loaded in a laundry basket, ready for action. The freezer is filled with meals, the car seat installed, the camera charged. It’s time to hurry up and wait. Not a comfortable place to be, but wholly necessary.
The last days of pregnancy— sometimes stretching to agonizing weeks—are a distinct place, time, event, stage. It is a time of in between. Neither here nor there. Your old self and your new self, balanced on the edge of a pregnancy. One foot in your old world, one foot in a new world.
Shouldn’t there be a word for this state of being, describing the time and place where mothers linger, waiting to be called forward?
Germans have a word, zwischen, which means between. I’ve co-opted that word for my own obstetrical uses. When I sense the discomfort and tension of late pregnancy in my clients, I suggest that they are now in The Time of Zwischen. The time of in between, where the opening begins. Giving it a name gives it dimension, an experience closer to wonder than endurance.
I tell these beautiful, round, swollen, weepy women to go with it and be okay there. Feel it, think it, don’t push it away. Write it down, sing really loudly when no one else is home, go commune with nature, or crawl into your own mama’s lap so she can rub your head until you feel better. I tell their men to let go of their worry; this is an early sign of labor. I encourage them to sequester themselves if they need space, to go out if they need distraction, to enjoy the last hours of this life-as-they-now-know-it. I try to give them permission to follow the instinctual gravitational pulls that are at work within them, just as real and necessary as labor.
The discomforts of late pregnancy are easy to Google: painful pelvis, squished bladder, swollen ankles, leaky nipples, weight unevenly distributed in a girth that makes scratching an itch at ankle level a feat of flexibility. “You might find yourself teary and exhausted,” says one website, “but your baby is coming soon!” Cheer up, sweetie, you’re having a baby. More messaging that what is going on is incidental and insignificant.
What we don’t have is reverence or relevance—or even a working understanding of the vulnerability and openness a woman experiences at this time. Our language and culture fails us. This surely explains why many women find this time so complicated and tricky. But whether we recognize it or not, these last days of pregnancy are a distinct biologic and psychological event, essential to the birth of a mother.
We don’t scientifically understand the complex hormones at play that loosen both her hips and her awareness. In fact, this uncomfortable time of aching is an early form of labor in which a woman begins opening her cervix and her soul. Someday, maybe we will be able to quantify this hormonal advance—the prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol, relaxin. But for now, it is still shrouded in mystery, and we know only how to measure thinning and dilation.
“You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.” -Tinkerbell
I believe that this is more than biological. It is spiritual. To give birth, whether at home in a birth tub with candles and family or in a surgical suite with machines and a neonatal team, a woman must go to the place between this world and the next, to that thin membrane between here and there. To the place where life comes from, to the mystery, in order to reach over to bring forth the child that is hers. The heroic tales of Odysseus are with us, each ordinary day. This round woman is not going into battle, but she is going to the edge of her being where every resource she has will be called on to assist in this journey.
We need time and space to prepare for that journey. And somewhere, deep inside us, at a primal level, our cells and hormones and mind and soul know this, and begin the work with or without our awareness.
I call out Zwischen in prenatals as a way of offering comfort and, also, as a way of offering protection. I see how simple it is to exploit and abuse this time. A scheduled induction is seductive, promising a sense of control. Fearful and confused family can trigger a crisis of confidence. We are not a culture that waits for anything, nor are we believers in normal birth; waiting for a baby can feel like insanity. Giving this a name points her toward listening and developing her own intuition. That, in turn, is a powerful training ground for motherhood.
Today, I am waiting for a lovely new mother named Allison to call me, to announce that her Zwischen is ended and labor has begun. I am in my own in between place, waiting. My opportunity to grow and open is a lovely gift she gives me, in choosing me to attend her birth.
1. Natural induction is only a helping hand - it's usually gentle enough that it won't bring on labor if your body isn't ready. For this reason it's not recommended for use before 38 weeks. If you do begin before then, chances are it won't work anyway.
2. You should do your own research on any natural induction method before trying it.
3. If you aren't sure about naturally inducing, you need to talk to your doctor. High risk pregnancies or illness in pregnancy can make natural induction risky.
4. Don't listen to people (friends, family or professionals) who flat out state that natural induction doesn't work. Even in the medical profession, opinions are varied on methods that work or if any do work at all. Do your research!
40 Ways to induce Labor Naturally
1. Acupressure - There are pressure points in the shoulder well, webbing between thumb and forefinger, heel and small of back.
2. Balsamic Vinegar - Add a dash to your salad. Definitely won't hurt to try!
3. Basil - Throw some in your cooking.
4. Black/Blue Cohosh - Taken in tea form is a common way to induce labor. Some midwives use it even during labor to increase slow contractions. There have been some studies claiming that it can have bad side effects for mother and/or baby however. I'd recommend research first.
