Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

On Why I’m Not Sharing My Due Date

There are a handful of questions you get asked over and over and over again when you’re pregnant. The top two, at least for me, have been “How are you feeling?” and “When are you due?”

As you get farther along in your pregnancy and begin to show more, the due date question is one you hear nearly every day, from friends and family and strangers alike. It’s an easy icebreaker, a safe topic of conversation, and it’s basic information, so it’s easy to see why it’s the number one question pregnant women must answer.

But I’m not answering it this time.

I think the due date is one of the most prevalent misconceptions in American medicine. When a health care provider assigns a pregnant woman a due date, many women take it as a deadline. People constantly ask you when you’re due. People count down with you to the due date. People are confused and concerned when you go past the due date. Many doctors routinely schedule women for inductions a few days after their due date. Women refer to the days after their due date as the most challenging part of their pregnancy.

And the whole thing is based on a giant misunderstanding, perpetuated by the medical community, and bought into wholesale by our tightly-scheduled, deadline-obsessed, instant-gratification culture. We, as Americans, love having everything planned out. We crave predictability. We hate having to slow down and wait. We are uncomfortable with the unexpected.

How Do We Get the Due Date?

The technical term is actually “Estimated Due Date,” or EDD. They take the first day of your last period and count out 40 weeks from that date. In 1744 a botanist name Harmanni Boerhaave referenced evidence from the bible and determined that human gestation lasts 10 lunar months.

Then, in 1812, a German obstetrician named Franz Naegele publicized the method, but he calculated it wrong. He assumed 4 weeks per month multiplied by 10 months… that’s 40 weeks, or 280 days.  There’s one problem with that method, though. 10 lunar months (from new moon to new moon) is actually 15 days, a full two weeks, longer than Naegele’s Rule allows.

Add to this the wide variation in cycle length from woman to woman and the unreliability of ultrasound to determine gestation (it can be off by up to 21 days during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy), and you’ve got a big misunderstanding on your hands.

Full human gestation is actually closer to 42 weeks than 40, and 50-80% of women, if their bodies are allowed to lead the way, will deliver after 40 weeks.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists says that it’s safe and normal to deliver anytime between 37 and 42 weeks gestation, and recommends that health care providers not interfere with a healthy pregnancy until 42 weeks.

The Emotional and Mental Impact

The result of the due date is that our entire pregnancies, our mindsets, get built around this magic date. Because we are constantly asked about the date, we are constantly reminded of the date, and the closer we get, the more it feels like a timer slowly ticking down to an expected end. When that date comes and nothing happens, it can be incredibly disappointing, confusing, and even frightening. The psychological impact of counting down to a single date when the EDD was never meant to be a deadline, but a window, is astounding.

Labor is meant to start spontaneously, and the outcomes are exponentially better when a woman’s body is allowed to begin the work without outside interference than when we start it artificially. We are led to believe that every day we are pregnant after our due date represents something wrong with us, something getting worse, that needs to be fixed. We think we’re “late” when we’re, statistically speaking, totally normal. Instead of trusting our bodies to do what God designed them to do, we give them over to pharmaceutical solutions for a problem that doesn’t exist. (Of course, there are time when interventions are absolutely necessary. I’m talking about healthy, normal pregnancy and birth, not genuine high-risk situation.)

So, I’m not sharing my due date. Partly because I want to use this as an opportunity to educate people about what the estimated due date is actually meant to represent. Mostly, though, I don’t want to get sucked into the countdown. I’m not offended or bothered by the due date question, but for my own sanity I’m not answering it in the way people expect.

When people ask, I tell them I’m due in April. When they ask for a more specific date, I tell them I’ll be 42 weeks around the end of April, so this baby is welcome to arrive anytime during the month (although, if he could avoid our anniversary on the 7th, that would be great…). If you really want to figure out my 40 week date from there, go for it!

But I’ve already forgotten my EDD, and I’m more at peace that way. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about birth, it’s that a woman has to be at peace for it to work.

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2 thoughts on “On Why I’m Not Sharing My Due Date

  1. Thank you, my dear, for having the guts to write about this. I get weird looks when I choose not to disclose our birth plan, or when I tell people we’re not finding out the sex, or when I give them an approximate due date. Good to see someone else is ok with not jumping through the hoops of the maternity medical system.

    • It can be a little isolating to go against the mainstream medical model, especially, I imagine, in the South where fewer women are making the choices you are (or even know about the alternative options). These choices are very personal and it can get tiring having them constantly up for discussion! Good for you for sticking with your educated convictions!

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