When you're nearing the end of your third trimester, the biggest question next to "when will I go into labor?" is "how will I know when it's time to go to the hospital/birth center?" Most care providers use the tried & true formula: call when your contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart, lasting for 30 seconds to 1 minute each, and have been going on for a couple of hours. When you are genuinely in early labor, your contractions will grow longer, stronger and closer together. But for moms who are experiencing labor for the first time, the question still remains about how that will feel -- "how will I know what I'm feeling is labor?"
While it's impossible to generalize the feeling and experience of labor for everyone, there are some common similarities for most women. Contractions feel different depending on what stage of labor you're in. When your contractions make you feel like you cannot talk or answer a question reasonably, you're most likely at the end of early labor and headed into active labor. And yes, it's probably time for you to go to your chosen place of birth. Having experienced three of my own births, I can look back and say that for my first, I went to the hospital in very early labor and could have benefited from staying home longer. My early contractions made me pause and concentrate, but I was still able to answer questions, talk, and remain lucid. With my most recent birth, I waited until contractions made me stop in my tracks, drop to the ground and find a position and rhythm for comfort. When my husband called our doula, I was not able to talk to her on the phone. When we drove to the hospital, I was not looking out the window, thinking about the scenery. In fact, apart from stopping at a (really long) traffic light, I remember very little of the ride!
Of course, there are stories of women who say they felt barely more than menstrual cramps up until the point of birth, but those stories are the exception. And then, there are well-meaning folks who say "you'll just know when it's time." Which is nice, but not helpful!
So, Giving Birth with Confidence wants to know, so we can share with our readers (some of who may be wondering, "is today the day?"): How did you know when it was time to go? Share your thoughts in the comments!