"Every labor is different."
So far, my labor is made up of leaking amniotic fluid into an unending supply of white washcloths. Monday, when this started off, the leaking thing seemed like it was for the best: the alternatives were a) nothing happening and b) a gush that might mean a speedy, scary labor. We were definitely ready for something to happen and not ready to rush to the hospital when my body drained itself. A slow leak is supposed to lead to a steady labor, and, since your body can replenish amniotic fluid for a while, you're not stuck in an emergency scenario either where your couch or the baby's immediate health is concerned.
That's immediate health, though. You can't just leak forever. When the fluid can get out, bacteria and other nasty shit can get in, and that puts a bit of a clock on it. I mean, hopefully nobody's putting half-eaten popsicles up their vaginas, but my guess is that they feel pretty tempted to poke and prod to see what's up. This afternoon, about 30 hours since I started leaking, Midwife Amy came by the house to check the baby's heart-rate and assuage her parents' fears, and she was firm about skipping any vaginal exam. I was okay with that.
What I am not okay with is my iPhone, which has brought together the concerns of our loved ones with my intensely unstable hormones. Once people who love you and/or your baby get the idea that the baby is forthcoming, they find it difficult to go 12+ hours without news. That's adorable, except that there is nothing to stress out a lady in stalled labor like being asked about her labor, and I really thought I'd make it to active labor before telling nice people to go to hell.
The guidelines vary by practitioner. Obviously, home-birthers are more of the "let it happen naturally" type. The midwife's office has a big poster that says "My body is not a lemon" in the front room, and that's the general outlook: women's bodies are designed to give birth, and most women's bodies will do that safely, without medical interventions. Most women will begin contractions within 72 hours of their water leaking, and Amy's inclination is to let my body start labor on its own.