'Due Dates' Are More Like Guidelines

calendarWhen you tell someone that you're pregnant, the first words you're likely to hear are, "Oh, when are you due?" And although they probably don't really care if it's the 15th or the 19th (unless, of course, it's their niece's birthday), they always seem to want to know the exact date. Of course, unless you know with absolute certainty the moment that you conceived, it tends to shift around a day here or there, and that 40-week due date keeps changing.

So it kind of begs the question: Are due dates a little bit arbitrary? I mean, yes, there's some science to it, based on a 9-month cycle, but don't they say 40 weeks is just an average anyway? If so, why do we always get stuck on that one magic day?

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I know just one person who gave birth on her actual due date -- she went into labor after midnight and gave birth to her son that morning. At the time though, they told her that only 5 percent of babies are born on their actual due date. Well, that's bad news for another friend of mine, whose daughter is due 11/11/11. He was psyched when the doctor told them their new date ... until she explained that the baby had a better chance of being born "on the elevens" if she had a different official due date. Drats!

Back in May, I had four friends who gave birth in the same two days -- two shared a due date just a few days earlier, one was due an entire week earlier, one was due a week later. Nope, there was no full moon, but it was Rapture Eve and Rapture Day, so maybe the impending end-of-the-world was enough to lure those babies out. It was like a birth cluster, due dates be damned!

Meanwhile, pregnant with twins, I barely thought about my actual due date. For me, it was a lot of, "Just stay in as long as possible. If we make it to July, I'll be happy." I would mark off the weeks of my pregnancy, relieved to hit certain milestones that I felt gave me a better shot of giving birth to healthy babies. When people asked when I was due, I'd say, "Hopefully, sometime in July." But, then, of course, for some reason, people wanted to know what my actual due date was. So I'd explain that my singleton due date would have been August 9, but my doctor delivers twins no later than 38 weeks, so I guess that my due date was no later than July 26. I called it my "twins due date," having no idea what that actually meant, but wanting to give them a reasonable answer. Now, it turns out that I might go even later than that. Go figure!

Clearly, that whole 40 weeks thing is just an estimate, so why do we pay attention to an exact date? It seems to me that some babies are early birds and some take longer to cook. Or, Mama's body just decides, "Alright, time to come out!" whether the baby is two months early, right on time, or a couple of weeks late. I was born two days after my due date, but my brother was 2.5 weeks late. My grandmother insists that all of the women in her family have this condition where, after the first child, every consecutive child is born several weeks late. My mom was born on time, but my uncles were born 2.5 and 3.5 weeks late, respectively. By the way, these days, a doctor would never let a woman get that far along. And yet, my uncles turned out just fine, thank you very much!

There do seem to be those women who know that their babies are going to come a couple of weeks early. I'll see their Facebook posts where they gripe about being ready to pop, and insist that their little one is coming any day now, despite the fact that their due date is still weeks away. And then, lo and behold -- three days later, their baby arrives. Do these women use mind control to make labor happen? (If so, maybe they need to sit down with all of those chicks eating pineapple and drinking castor oil and give them some pointers.) Or do they have some maternal sense about when their child is actually due?

For the last month, when people ask when I'm due, I've just been saying, "Any day now!" because really, it could be. As of now, I'm due to go into the hospital next week, so I guess that's my "due date." On some days, my gut says that the babies are coming this weekend. On other days, I think that they're nowhere near ready to come out. Either way, it seems that you can't really put faith in one hard-and-fast day. Instead of calling it your "due date," maybe we should start considering it your "due time."

Do you believe due dates are really a hard science?


Image via LittleMissPip/Flickr

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