I was excited to be featured in a recent Natural Womanhood article about cervical checks. I was even more excited that they included my very favorite quote from “Cars,” which I think very well illustrates what cervical checks do and do not tell us.
In the movie, Mater (an energetic and underestimated tow truck) is showing his new friend (a snobby race car) how he can drive backwards, showing off with jumps and tricks galore. He completes his sequence of awe-inspiring physical feats by telling the main character,
“Ain’t no need to watch where I’m going. Just need to know where I’ve been.”
Cervical checks can give us some useful information about where someone is at in some or all of the 6 major ways to progress in labor. But they don’t forecast the future. They can’t tell us where someone will be at in an hour, or in a day, or in two weeks.
Sometimes parents hear some of the information gathered through a cervical check (especially dilation) and feel incredibly disappointed or inefficacious because they “weren’t as far along as they thought they’d be.”
But a cervical check doesn’t tell you anything about where you’re going. It just tells you about where you’ve been.
I often see a pattern where someone, even someone in active labor, experiences no observed change for HOURS and then all of a sudden – TA DA! All that labor has paid off in terms of observable change. This actually happened to me when I gave birth to my daughter; I saw no change in the data from cervical checks for a long time, and then I went from 6cm to completely dilated in one hour. A number such as dilation or effacement can only tell us about what a body has done, and it can’t even do that perfectly. It can’t tell us what a body is working on or what it is about to do.
So whatever cervical check data you hear at a routine appointment, in the L&D triage room, or from your medical provider during labor, just remember what cervical checks can actually tell you. They’re a rear view mirror, not a GPS.
If you’re curious to read more from an article that would quote me referencing “Cars” in order to explain pregnancy health, check out the whole article from Natural Womanhood on cervical checks, their pros and cons, and what alternatives exist to them, here.