Stretch and sweep, detailed.

(TMI alert: this post contains much mention of vaginas, cervixes, blood, mucus and other such things.  It contains a probably unnecessary level of gory detail.  And I say this after over a year of blogging TTC/pregnancy.)

The student midwife called this evening to schedule another stretch and sweep for tomorrow.  Though I can think of about thirty-six things that I would rather do with a Saturday afternoon, the fact that Bingo is still located firmly in-utero has prompted me to agree.

So that I remember, and for anybody interested in knowing more about what this Medieval sounding  procedure actually involves, I’ll take this moment between “ow” and “ow” to recap.

A stretch and sweep, also known as a membrane sweep, is a medical procedure in which the practitioner (Herbal Tea, in this case) inserts a finger through the cervix into the opening of the uterus and separates cervix from amniotic membrane.  This causes the release of hormones that, in turn, can cause contractions/the onset of labor.  Pause and read this again— this isn’t just a vaginal exam: somebody’s finger is actually going through your cervix.  And yes, I know that an entire small person is likely going to travel through my cervix shortly… but that part is a) planned and b) a largely unavoidable biological process for which the body is designed.  This, less so.

Before the stretch and sweep, I tried to read all of Google again.  Because, clearly, I never learn.  I read about 1000 pregnancy forums, with countless pregnant people insisting either that their sister delivered triplets two minutes after the procedure, or that it had done nothing at all.  I then turned to actual research, where a skimmed abstract told me that 50% of people go into labor within 48 hours of the stretch and sweep.  I considered these odds carefully: 50% of term/post-term pregnant people going into labor within two days of a procedure hardly seemed like a winning lottery ticket.  When I told Sea, she agreed: “How many of them would have anyways?  Was there a control group?”  Still, with our Dr. Selleck encounter still a recent memory, we’re both anxious to avoid chemical induction if possible.  So a visit to Herbal Tea it was.

Sea came with me to the appointment: both wanting to be supportive and to leave work early on a Thursday afternoon.  Seeing her in the waiting room, Herbal Tea’s eyes widened with (possibly feigned) enthusiasm: “Oh!  We haven’t seen you in a while!  Have you been busy at work?”  This sentiment/judgement would be repeated several times throughout the appointment in more or less subtle ways—despite the fact that most people seem to appear for their visits sans-partner.  The student midwife and Herbal Tea worked together, taking my blood pressure, listening to Bingo’s heart, feeling Bingo’s position (still head down).  I had been to the clinic only days prior, so this part of the exam was quick.  Then the gloves went on, my pants came off, and I found myself lying under an oddly decorated drape/cloth awaiting my fate.

IMG_2921I had assumed that Herbal Tea would be the one doing the stretch and sweep.  Instead, she cheerily announced that I would be getting a double procedure: she and the student midwife would both be doing a stretch and sweep.  While I’m all for hands-on learning, this seemed like a little much.  Still, I reasoned, one of them might be more effective than the other.  Or, perhaps, the cumulative effect might do the trick.  And really, what’s one more finger in your cervix?  This final thought may be an indication that I need a good, long break from gynecological exams following Bingo’s arrival.

With Herbal Tea smiling in the background, seemingly quite enthusiastic about the procedure, the student midwife carefully explained the procedure as she went along: what she was doing, how she was doing it, why.  I winced, sharply refused Herbal Tea’s suggestion that Sea come and gaze deeply into my eyes (I err on the side of the flight response in fight or flight situations), and breathed.  It was over quickly and it was… not that bad.  It burned, absolutely, and there were still many other things that I would rather have been doing, but it had hurt less than the internal exam Herbal Tea had done at the prior appointment.

Based on that prior exam, I knew better than to expect Herbal Tea’s stretch and sweep would be as mild as the student midwife’s.  This assumption was correct.  She actually seemed to be trying to get her entire arm into my uterus, pushing down on the top of my belly while simultaneously reaching upwards.  I closed my eyes, and tried to breathe with limited success.  “Do you want me to take a break?”, Herbal Tea asked.  I shook my head no: though the procedure sucked, adding commercial breaks wouldn’t have helped anything.    So I tried to breathe again, imagined being somewhere else—anywhere else—and waited for her to be done.  She finished and, again, showed me the bloody show on her fingers with a sense of great delight.  Later, as we left the appointment, Sea would tell me that I had been right: that Herbal Tea did grin a lot.

So the stretch and sweep/membrane sweep is done.  I’ve been cramping and spotting since, and lost my mucus plug (also exactly as gross as it sounds) this morning… but I’m also definitively not in labor.  At 30ish hours past the procedure, I’m ready to call it: no luck this time.  I don’t know whether going back for another sweep tomorrow indicates hope or foolishness… but I’m willing to try.

After that?  An ultrasound/biophysical profile on Monday to see how Bingo is doing, and talk of scheduled induction for late next week.  Here’s hoping that Bingo makes an appearance before then: I would hate to think that the stretch and sweeps (plural!) had done nothing but make my midwife smile.

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3 thoughts on “Stretch and sweep, detailed.

  1. Sounds awful! And I’m sorry it hasn’t worked yet. Have you tried acupuncture? My water broke before I was in labor and I went to acupuncture to avoid an induction and I totally swear by it. The woman I saw predicted when I’d start feeling real contractions based on how I responded to the treatment and she was exactly right on. Hope something happens soon!

  2. I doubt it helps any, but night before last I dreamt I was hanging out with a bunch of people, including you and Sea, and that you were in early labor and quite happy about it. Also, you told me that Bingo was a boy, and you’d decided to name him Caspian. (I’m just recording this in case I turn out to be psychic by some freak chance, you understand.) Then we all went to a burger place near here, because dreams are weird.

    In any case, the stretch and sweep does sound unpleasant, and I’m hoping that the second one does the trick and gets the show on the road. The only other suggestion I can think of is getting a pedicure. Apparently this tends to hit acupressure points in the feet that are good for labor, so I’ve heard. At least it sounds more pleasant than a membrane sweep? Good luck!

  3. To piggyback onto Catsandcradles comments…I’ve also heard that pedicures can work, but our childbirth educator said that most salons won’t touch the pressure points around the ankle when you are visibly near delivery. There are some points on your hands, too. Wonder if you could try the acupressure points? I’m sure you could consult Google. Other thoughts from the Peanut Gallery: my friend had an Old Wives Tale dinner at 40+ weeks and she and her friend (also 40+ weeks) both delivered within 48 hours. Apparently they tried eating all the foods that are supposed to trigger labor (eggplant, really spicy food). They ate dinner sitting on birthing balls and went for a walk afterward. That stretch and sweep business sounds wretched, but it’s a great sign that your mucous plug is out! Did it make a popping noise? Our educator said that when she lost her mucous plug it sounded like someone had opened a champagne bottle.

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