5. Borage seed oil - Meant to have similar effects to evening primrose oil - dilating and effacing.
6. Bouncing on birth/exercise ball - Spreading your legs as well as the moving up and down can help the baby move down.
7. Bumpy car ride - Sometimes the baby just needs a bit of a jiggle!
8. Castor oil - Statistically speaking it only works on 57% of women and causes lovely things like diarrhoea and sometimes, vomiting. The theory is that the cramps in the bowel set off contractions. Opinion is still out on whether castor oil causes babies to pass meconium in the womb but a) most women using castor oil are overdue and b) babies that are overdue are more likely to pass meconium so you do the maths!
9. Chinese food - Not sure why, but some people have claimed this works a treat. Or maybe they just ate Chinese food all the time anyway, so they blamed it for the onset of labor. Worth a try!
10. Clary sage oil - Use for aromatherapy as an oil or in a candle.
11. Dancing - Don't do anything too drastic - pole dancing might be a bit much! But if you get in there and swing your hips around a lot, there's a chance baby might think about coming out.
12. Eggplant - Many people swear by eggplant parmigiana.
13. Evening primrose oil - Can be taken orally from 35 weeks and used internally (good idea to do this at night and use a panty liner) from 38 weeks. It's meant to soften the cervix so that even if you do get induced, the doctor may be able to break your waters and not need any further intervention to bring on labor.
14. Galloping - Many women claim that imitating a horse can help start labor. See the video further down!
15. Glass of Wine - The slight effects of the alcohol are said to bring on labor, however remember that drinking during pregnancy is NOT recommended. You might want to check this with your doctor first.
16. Golden seal - Taken in tablet form is easiest.
17. Kneeling on all fours - A friend of a friend was told to do this. Swing the hips back and forth. Her waters broke just a few minutes later. Coincidence? Maybe!
18. Licorice - Try to get the natural kind - it contains more licorice and usually less sugar. Like castor oil, some people claim that the slightly laxative effect can cause cramps in the bowel which lead to contractions.
19. Mandarin oil on heels - Had a friend recommend this. It didn't work for her, but worth a try!
20. Massage - Find a massage therapist qualified to work with pregnant women. Many will know various points to massage to induce labor. This is why massage is not recommended during the early stages of pregnancy.
21. Motherwort - Taken in tea or pill form.
22. Nipple stimulation - Needs to be done for approx an hour at a time. The verdict is out on this - some people claim that it causes very strong contractions which can be dangerous. I tried it and I had barely more than cramps! For increased stimulation try either a breast pump or borrowing a friend's newborn baby (although you might want to be close friends!).
23. Oregano - Throw some in your cooking!
24. Orgasm - Orgasms cause contractions which is part of what feels so good. That's why many women enjoy orgasms more during pregnancy! You can try this alone or with a partner... whatever you're comfortable with.
25. Pineapple - Best taken fresh and raw. Statistically speaking, the chemicals which pineapple contain, which are said to start labor aren't very high. So that means about 7 pineapples should put you into labor!
26. Quinine - Not quite sure how it works but I've read that it is used in various countries - either pill or liquid form.
27. Raspberry leaf - Taken either as a tea or pill. Start at about 34 weeks - opinion is divided as to whether it will start labor, but it definitely strengthens the uterus, leading to a (hopefully) shorter labor, because each contraction can achieve more.
28. Relaxation excercises - Try some relaxing music and just lie back or even join a meditation class.
29. Sperm - If you feel up to sex, this is a good start towards getting ready for labor. The sperm helps soften and dilate the cervix.
30.Spicy food - A very well known labor starter! The reason it works may be because of the upset it causes to the digestive system which then upsets the uterus. Not highly recommended.
31. Squats - Doing a few of these each day often helps to move the baby down and into position.
32. Squaw Vine - Old remedy. Not sure how well it works.
33. Stretch and sweep of membranes - Your midwife or doctor can perform this simple procedure. A finger is inserted into the cervix and a gentle 'sweep' of the finger slightly separates the uterus wall and amniotic sac, sometimes leading to labor within hours or days. Some women say it's an easy, painless procedure, others claim it can be very painful. How well it works can also depend on if you are very far dilated or not.
34. Swimming - Relaxed swimming can help bring out the baby - both the water and the movement help.
35. Swinging on a swing - Similar to a bumpy car ride but probably a bit easier on mum.
36. Thyme Tea - Worth a try!
37. Visualisation excercises - Many women swear by these. Try making a recording of yourself talking about the baby moving down, preparing to be born etc or just imagine it in your head.
38. Walking - The bumping up and down can help the baby move into the birth canal. In fact, this is one of the few ways that most doctors agree on for starting labor.
39. Walking up/down stairs - More bumping up and down! The further lifting of the legs can help with moving the baby if walking doesn't seem to.
40. Yoga - Many places offer special classes for all stages of pregnancy.